November 2011

Wed, 30 Nov

Still furious at the goverment's announcement that the Portland SAR helicopter is to go in 2016, I was hoping to catch the Speaker's eye at PMQs to raise my concerns.

By the time I'd completed my early morning run, wolfed down a bacon sandwich (undoing all the good the run had achieved!) and drafted my question, I was champing at the bit.

To my relief, I was called and am grateful to the Speaker for acknowledging my aggressive leaping up and down as PMQs began.

To be fair to the PM, he has agreed to see me and a small delegation from South Dorset, which I have now put together.

The rest of the day was spent calling a number of people and organisations on this very issue, which is going to be time consuming, but a fight worth entering.

My meeting with the minister, Mike Penning, was altered to next week. Why, I don't know.

In the evening, while voting in the Division Lobby, I managed to corner the new secretary of state for transport, Justine Greening.

Again, to be fair to her, she agree to see me after I'd seen the PM, which was good of her.

I and all our supporters believe we have a good case and we shall put it as forcefully as we can.

The last vote was at 7pm and 30 minutes later I was heading to Dorset, feeling slightly less agitated than I'd been on Monday morning when this crazy announcement was made. 

Tue, 29 Nov

 

Still feeling angry at the Government's announcement yesterday, I set off into the park in the early hours to work off my frustration.

I could not believe that here I was having to fight my own Government on such an important issue as safety at sea along our coastline.

Once in the office, I began to launch into our campaign to save the Portland helicopter.

I managed to secure a meeting with the minister, Mike Penning, tomorrow, wrote letters to more than 30 MPs with seats along or near the coast, spoke to the MCA in Weymouth and tasked one of my staff to make more calls and organise a Dorset-based committee with experience of SAR operations. That's all under way now.

Having lobbied several of those MPs today, most are very supportive.

I was also delighted to hear that my esteemed colleague Dominic Raab had secured a debate on EU extradition in the main Chamber.

This is a major coup as he will submit a motion and we can vote on it - something you can't do in Westminster Hall debates.

My constituent Michael Turner, from Corfe Castle, has suffered dreadfully from an European Arrest Warrant.

My weekly column will concentrate on the Portland helicopter issue which I intend to fight against to the end. I just find it hard to understand how anyone could even consider removing this fantastic asset.

Mon, 28 Nov

The day began well, with a refreshing run, coffee and a successful foray into my in-tray.

At 11am, two residents from Ringstead, Cllr Teresa Seall, two officials from the Environment Agency, an officer from West Dorset District Council and a representative from Natural England all piled into my office.

I'd organised the get-together to enable all sides to debate the problem of coastal erosion at Ringstead, which, if ignored, would in time see homes and permanent caravans falling into the sea.

Everyone's presence was most appreciated and I'm glad to report the meeting went extremely well, with all sides satisfied that their case has been aired and that a common sense way forward was possible.

The various bodies have gone away to await an engineer's report, which can then be followed up.

I got wind that the press were chasing me at about 10am, but did not understand why until later when the meeting had ended.

And the news left me cold. The Government was proposing to take away the Portland search and rescue helicopter as part of the process to hand the whole helicopter SAR network over to civilian operators.

I was furious, outraged and disappointed on behalf of my constituents, who I knew, to a man, would feel like me.

This really is a cut too far and I, for one, find it unacceptable and will fight it all the way.

I was soon on the phone to the minister and I told him in very simple language what I thought of this ridiculous proposal.

I did interviews with the BBC and then left for London in the afternoon, feeling aggrieved!

Several more phone calls later, and I found that many other people and organisations felt like me.

And this only days after we'd been told we were losing our Coastguard co-ordination centre.

No, no, no!

Fri, 25 Nov

A busy day in the office.

Thu, 24 Nov

 

What a strange and sad day.

It began with an early morning run. Then, off to the office to prepare for the Westminster Hall debate on extradition, which had been secured by my colleague Dominic Raab.

During the morning, though, a phone call changed my day. 

I was told my cousin was dying and wanted to see me.

