March 2011

Thu, 31 Mar

Still no sun! In the office by 0815 to tackle another mountain of correspondence. I have to say that what is almost touching are those who write to say thank you.

Down in the Chamber by 1025 in time for business, innovation and skills questions.

I had a question on the EU prepared and waited for topical questions to ask it. Regrettably, I was not called today.

I wanted to ask the Secretary of State, Vince Cable, this question: "In his capacity as President of the Board of Trade, does the Secretary of State think that the £42 billion cost of membership of the EU is good value and will he commission an independent cost benefit analysis?"

This rising cost is staggering and should be stopped immediately. I mentioned the EU in my budget speech on Tuesday (see website www.richarddrax.com) and believe we will never truly compete on the world stage until we are free from this lumbering and corrupt bureaucracy.

Worked steadily on a number of constituency matters through the afternoon.

The final vote was at about 1830, before most MPs headed back to their constituencies.

Wed, 30 Mar

Where's the sun gone? It does make such a difference.

I was behind my desk by 0830, enjoying a croissant and mug of coffee. I have now perfected the art of checking and signing letters, while enjoying these culinary delights.

We took evidence from Secretary of State Caroline Spelman in the afternoon, so I had a lot of reading to do to prepare for my select committee.

Just before midday, I left my office, high in the attic, and entered the Chamber in time for PMQs.

I have to say that Miliband did better this time, and repeatedly challenged the Prime Minister over police numbers.

The psychology of this bruising 30 minute encounter for the PM is fascinating.

I admire anyone who can take the pressure, week in, week out. Mr Cameron does well and he shows an admirable knowledge in all areas of debate.

After a sandwich lunch, I attended what I knew was going to be a long Defra select committee, and long it was - over three hours.

The questions we asked Mrs Spelman revolved around the spending review and she handled them all with good grace.

At 1730 many MPs attended the '22 Backbench Committee and listened to an address by the PM. Clearly, the content was in confidence but I can tell you I think that Hollywood hard man and Senator Arnold Schwarzenegger was brought in for a few moments which was certainly amusing.

Afterwards, I moved up a floor to listen to a fascinating brief from Liam Fox, the defence secretary. Again, this was in confidence, so I can't relay any facts, accept to say that I was most impressed by him and what he had to tell us.

We had a final vote at 1900, before we all headed home.

Tue, 29 Mar

A busy day and an early start. After my daily routine, which sees me avoiding cyclist after cyclist as their riders, hunched over the handlebars and grimacing from the tightness of their lycra, appear intent on running me down.

Behind my desk by 8am and wading through my in-tray. At 0930 I walked down to the Lords to meet up with students from Southfield Primary School.

Dressed in bright orange jackets, they were no hard to find. I soon learnt they were spending five days in London, visiting museums, other attractions and enjoying the Lion King musical. I rather wish I was back at school!

Then, at 1030am I was sitting in what's called a Statutory Instrument, where small parts of law are passed.

It was brief and gave me time to head down to the library to amend my budget speech on my laptop.

Just before lunch, I met Commodore Steven Jermy RN, a retired officer who is working closely with both serving and former members of the armed services about the future of our defence capability.

I took him to meet James Arbuthnot, the highly respected chairman of the defence select committee. We had a fascinating chat for about half an hour before I took the Commodore off for an even more interesting lunch.

Bidding the Commodore farewell, I rushed into the Chamber to take part in Justice Questions with Ken Clarke and his front bench team.

I asked a topical question, as they are known, inquiring whether the Secretary of State would ensure that prison officers' rights would be upheld.

I was given a brief reassurance by the minister that they would be, which only confirmed to me what I feared: the minister does not realise just how low moral is among prison officers. More work needed there.  

Mr Clarke then made a short statement on reforming civil litigation funding and costs in England and Wales. About time.

The final debate on the Budget then began. After listening to many excellent speeches on both sides of the House, I was called just before 9pm.

After several votes from 10pm, we finally called it a day about 11pm. Then home.

Mon, 28 Mar

Another beautiful day.

Up to London and an interesting time in the Chamber, with statements from the Home Secretary about Saturday's violence, the Prime Minister on Libya and Michael Gove on the education maintenance allowance.

I was down to participate in the budget debate but the list of speakers was so large there was no chance of being called. I booked in to speak tomorrow.

Sat, 26 Mar

Today was our Association AGM, which we held in the hall in Wool.

Bacon rolls and coffee ensured we were all well fortified for a good and productive session.

About 80 people attended and we covered all areas of the Association's role. We also enjoyed a brief talk on the Alternative Vote, which frankly really is a miserable example of how not to choose your elected representatives.

Fri, 25 Mar

Clegg's dropped himself in it again, making a silly comment while still attached to a microphone. It was along the lines that he and David Cameron were pretty much on line with each other to the extent they'd have a problem opposing each other at the round of television debates at the next election. 

I have news for both men: there will be a problem, because Conservatism is a very different animal to Liberalism. The former bases its values around 'responsibilities', while the latter bangs on about 'rights'.

I took all this in after glimpsing the papers on my way to talk to the Prisoner Officers' Association (POA) at the YOI on Portland.

It was an early start and by 9am I was standing in front of about 60 officers and giving a short address.  

They're a good bunch, doing a difficult and professional job away from the public gaze. There is no doubt they feel 'forgotten' as more and more rights are given to prisoners, while officers struggle to cope with a wad of bureaucracy and red tape.

As a Party, we need to be aware of their unease and take their concerns seriously.

Then, it was to a meeting at the council offices to try and help two local businessmen.

With the sun out and the town looking stunning, I headed out along the coast road to Wool, where I held my surgery.

Finally, back home and more correspondence and preparations for next week when I hope to contribute to the budget debate.    

Thu, 24 Mar

 

Another glorious day. I was accosted this morning while out running by a cyclist. It took me some time to realise it was one of my closest friends having fun at my expense.

Due to the fact he was dressed up in his cycling garb, I didn't recognise him!

Anyway, into the office straight to work, before meeting with James Arbuthnot, the very capable chairman of the defence select committee.

I had an idea I wanted to put to him, which he suggested I should now take to Iain Duncan-Smith. 

I am sponsoring, along with others, four Bills, presented by Peter Bone MP today.

One is a Bill to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights; the second is to leave the Common Fisheries Policy; the third is to amend immigration controls for EU nationals independent of the EU; and the fourth is to allow to disregard EU rules when setting VAT rates. All good causes.

After working through constituency cases, I went to Westminster Hall to debate the future of the Coastguard.

On this occasion, we had three hours, rather than the 90 minutes we'd had previously. It still wasn't enough.

We each had about seven minutes to put our points across, and about 10 MPs, including myself did so.

I and they were delighted that the minister has extended the consultation period, which means the outcry that's met the MCA's proposals must be having some effect.

Straight after the debate, I rushed across to the Terrace Dining Room, where I had sponsored a tea party for the Wessex Reserves and cadets.

The party was in full flow, with more than 100 people in attendance. Oliver Chamberlain, a good friend and former member of the TA, spoke well, rightly drawing everyone's attention to the importance of our reserves and the likelihood there will have to be more of them in the future. 

I made a short speech in reply, before chatting to as many people as I could. The cadets themselves - about 20 of them - were inspirational and it was such a pleasure meeting young people who are gaining so much from being cadets. If only would follow their path.

Saying my farewells at the end of the party, I returned to my office to sign a pile of constituency letters before heading home to Dorset.

Wed, 23 Mar

With the budget speech imminent, I was up at 6am to greet a rising sun, enjoy a leisurely yomp through the park and get to the Commons by 8am to place my Prayer Card.

The card is literally just that and you place it in a small brass bracket on the back of the bench where you intend to sit.

To guarantee your seat, you then have to attend Prayers, which on Wednesdays is at 11.30.

Before that I went to me office and began going through a full in-tray.

At 1120am it was down to the Chamber to confirm my seat. Then at midday the Prime Minister took his weekly questions.

This week the normal tussle between the two men was almost the warm-up act for the Chancellor's budget speech, which began at about 12.35am.