Generously and helpfully, the chairman at the debate called me early and after speaking up for my constituent Michael Turner, from Corfe Castle, I managed to slip away to Hampshire.

I arrived as the Last Rites were being administered. Very sad, as my cousin was only in his late fifties.

I stayed for 30 minutes, before heading down to Weymouth to speak at our supper club.

That was a happy affair and a chance for me to thank our supporters and enjoy a fun evening.

Bed at midnight!

Wed, 23 Nov

 

 

After an early breakfast with my lovely wife, I was in my office in the Commons tackling the ever-present in-tray.

I also began working on my speech for tomorrow, where I shall be standing up for my constituent Michael Turner, who's the victim of the unjust European Arrest Warrant.

Two old friends came in to watch PMQs and have lunch with me.

After seeing them to the gallery, I entered the Chamber in time for the weekly contest.

This week, I thought Ed Miliband looked exhausted even before he stood up. Black panda eyes dominate his face as he struggled to lay a hand on the Prime Minister.

He failed spectacularly and Mr Cameron sailed through PMQs without a scratch.

As I continued working in my office, Chris Huhne was downstairs in the Chamber defending the cuts in the feed-in tariffs for solar energy.

I do not agree with his desire to build giant wind farms all over the country and in our seas.

We need to investigate in nuclear energy, which would negate the need for these whirling horrors.

We had two votes during the afternoon, ending at 7pm.

Out to meet my daughter - a wonderful end to the day.

Tue, 22 Nov

After working through the morning, I headed to London.

The Minister Mike Penning was making a statement on the Coastguard and I wanted to be there.

I was and sat and listened to Mr Penning confirm the very bad news that Portland Coastguard would close before 2015.

We also learnt that the new super centre, as I've dubbed it, will be located at Fareham.

After the statement, I was called to ask a question and expressed how devastated constituents were at the decision to close Portland.

Afterwards, I returned to my office to catch up with a mountain of work, before attending a private meeting with Caroline Spelman, Jim Paice and Richard Benyon.

We talked about CAP reforms, fishing and dog laws!

Back to the office until 10pm.

Mon, 21 Nov

With a one-line whip in place, I decided to remain in Dorset and tackle constituency matters.

I co-ordinated my diary with my new case worker, Janet Lickiss. There are a number of people who I want to visit and others who want to see me and I am trying to get to everyone, often in their homes.

Fog had grounded several flights and made driving dangerous.

I made a check call to Michael Turner, who I shall be speaking up for on Thursday, when the European Arrest Warrant is debated in Westminster Hall.

Fri, 18 Nov

With a long drive to Yorkshire ahead of me, I worked steadily through the morning until 1pm, when it was time to hop in the car and battle northwards through the traffic.

Thu, 17 Nov

A busy and most fulfilling day. Let me explain.

It began at Police HQs where a multi-agency team were running a conference on bullying.

They'd kindly asked me to open the day's event, which I duly did.

Bullying is a very unpleasant thing to deal with and I am glad that everyone appears far more aware of the problem than they were, dare I say, in my day!

Having spoken to the police, teachers and organisers, I had to run to reach Gloucestershire where the 1st BN The Rifles were holding a medal presentation following their return from Afghanistan.

Trusting my satnav - my first mistake - I set off, aiming to arrive by 1pm.

I made it - just - but was then thwarted by a three miles traffic jam as hundreds of people queued to get into the barracks.

Eventually, we all parked up and walked!

I was guided to the VIP tent just in time to watch the battalion march on, led by their charismatic commanding officer, Lt Col James de Labilliere.

The inspecting officer was the Regiment's Royal Colonel HRH the Duke of Kent, who was accompanied by General Sir Nick Parker, Commander Land Forces.

These two highly esteemed gentlemen were supported by Lieutenant General Sir Cedric Delves, the commanding officer's uncle, General Sir Peter de la Billiere, General Sir Frank Kitson, Brigadier Richard Smith and Brigadier Ed Davis.