I listened intently as George Osborne spoke for nearly an hour. My assessment is that while the general thrust is right, he has not gone nearly far enough.

But as that means leaving the EU, I knew I was not going to hear anything along those lines.

Regrettably, he's kept the 50p top rate of income tax, which raises little for the Treasury and punishes those who work hard and in most cases employ people.

New technical colleges are to be built, which is a good move.

And he's tinkered with the price of petrol, but again has not gone nearly far enough.

Miliband's reply was full of rhetoric and no substance. He just shouted across the Despatch Box and all the usual socialist clap trap poured out. I'm sure his brother would have done a better job! 

I remained in the Chamber for a while, listening to speeches, before returning to my office to catch up with a number of on-going issues.

I also began to go through my speech on the Coastguard, which is being held in Westminster Hall tomorrow afternoon.

At 7pm, I met up with some colleagues for an hour, before heading out to meet up with some old friends I had not seen for years.

Tue, 22 Mar

A good morning run in the Spring air began the day on a good note.

After chasing press releases, speeches and correspondence in the office, I went downstairs to meet a gentleman from the 'Pledge' organisation, which is committed to having a referendum on the EU.

I was only too happy to make a short 12 second statement to camera, like many other of my colleagues have done.

Then, up to one of the larger committee rooms for my Defra select committee meeting.

Eggs were on the menu today, and we took oral evidence from two members of the European Commission Directorate General for Health and Consumer Policy.

Yes, I know, even the title wants you to give up the will to live!

Well, we gave the two of them, one a lady, the other a gentleman, quite a bit of stick.

The point was that British egg producers have had to spend a lot of money on their businesses to meet new animal welfare standards.

We heard that several of our EU partners hadn't even completed the paperwork, let alone implemented the new rules, which were unlikely to be met by 1January next year.

Afterwards, we took more oral evidence from Jim Paice, our agriculture minister. He was not impressed by the news that the Commission was behind on this issue, but said it was for them to chase national governments, rather than him.

Frankly, I think it only undermines what chaos this EU superstate is!

A brief lunch, haircut - located in the Commons' dungeons - and then to the library with my laptop.

At 6pm I joined several colleagues in a committee room to listen to a former American general and Green Beret talk about reserves.

It was absolutely fascinating to hear his views, and now being close to Obama and before him Clinton, he is well informed.

An hour later, I was having dinner with Seb Coe and Paul Deighton, chief executive of the Olympic Games.

They'd thoughtfully asked MPs with Games activities in their constituencies to dinner for a chat and a chance for us to ask questions.

I cannot tell you how impressive Seb Coe is. His optimism is infectious and I am utterly confident the Games will be a success.

By 9.15pm the Chamber has adjourned, so I headed home.

Mon, 21 Mar

The big day ... the debate on the no-fly zone.

But, before that, I enjoyed a reunion with former colleagues from BBC Radio Solent, who were doing a live outside broadcast near my home at Winterborne Zelston.

The morning presenter, Julian, I know well. He's an excellent presenter and we had an action packed hour, covering a number of issues, not least the no-fly zone.

A former RN officer contributed, having written an interesting article in the Times that morning.

The other topic was whether we should dual the A31 from the roundabout at Bere Regis to Wimborne.

I'm all for it and plans had been drawn up for this in the past, but lack of money ensured that never saw the light of day.

Then, up to London to prepare my speech for the debate. It began at about 3.15pm and I was eventually called at c9pm.

A long wait, but worth it. I much enjoyed all the contributions, some of them quite excellent.

I, like nearly all my colleagues, are concerned about this deployment because none of us can see what the end game is, especially if Gaddafi hangs on.

And the last thing we need now is becoming embroiled in another war in another Muslim state. These things can go horribly wrong, and I said so.

One colleague, John Barron, courageously voted against the government and was on Newsnight later.

A brave decision and one many of us agree with, but to save hundreds of thousands of lives we voted for the no-fly zone.

We shall see where this takes us. I have severe reservations.

Sun, 20 Mar

Western bombs are landing on Gaddafi's forces, fired from submarines and surface ships, or so the Press tells us.

David Cameron receives praise for his 'courage' in most of the nationals. I stick to what I've said on my blog (www.richarddrax.com), in that I am apprehensive about this intervention.

While I loathe the prospect of innocent civilians being killed, I don't believe this is our fight. Mission creep is the worry, although the UN resolution is quite specific. 

Let's hope this no-fly zone works, Gaddafi is toppled and that civil war does not fill the vacuum if indeed he does fall.

The fact is we are now where we are and I shall support our government and pause to wish our pilots all the luck in the world as they begin to impose the no-fly zone and all that that entails.

I do say again that this conflict, which has arisen in a matter of days, is another clear warning to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet of the folly of cutting our armed services. 

Let's hope there is a major re-think on this. 

Sat, 19 Mar

 

What a lovely day. It was only fitting that I headed to the seaside to support three of our councillors for the forthcoming May local elections.

I met our first candidate - Jane Hall - at the car park behind Brewers' Quay. Jane is replacing Roger Allen, who is off to spend more time running his business. 

Jane, a former nurse, is a kind, caring and thoughtful lady, who impressed those she met on the door.

Leaving her in the capable hands of Geoff Petherick's wife, Jane, I headed over to team up with a sitting councillor Jean Woodward. Cllr Ian James kindly lent a hand as we canvassing Chickerell Road.

The feedback on the door was most encouraging, despite what is going on in the world.

Finally, we accompanied candidate Martin Lobo in Wyke, who is trying to unseat a sitting Labour councillor. Again, lots of good feedback. Martin is a most affable man and I am sure will do well. 

Early afternoon, and Geoff and Martin retired to the pub for a well earned pint, while I headed home to re-acquaint myself with my wife! 

Fri, 18 Mar

 

An early morning meeting with Dorset Police Federation Chairman Clive Chamberlain started the day.

The police have a number of concerns and I wanted to hear what they were. 

Then, it was off to to my colleague Tobias Elwood MP in Bournemouth to entertain his troops. I had been asked to speak at one of their fundraising lunches, and we all enjoyed a good afternoon courtesy of the Elstead Hotel.

I had time to rush home, change and then head to Weymouth for one of our fundraising dinners.

Following the Prime Minister's statement in the House earlier today, we learnt there will be a debate and vote on the no-fly zone on Monday afternoon. 

This after a UN resolution, passed last night, which gives the UK, France and America the authority to implement a no-fly zone.

I have to say I have doubts about this move. While I loathe the idea of innocent people being killed by a madman, this conflict is not ours and mission creep is all too likely.

But now that Mr Cameron has committed us to potential conflict in Libya, I wonder if he and his team are re-considering the defence cuts. I do hope so.   

Thu, 17 Mar

 

I was in the office early, tackling the ever present bulging in-tray. At about 11am I set off to Weymouth and dropped in on the Scotts, who run a newsagents in Dorchester Road.

The poor couple had been burgled recently, the raid leaving them understandably devastated having served their local community for more than 40 years.

These senseless burglaries make me so angry because the thieves just don't care about the consequences of their actions.

The Scotts have decided to call it a day and years of community spirit and camaraderie will sadly end. My heart goes out to them both.

After quickly sticking my nose into the Conservative Club, it was off to Portland for my surgery there.

This took much longer than normal, as there were a number of complicated and sad cases. 

Afterwards, I had time to show my new Dorset assistant, Clare Hibbert, around the island, which included a stop at the Coastwatch tower on the Bill. 

At 7pm we attended a well organised public meeting in the Methodist Hall in Easton Square.

There were some excellent presentations by community groups and the police.

This meetiing followed one earlier this year, where many people expressed their concerns about crime.

Since then the police have done a marvellous job, targeting the thoughtless few, with some success.

The meeting was well chaired by the Rev Chris Briggs, who works tirelessly for the community.

Afterwards, I headed home.

Wed, 16 Mar

 

 

A day always gets better when you start it in the dentist's chair! After an all clear, I soon found myself immersed in one appointment after another.

After catching up with my office team, I attended the first of two DEFRA select committee meetings.

In the morning we took oral evidence from the parliamentary under-secretary of state for natural environment and fisheries, Richard Benyon.