They helped present the Operational Service Medal to all the soldiers on parade.

The sun shone and I found the whole afternoon extremely moving. My mind raced back some 30 years when I served with my friends and I found myself recalling every glorious second.

I felt proud and honoured to be standing with these fine men and women, who had done such a courageous and professional jon in Afghanistan.

Sadly, 10 of their number were killed on operations, five of them Riflemen. And several more were seriously injured. Some of the less severely hurt were on parade in wheelchairs. The whole event was humbling.

General Parker made a quite excellent speech, his booming voice reaching all corners of the camp.

The families were there in their hundreds and how proud they were as they watched their loved ones receive the recognition they so deserve.

Afterwards, I went back to the Officers' Mess and chatted to a number of people, managing at last to catch up wth the commanding officer. I had tried to join them in Afghanistan but was unable to because visits were tightly controlled, and rightly so.

I can recall in my day being visited in Northern Ireland by VIPs and frankly they were more of a pain the backside than a tonic. The only exception to that was Mrs T, who we worshipped.

By late afternoon I was heading back across the Severn Bridge and home. My mind was so full of so many thoughts, I missed Junction 17!

I think you must have served to understand what emotions parades like this one engender.

They make you proud, tearful, sad, happy, thankful and grateful. I hope all that makes sense to you the reader. 

And, with this parade freshly engrained on my memory, I shall fight on in the House for our armed services. 

Wed, 16 Nov

 

A cold, damp day and one where the heated handlebars on my motorcycle were definitely needed.

I've never had this luxury before and it really does make a difference.

Began in the office and then down to Weymouth for a number of tasks.

First up was to pop into the Conservative Club, which I have not visited for a while.

As always, there was a lively bunch in there and we covered most ground over a coffee.

On to meet up with Cllr Kate Wheller, a charming lady who is campaigning for some road improvements in Wyke.

Hopefully, a solution can be found and we are working on that.

Then, to see Portland Town Councillor Sandy West, another very special lady, who works at Asda.

I found her in the smoking shelter - naughty lady!

I gave her a signed bottle of House of Commons whisky which Sandy was going to auction for Children in Need on Friday.

Finally, I popped into our Association office at Winfrith to sign a mass of letters there and to catch up with our lovely secretary Katherine. She's a gem.

Back home just in time before the rain. Worked through until the evening, absorbing the bad news that unemployment was up, with more youngsters out of work than at any time since 1992. Not good.  

Tue, 15 Nov

 

A very frustrating day! It began early with a my normal jaunt around the park and then to the office. 

The Daily Mail was leading with the fair fuels' debate, adding its weight behind the general view in the House that fuel is far too expensive and really beginning to affect many people, not least those who live in rural constituencies like mine.

After the normal load of correspondence and putting the final touches to my speech, I went into the Chamber for Deputy Prime Minister's Questions.

Mr Clegg's performance was not particularly impressive and I managed to ask him at the end of his session whether he was still keen to join the euro, which of course has been his position for some time now.

Surprise, surprise, he was now not keen to join this doomed currency!

I then entertained Sir Anthony Jolliffe for lunch. A former Mayor Of London, Sir Anthony is an impressive figure, who lives in Weymouth. 

Then, it was into the Chamber for the fair fuels' debate. I'd put in early to speak, so I was confident I'd be called.

However, it was not to be. I sat for four hours, waiting and waiting. And, when the debate was finally wound up, I discovered I was the next to be called. 

I was annoyed for my constituents more than for myself. Many are being adversely affected by high fuel prices and I think that the duty on petrol and diesel is ludicrously high.

If we really want the economy to start growing and jobs to be created, we need to cut fuel duty dramatically. 

Yes, the Treasury would have less money in the coffers in the short term, but our battered country would have the chance to rise from her knees.

There was no division on the motion and I headed home to Dorset for a busy week there.

Mon, 14 Nov

 

 

An early start to try and empty the in-tray before heading back up to London.

Arrived back at the Commons in time to watch Defence Questions on our office television.