A number of topics were discussed, not least the emotive issue of discards.

At midday it was time for the weekly punch up between the two leaders. Again, the Prime Minister came out on top, in my view.

Some very good news. The Queen has deferred the title 'Royal' on Wootton Bassett, whose residents have turned out in wind and rain, week after week, to pay their respects to our returning war dead.

I have attended two such ceremonies, and I can tell you it is a wonderfully dignified and appropriate occasion and immensely helpful to grieving families.

Then, it was a working lunch with the chief executive and a senior member of Free Trials International to discuss the case of Michael Turner, who's fighting an European Arrest Warrant.

I have touched on this case on many occasions, so I won't go into it again, except to say it is a disgraceful situation and one that needs reviewing urgently.

Free Trials have taken this case on board, which is a huge relief to the Turner family.

In the afternoon I returned to Committee Room 16 for the second select committee session. We took oral evidence in private from the Forestry Commission, so I can say no more. It was interesting.

Before the committee had finished, I had to rush over to Westminster Hall to take part in a short but highly relevant debate on the future of school crossing patrols in Dorset.

Back to the office to sign about 50 letters, before entering the Chamber to listen to a further debate on the EU.

I, along with several other MPs, have tabled our own amendment, for fear we will end up handing over more and more power to the EU.

We learnt just before the 90 minute debate was to start that our amendment had not been called, so the vote was deferred until next week.

As the Europe minister gave his speech, I tried to intervene on several occasions. Many of us are appalled at the government's lack of resilience on the EU, but there's little we can do about it, except try .... and that I promise we will continue to do.

Tue, 15 Mar

The blossom was out in Hyde Park. It's the first time I noticed the familiar pink which heralds spring. After my morning jaunt I was in my office tackling a mass of local issues.

My team reckon I've now written more than 3,000 letters to constituents in the past 10 months. I am delighted to say that with some we were successful, while in others we were not so fortunate.

Had a working lunch with my constituency chairman, before attending FCO Questions.

No sign to me that William Hague has lost his 'mojo'; indeed, he was in sparkling form, and answered questions on a wide range of issues.

I tried to ask a question, but was not called, so submitted a written one instead. I was keen to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he thought our plans to cut the armed services would affect his mounting responsibilities around the world.

Then, I signed letters, worked through a speech for tomorrow on lollipop ladies and updated my website.

At 6pm I attended a reception given by David Davis to celebrate our victory over prisoners' voting rights.

The party was interrupted by the division bell on another amendment to the Scotland Bill. This went through to 10pm, giving me the chance to clear my desk in preparation for another day.

Mon, 14 Mar

Despite two accidents, which caused chaos on the roads, I managed to listen to the tail end of Defence Questions, which are always illuminating.

These were followed with a statement by the Prime Minister on Japan and the Middle East.

Mr Cameron is still promoting looking into a no-fly zone over Libya. This is dangerous territory and one I doubt the Prime Minister will get universal support for.

I have urged caution with this policy - see my blog - not least at a time our government is effectively disarming to save money. 

Mr Cameron told the Chamber that we have now frozen Libyan assets totalling some £12 billion.

In Japan, the drama continues, and Mr Cameron voiced all our concerns at the Despatch Box. As far as he knew, no British nationals had been killed, but that might change.

Further debate on the Scotland Bill followed, with a number of amendments debated.

I worked on in my office until 10pm, catching up with constituency matters and correspondence.

Sat, 12 Mar

Despite a forecast of rain, it was pleasantly sunny as I headed down to Swanage to visit the pier and the wonderful team which keeps it all going.

As I descended into the seaside resort, I could not help but think of the Japanese seaside town of Minamisanriku, which was similar in size to Swanage.

The Tsunami had swept the whole town away, like matchwood. The pictures are similar to those which leap out of the screen on some futuristic, devastation movie, so beloved of Hollywood.

Thankfully, here in Dorset, everyone is safe and the likelihood of some 30 foot wave crashing on to our shores is remote. 

Certainly, the town's pier, which I was visiting as part of Tourism Week, would not survive such an onslaught, of that I am certain. 

I was warmly welcomed by pier Trustee and Director, the charming Russ Johnson, a former lifeboatman and dedicated resident. 

He and his excellent team are attempting to raise c£200,000 to repair some rotting timbers in the pier. They've raised a staggering £140,000 already, so all donations are welcome. 

After a most informative guided tour - did you know the pier was erected in 1896? - we returned to the office and discussed the plans for a marina, which never was. 

I then met Pete Williams, who runs the diving centre, and between us we talked through the failed plans to build a new centre and replace the existing storage containers with something more appropriate and attractive.

Planners have already turned down two submissions, so I've taken up the cudgel and let's see if we can re-open the case.

The town needs the pier and the pier needs renovating. I would have thought that common sense would prevail. We shall see!

Fri, 11 Mar

 

It appears to be one thing after another. I was listening to Radio Four this morning when the first reports of an earthquake near Japan came in.

Sketchy at first, the scale of the drama soon began to unfurl as reports became more detailed. Those poor people.

And now a tsunami is threatening other countries around the Pacific basin. The pictures of the sea gobbling up vast chunks of land in northern Japan were unbelievable. 

Hundreds of cars, houses and boats just uprooted and pushed along in a giant wave of rubbish.

On a micro scale, I spent the day in Weymouth and then Dorchester.

My first stop was the Sailing Academy to meet some Olympic organisers who were interviewing 'volunteers'. 70,000 are planned and they will marshal, co-ordinate and take care of competitors and spectators during the Games themselves.

About 250,000 people stepped forward to apply for this role, so that gives you some idea about the scale of this operation.

The whole process, set out inside the Academy, was well organised and impressive to see in action.

I then moved on the offices of the Daily Echo to present the winner of the paper's Apprentice of the Year award.

This was enormously pleasurable and, after meeting the three finalists, presented 20-year-old Zoe Penfold with the top prize. 

Her two runners-up, Neil Chainey, a chef, and Chris Nicholls, a budding accountant, were charming and very sporting.

The newspaper and all businesses which support apprentices are to be warmly congratulated. 

And I must pay tribute to the editor, Toby Granville, for running this competition, which attracted a lot of attention.  

After a welcome sandwich, I headed up to Dorchester to meet Mark Handscomb, the area director for Lloyds TSB.

He gave me a most illuminating and encouraging brief. What particularly surprised me is that they have more money to lend than they have businesses to lend it to. 

Times are tough, though, and I suspect people are being careful. 

Then, back to the office, where I worked through to the evening on a number of constituency matters. 

Thu, 10 Mar

 

A slightly different day than originally planned as the debate on the future of the Coastguard service was postponed at the last moment to 24 March in Westminster Hall.

This is rightly an emotive issue and one which many people, including serving members of the Coastguard, believe we've got wrong.

I am doing all I can to persuade the minister Mike Penning that we need to re-think the proposals before we regret it.

Lord Hutton's report on the future of public sector pensions dominated the news agenda, and rightly so.

It's a huge issue and one the government's had to tackle, as the country simply cannot afford to go on paying more and more.

Understandably, some people are angry, and I hope we will look carefully at Lord Hutton's recommendations before implementing anything, in addition to consulting widely.

I spent the day in the office, writing letters, organising future meetings, liaising with the Association, confirming a charity walk and researching a number of issues for the future. 

I also noted that Prince Andrew is all over the papers again, with one or two columnists talking him up, while no doubt his Mum was giving him a dressing down!

I am not well enough informed to comment too much about the Prince's future, but from what I read it doesn't look too good.

Meanwhile, talk of a no-fly zone over Libya continues to crop up on news bulletins. Certainly, we could not begin to implement one on our own, and I can't help wondering that we should not be getting involved in this scrap.

I don't like dictators and repression any more than anyone else, but if we reacted to all of them we'd have certainly gone into Zimbabwe, for example.

The big question that remains for me, is what happens if Saudi Arabia goes? We really do have a problem then! 

Wed, 9 Mar

 

A hectic day! A good run and then to the Commons to work through correspondence from constituents, before attending PMQs.