Interesting question from the recently retired Defence Secretary Liam Fox about whether London would be defended by ground to air missiles during the Olympics.

Dr Fox's successor revealed that every measure would be taken to ensure a safe Games, including these missiles.

For the rest of the afternoon, I caught up with correspondence and emails and worked on my speech for tomorrow's debate on fair fuel prices. Too many of my constituents are being severely affected by high fuel costs.

We had a vote at 7pm, after which I attended a dinner organised by the No Turning Back group, led by the very able John Redwood.

The Chancellor was the guest speaker. These dinners are held in confidence, so all I will say is that it was interesting!

Another vote at 9pm, then back to the dinner until we headed home at 10pm. A revealing evening!

Sun, 13 Nov

Remembrance Sunday is always a special day and today was no exception.

Alternating between Weymouth and Portland, as both Services are held at the same time, it was Portland's turn this year.

I reported to the Heights Hotel at 1030 and was soon engaged chatting to a wide number of people who'd come to pay their respects to the fallen.

It was a pleasure to meet the island's new rector, the Reverend Tim Gomm. A charming man, married and with three children, he's come from Poole, so not too far!

Personally, I've never seen so many attendees as there were today. A fantastic turn out in windy conditions.

And, as always, the parade was very poignant. Afterwards, we filed into the hotel for a coffee and chat.

The island's part-time firefighters were called out during the coffee and left to do their courageous duty. We are lucky to have men and women of this calibre. 

Then, it was off to Swanage to the second Service of the day.

Again, this was a tremendous affair, with a large number of local residents and a 100 strong contingent from the Royal Signals.

With the Mayor, Cllr Bill Trite, and the lovely Cheryl leading the way, we set off at 2.30pm behind a band of pipes and drums.

At the church, we were welcome by the Reverend John Wood, who took a moving Service and gave a good address. 

Afterwards, we all lined up again and marched to the Memorial for the weath-laying part of the Service, which again was very moving. 

Time for tea after that at the Royal British Legion, which really did us all proud. A fantastic spread of food, which was wolfed down by one and all. Many congratulations and thanks to all those who worked so hard to feed us. Much appreciated.

A moving day, ending back at home with my lovely wife. 

Fri, 11 Nov

 

An early start today as I headed down to Wey Valley School in Weymouth.

I'd been invited there by teacher Lucy Horton, who I'd met at a speaking engagement recently.

I was given two excellent guides, Jenny Scott and Mark Tewkesbury, both students there. 

They could not have been more charming and welcoming.

The morning began in the sports hall, where some young boys were receiving football coaching. They were a lively bunch and clearly enjoyed their lesson.

After a brief visit to the weights' room, I was taken upstairs to a maths lesson being taken by the charming and dedicated Julie Gibbs.

She too was coaching, but this time nurturing a handful of students who were retaking their maths GCSE on Monday. Good luck to them. 

I then drove the short distance to Weymouth College, where I said farewell to Sue Moore, the retiring Principal.

She has done so much for the college and for the young of the area and will be missed. We both stood for two minutes at 11am to mark Armistice Day.

My regular surgery was next. This was quite a lengthy affair due to the number of people who attended. 

Back to the office afterwards under darkening skies and the first spots of threatened rain. Fortunately, I had not taken my motorcycle today. A bit too risky.  

Thu, 10 Nov

Drafted and redrafted my monthly contribution to the Purbeck Gazette and my weekly column with the Dorset Echo.

The former was on the EU, while the latter tackled the thorny issue of immigration.

Then, I mounted my metal steed and motored down to Weymouth to meet the lovely Naomi Turner, who was on poppy-selling duty.

I took over at midday and was soon chatting to many constituents as they generously gave to this wonderful cause.

I was cheered considerably after approaching several groups of young people who did not hesitate to reach into their pockets. Good on them.

Naomi returned at 2pm and I popped into the coffee shop to wolf down a sandwich before heading off to the Echo to catch up with the affable and able editor, Toby Granville.