I thought that Ed Miliband's attempts to make the government look incompetent fell flat, although he had points to make.

Then, off to a small DEFRA reception, hosted by the Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman, which was an opportunity to catch up with her and agriculture minister Jim Paice, and their civil servants.

It was nice to meet the men and women behind the scenes.

A quick bite to eat before I was sitting in a small committee which examines statutory instruments. I was let out early to attend my DEFRA select committee, which tool oral evidence from Barrie Deas, who represented the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, and Jeremy Percy, chief executive of the New Under Ten Fishermen's Association. 

The aim was to find out their views on the effectiveness of DEFRA's domestic fisheries management. Special interest of concern included small-scale fisheries and discards.

Straight afterwards, I dropped down to the Strangers' Dining Room for a reception with Lord Coe and others regarding the Olympics.

A most useful hour and it gave me the opportunity to raise some issues which burn in South Dorset regarding the Sailing Games in 2012.

At 6pm I returned to my office and finished off more letters until 7pm, when we voted on the Welfare Reform Bill. And then back to Dorset.

Tue, 8 Mar

Another corker of a day, although my early morning jaunt was chilly. After a short breakfast rendezvous with my daughter, I went straight to the MOD for an off the record briefing on Afghanistan from Lt Gen James Bucknall, a long time friend and fellow Coldstreamer, and our ambassador out there.

The sateliite link worked remarkably well and the brief and questions posed afterwards were extremely enlightening.

It was odd seeing a former contemporary, now a successful general, on a hazy screen in the MOD. You always remember your early days when, as young officers, we were perhaps a little more carefee, shall we say!

After catching up with my office, I entered the Chamber to listen to the debate on the remaining stages of the European Union Bill.

I remain deeply sceptical of its durability and effectiveness. I want out of the EU, rather than pander any further with this bureaucratic nightmare. 

At the Third Reading, I was called and spoke for a few minutes as time was short and another colleague John Redwood wanted to talk. You can see my speech at my websitewww.richarddrax.com

I feel rather depressed at times how a Conservative government can go on being seduced by this federalist nightmare.

The EU will collapse in the end, that I can guarantee. It's just how long the whole edifice will take to crumble.

Finally made it home at 11pm.

Mon, 7 Mar

What a stunning day. The countryside looked so beautiful, the sun promising that the spring is not far away - hopefully!

Back to the mad house and first up was Home Office Questions. This was followed by a statement to the House by the foreign secretary.

This was always bound to be a slightly bruising affair for William Hague, following revelations that a small SAS team and diplomat had been detained by Libyan rebels after landing unannounced in the country by helicopter.

MPs rightly paid tribute to our troops for entering such a dangerous environment, but questioned the wisdom of the initiative itself.

Clearly, the government is trying to set up some dialogue with the Libyan people, not least with the Interim National Council based in Benghazi.

Several Opposition MPs, without military experience, waded into territory they were unfamiliar with and asked some stupid questions.

It was a tough 70 minutes for Mr Hague and, although he handled it in good humour, some doubts were left in MPs' minds as to what exactly our policy in Libya is.

Then, it was back to my office to catch up with constituency matters, before meeting Mr Blair for a drink at 6pm.

Don't worry ... it's not that Mr Blair, but Will Blair, a charming young man, who, as a young Conservative, has helped me and my predecessors campaign during elections. A future MP, perhaps?

The Scotland Bill took us through to 10pm.

Sat, 5 Mar

I returned to the windswept square outside Debenhams, which always brings back many memories of my time as a candidate. 

We were campaigning against AV, which will be put to the people in a referendum in May. I did not find an appetite for such a huge change in our constitution. That was a relief as I think AV would be a disaster for this country and for democracy.

It was bitterly cold, and thank Heavens for the coffee shop nearby, which we kept popping into to keep warm.

The constituency's former MP, Ian Bruce, very kindly came along to support and it was good to see him looking so well. 

So, too, did our council leader Geoff Petherick, who was also in good heart.  

Fri, 4 Mar

 

On a beautiful sunny, but cold, morning, I set off for Bovington to visit the First School. Under its dynamic head, Juliet Muir, the school's achieved another 'outstanding' Ofsted report, which is no mean feat.

When things go wrong, the head always gets it in the neck, so Juliet must be warmly congratulated for this achievement, and of course all her staff. 

I enjoy visiting this school, as it hums and the atmosphere is always cosy and calm. I popped into every classroom, chatted to the children and met the teachers.

The feedback from children is always fascinating and I'd like to recall one young man's comment to me, which made me howl with laughter.

We were talking of the role of an MP, and I said I was his servant. At this, he paused for a moment, and then said: "In that case, can you please lay out my lunch!" Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings!

I then drove down to Weymouth to visit the store/post office which was robbed at gunpoint on Wednesday. 

I met the charming and clearly distressed proprietor Peter Bassett. My heart went out to him and his family. Let's hope they catch the culprit quickly.

My detour made me slightly late for my surgery in Swanage, but my first constituent was more than understanding and patient.

Then, back to the office, where I tackled the ever present pile of constituency correspondence until the early evening.

Thu, 3 Mar

 

 

A busy morning, much of it spent drafting a long letter to the Agriculture Minister Jim Paice, listing a number of points which had arisen from my second meeting with farmers.

This forum is proving helpful, giving farmers the opportunity to express their concerns and for me to pass down government policy. For too long farmers have been ignored and I am doing my best to put that right.

At midday I entered the Chamber to participate in a debate put forward by the Democratic Unionist Party on the Military Covenant.

Despite sitting in the Chamber until 3pm, I was not called to speak, but that's how it goes.

I was going to remind our Front Bench about the predicament of our armed services and the swingeing cuts we are imposing on them.

This, when the Prime Minister is talking about imposing a no-fly zone over Libya and the Secretary of State for Defence announces 5,000 redundancies in the RAF.

Afterwards, Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, announced the first step in approving Murdock's bid to take over BskyB.

That caused derision from the Opposition Benches, as to be expected.

There are a number of caveats to this takeover, not least a consultation period, to which anyone can subscribe.

Then, the phone rang, and a charming journalism student called Lucinda Bowden called asking for an interview on the Coastguard review.

I was delighted to oblige and wandered down to Portcullis House to meet her. I again reiterated my objection to the proposed plan, which would see a major shake up and redundancy programme if implemented in full.

Then, it was back to my desk for more correspondence, before heading down to Dorset.

Wed, 2 Mar

It was noticeably colder this morning as I crept out of a warm bed and into my running shoes.

Three hours later, and having gone through my emails, I was sitting having a coffee with Michael Sloyan, the director of BPEX.

Michael was representing the hard pressed pig industry, which is struggling with rising feed costs and a fiercely competitive market place.

It was, like so many meetings here in the Commons, extremely interesting and I listened to the plight of the industry intently.

In addition to feed costs, the industry is competing against producers in other countries who are not restricted by tough welfare laws that govern production here in the UK. They can consequently sell their meet far cheaper.

Then, I entered the Chamber in time for PMQs, where David Cameron and Ed Miliband were pretty civilized to each other.

A worklng lunch dictating letters preceded a long DEFRA select committee meeting. Our topic today was egg production, which I have to say was very interesting.

We took evidence from the British Egg Industry Council, the RSPCA and the British Retail Consortium.

Afterwards, a well earned cup of tea, before returning to my desk and more correspondence until 8.30pm.

Tue, 1 Mar

First into the Chamber in the afternoon was Nick Clegg, the deputy PM. He looked washed out and exhausted.

Labour, sensing blood in the water, went for him mercilessly. The skiing holiday, of course, cropped up on several occasions and you could frequently hear other Labour MPs chanting the word 'skiing'.

At one point, a Labour MP stood up and asked: "What is the point of Nick Clegg?" Cruel stuff.

A written statement from the Secretary of State for Defence covered the emotive topic of redundancy for 5,000 members of the RAF.

Personally, I think we are making a big mistake with these draconian cuts, and one we will regret. With the world in such a mess, we should be re-arming, not disarming!

A mass of constituency business kept me at the my desk until 10pm, as did the late night vote, which did not materialise in the end.