He introduced me to a new, young journalist, whose name I have forgotten! But she was charming and is a lucky woman to start out with such a good paper.

Back to the office and plenty of work there to keep me busy until the evening.

I continued to keep an eye on the financial crisis in Europe, which gets worse and worse by the minute. Very worrying.  

Wed, 9 Nov

 

I would not normally bore you with family matters but today was special.

It was my mother's 80th birthday, which is quite a landmark. After working through the morning, not least on an exciting new project to try and get local businesses and our two prisons teamed up, I joined some retired and serving staff from here to unveil a plaque next to a fine copper beech we'd planted to mark this day. 

Mum was touched. Back to the office and then across to my parents in the evening for a celebratory dinner. 

Tue, 8 Nov

 

A grey, drizzly morning. Off to the park first thing to enjoy some exercise.

Into the Commons where, after dealing with some immediate matters in my in-tray, I attended an Efra select committee meeting. Nothing urgent. A catch up on where we are more than anything else.

Worked on speech for the afternoon on a Government motion not to bend to demands from the EU for more money.

Lunch with my team to celebrate a birthday and then into the Chamber for the debate.

It only last 90 minutes but I was called and you can see my speech on my website. The corruption scandal in the EU continues with the Italian PM now hanging on to power by his fingertips. What a dreadful mess, with so many lives affected. It really is an international disgrace.

Other colleagues made some excellent speeches, not least the eloquent Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Back to my office to sign a thick wad of constituent letters and write my weekly column for the Echo.

Car insurance was debated for the rest of the evening. Some good points raised.

Dropped to a one-line whip at about 6.30pm.

Finished an hour later and headed back down to Dorset.

Mon, 7 Nov

Up to the Commons, with the continued crisis in the eurozone dominating the front pages and our lives.

I had time to see a dear old friend before I left, who is seriously ill. It breaks my heart to see such a strong man reduced to a wheelchair.

Once in the House, I went straight to the Chamber to listen to the Prime Minister make a statement on the G20 conference.

The big question for many of us Backbenchers is whether our contribution to the IMF will dramatically increase by some billions of pounds.

So many MPs wanted to ask questions, this session lasted for over an hour.

Then, it was the Home Secretary's turn.

Mrs May was being grilled after claims by a whistleblower in the UK Border Force that they'd been instructed to cut back on security checks on air passengers coming into the country because of long queues.

Finally, the new Transport Secretary Justine Greening made a statement on the appalling carnage on the M5, leaving seven dead and many others seriously injured.

Some are accusing the organisers of a fireworks party at a local rugby club which lies adjacent to the motorway.

Apparently, smoke from this party drifted across the road, blinding drivers. An investigation is under way.

The Lords' amendments on the Localism Bill got a relatively short hearing due to these three statements.

Fri, 4 Nov

One glimpse out the window and all thoughts of motorcyling evaporated! So, into the battered Landrover and off down to Portland.

I was meeting and chatting to the new governors of both the YOI and HMP The Verne. 

Russ Trent, of the YOI, and James Lucas, of HMP The Verne, are both impressive men and both ex-services. It shows.

They have radical new ideas on how to run their prisons and I support their boldness.

We chatted for a couple of hours, as there was much to catch up on.

I then met a prisoner due for release next month, before heading across to Swanage for my regular surgery.

I went via the Association office at Winfrith to catch up with matters there.

Meanwhile, in the big, wide world, members of the G20 have had their agenda set by on the on-going saga with Greece and the eurozone. What a shambles.

I shall be interested to hear what the Prime Minister has to say to us next week!

Back in the office, I worked through to the evening, before heading home.

Thu, 3 Nov

 

On a rather overcast day, I slunk out of bed early, onto my motorbike and to Winfrith, where I'd planned to meet my new case worker Janet Lickiss.

She's a super lady and will handle a lot of my constituency work. I'm keen to keep both feet firmly on the ground in the constituency.

Then, with ominous clouds gathering overhead, I dashed to Weymouth to see the charming Andrew Penmam, the headteacher at Westfield Arts College.

He was rightly in fine form, having just received an 'outstanding' from Ofsted. Well done them, and so well deserved.

As my bike came to a halt, the heavens opened. I was very fortunate as I was not wearing wet weather gear.

A cup of coffee and a good catch up preceeded a visit to the school's new broadcasting studio.

What a clever idea. Andrew's students have learning difficulties of one sort or another and he is always keen to explore any opportunity which advances their education.

In the studio, I was met by Fergus, Naomi and Declan, all extremely confident and enjoying putting a programme out on the internet.

I was interviewed extremely professionally and allowed to make a record request - Coldplay, my favourite band.

The three students were inspirational and clearly loving every minute of it.

Andrew has applied for a licence which will allow the school to broadcast to Weymouth. They should hear soon and let's hope it's granted. Such a good idea.

Then, back on my bike - avoiding the rain - and across to the harbour and the Sure Start centre to meet two extraordinary ladies Sonia Harding and Jodie Waller.

In effect, they mentor young mums and run a scheme called Parenting Platform Project.

Today, these young girls were making a film.

It was based around the experiences of three young mums, who had recorded events during one night.

With children so young, the mums frequently get little sleep and the project's aim is to record these testing times, both for the mums themselves, and for other young girls who perhaps need to see for themselves the consequences of having children so young.

A very interesting project and Sonia and Jodie are wonderful mentors and project organisers.

Again, the rain had stopped, so my ride back to the office was uneventful.

And there I remained for the rest of the day.  

Wed, 2 Nov

 

A number of constituency matters kept me at my desk for longer than I had anticipated this morning.

So, it wasn't until about midday that I hopped on my bike and headed down to Swanage to help sell some poppies.

I picked up my box from the Town Hall, where two lovely ladies man a stall there for two weeks, selling poppies to all those who enter. No one escapes!

Then, into the Co-op, where I lurked by the entrance, pouncing on shoppers - in the nicest way possible - as they left.

Everyone was so kind and generous. It really is touching that people are prepared to give and keep on giving in this country.

I had a good session and returned to base at 2pm, when the two ladies at the Town Hall pack up for the day.

Back home and out for a run, before leaping into a suit and heading to Bovington to meet the TA volunteers of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry.

Their HQs is tucked away in Allenby Barracks, where they supervise the 80 TA soldiers who form A Squadron.

I was met by one of the officers, who snapped off a very smart salute, which caught my completely by surprise.

Old habits die hard and my arm was hurtling up to return the salute before I stopped it just in time.

I was then introduced to five members of the squadron who had volunteered to go to Afghanistan next May. 

They were with their families, who were receiving a brief from the commanding officer on what to expect.

I was mightily impressed with these volunteers. One was 43 with a family, while another was a mother of 32. Brave people.

I was then taken to a number of locations to meet the TA members who'd come in to attend one of their training evenings.

It was a genuine pleasure to chat to them all and to hear what they do when they're not in uniform.

We ended up in the bar, where a curry was served. A most interesting evening.  

Tue, 1 Nov

 

Another month!

Out into the rain first thing this morning. The park's looking sensational, rich with autumnal colour.

Sitting at my desk, with a coffee in one hand and a croissant in another, I began to deal with constituents' correspondence.

At 1030 I attended my Efra select committee. We questioned the newly re-appointed chairman of the Environment Agency (EA) Lord Smith.

After two hours, I walked down the committee corridor to support my colleague Dominic Raab, who was attempting to win a debate in the Chamber on the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), which affects on of his constituents and one of mine.

The good news is that a debate in Westminster Hall was secured on 24 November.

After a brief lunch, I wandered into the Chamber to listen to Treasury Questions.

The Chancellor batted the Opposition away easily and was on fighting form when Mr Balls intervened during Topical Questions.

The Home Secretary then made a statement on gangs and how the Government proposed to deal with them. Mrs May's ideas were welcomed.

I then returned to my office to write my weekly column, deal with more correspondence and call the Turners in Corfe Castle to tell them the good news about the EAW debate.