October 2010

Fri, 29 Oct

I held my surgery in Swanage, courtesy of the Sure Start centre. Due to the number of constituents who came to see me, it went on longer than expected, but I had enough time to get home, change and then head to Weymouth to attend a dinner at the Conservative Club. 

It really is a fabulous place. The key ingredient is the team who work there. They are fantastic, making everyone feel welcome.

I got home later that evening after an interesting and long week and was looking forward to enjoying a couple of days with my children over half term. 

Thu, 28 Oct

 

A busy day catching up with constituency correspondence and issues. It's also half term and three of my children arrived which is always a most joyous occasion. 

Wed, 27 Oct 

After my run, I went straight into a breakfast meeting with the Federation of Small Businesses. Organised by Colin Jamieson, MPs from Dorset listened to Federation representatives explaining their concerns, hopes and aspirations.

We covered local enterprise partnerships, broadband and bank lending. It was a most useful meeting and very informative.

Prime Minister's Questions were a bit of a damp squib, with Ed Miliband not really landing a blow on David Cameron. 

The change in housing benefit took centre stage.

Early in the afternoon, I attended my first DEFRA Select Committee meeting. It was very brief as my appointment has yet to go through the Commons, so after meeting some officials and the chairman, I beat a dignified retreat!

Then, I met with a pensioners' group from Dorset and we chatted for about an hour on a range of issues.

I then popped into the Chamber to listen to the debate on the Postal Services Bill. At 7pm we voted for the bill to go to a second reading before beating a hasty retreat to constituencies - or at least I did.  

Tue, 26 Oct

A early morning run began the day, which culminated with a very good meeting at the Department for Education.

I led two delegations from South Dorset to meet Lord Hill, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State. One concerned the Portland Academy, while the other was pushing for a free school in Swanage.

Both delegations received a good and supportive hearing. They both left feeling that their cases had been listened to carefully.

An attempt to take a photograph of the two teams in pouring rain caused some merriment.

I heard this afternoon that I'd been voted on to the DEFRA select committee, which is very good news and I look forward to working with colleagues in this important area.

Mon, 25 Oct

What a stunning day. Autumn in this country is impossible to beat. Back to the Commons for the start of another interesting week, no doubt.

A meeting with Eric Pickles MP was most revealing. Eric is the Secretary of State for local government and communities and he wanted to brief MPs on how his proposed changes were going to affect us all in our constituencies.

Planning and localism is about to go through a revolution. We all believe the planning system is way past its sell by date and I welcome long awaited changes that will come about in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, the debate on the constituencies' bill carried on. I entered the Chamber to hear my colleague Charles Walker MP propose a cut in the number of ministers along with the planned cull in MPs.

He made a passionate and good argument, not least on how it is vital that Backbench MPs must hold the government to account and not cutting the number of ministers in line with MPs might undermine this vital role. 

Fri, 22 Oct

It was a busy day, beginning on Portland where I held my surgery. It ended in time for me to race across to Langton Matravers to host another Drax Direct.

Now that the country has an idea where the Coalition government is heading, it's important to gather some feedback, and this I duly received during the meeting which lasted over two hours.

I had enough time to head home, bath and change, before driving back to Weymouth for the first of our Supper Clubs. 

It's traditional that the MP speaks at the first one, so it was a special occasion for all of us. It was a happy evening and the staff at the Prince Regent looked after us like kings as always. 

Thu, 21 Oct

After a hectic week, my early morning run was even more important today. Hyde Park looks stunning at this time of year and I am amazed at the sheer number of people who are up and about taking some of exercise.

Refreshed, I headed into the Commons to prepare for an important meeting to try and safeguard more than 50 quarrying jobs on Portland.

The content of the meeting is confidential, but I can say it ended well and I am hopeful.

By early afternoon, we discovered that the three line whip had been removed and we were free to head back to our constituencies, which I duly did. 

Back at my desk in Dorset, I was able to begin tackling a number of local issues before I went home to join my wife. What a lovely moment that is. 

Wed, 20 Oct

Still reeling from the defence announcements, I asked for and was granted a meeting with Liam Fox.

Walking rapidly across to the MOD prior to PMQs, I was conscious that we had just experienced the first jab in a no-holes-barred contest against an immensely strong and dangerous opponent called National Debt.

At the MOD, I was met by Dr Fox's charming PPS Tobias Ellwood, a neighbouring MP in Bournemouth.

I and two colleagues, who had similar defence concerns in their constituencies, were soon in front of the Secretary of State.

Armed with a welcome cup of coffee, we all made our pitches, hoping beyond hope that these cuts did not impinge on our Seats too much.

With the Royal Fleet Auxiliary contract in Portland just renewed, my main concern was Bovington, the armoured corps' training area and firing range. 

To my relief, I was told that with thousands of troops returning from bases in Germany, training areas like Bovington would be used even more.

Then, I raced back to attend PMQs, the warm up act before George Osborne announced where the cuts would fall.

There was an electric atmosphere in the Chamber. We all had a good laugh when Cabinet members struggled to find a seat on the Front Benches, packed as they were with expectant Ministers. 

Ed Miliband failed to impress and Osborne rose to his feet after the PM full of confidence and with our Back Benches packed to the rafters. 

For about an hour Osborne told us what we'd all been waiting for for weeks. It was a good performance, his announcements leaving the Labour Front Benches gazing at their navels and spluttering protests.

After this action-packed session, I and many of my colleagues were called to interviews by our respective local television outlets.

Having done those, I attended the first of many post-announcement meetings where the respective Secretaries of State pass on the effects of the cuts in their departments. 

Caroline Spelman and two of her DEFRA ministers kindly gave us more than an hour which was most informative and useful.

What a day! And one no doubt which will go down in history. I hope most sincerely for all the right reasons.

Tue, 19 Oct

What a day! The Prime Minister gave an impressive performance at the Despatch Box. His speech on the defence spending review was pithy and did not beat about the bush.

With an inherited defence liability of £38 billion, the review was never going to be easy. I still believe the budget should have been ringfenced and I won't budge on this point.

This is not a good day for the defence of our country and I worry that one day we will regret what we did today.

However, we now have to get on with it and encourage our battered economy to recover as soon as it can so we generate more funds for our future defence.

Leaving the Chamber, I went to meet some UNISON representatives, who are concerned at the cuts to be announced tomorrow by George Osborne.

I have every sympathy for them, but there is no doubt we need to make cuts. The key is going to be how they are implemented by local authorities and others with affected budgets.

Then, I attended a private briefing by Liam Fox which many attended. This was a confidential meeting and not one I can therefore report on.

Mon, 18 Oct

Back up to London for an intriguing week no doubt. There is an air of aniticpation in the House, with both sides preparing for defence announcements tomorrow and the rest on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, and almost surreal, we continue to debate the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill - which in short is about the referendum on AV next May.

If the Deputy Prime Minister was really concerned about the state of our economy, he would urge our Party to drop this fatuous bill, which is taking up valuable parliamentary time.

But the Lib Dems see this opportunity as a step towards PR and a voting system which, in my view, would leave this country rudderless and leaderless.

It might work in other countries, but it's dangerous to generalize and what's good for one is not necessarily good for another.

There are dozens of tiny amendments, which MPs argue over. Some are quite major - like reducing the voting age to 16 - while others involve changing just one word!

We were in the Chamber until about 2330 as some Conservative MPs challenged the Deputy Speaker on points of order. Interesting times! 

Fri, 15 Oct

With the announcement of next week's cuts looming ever closer, more and more people are asking me what I think will be the outcome.

It's a very difficult question to answer, except to re-iterate that I/we think they are necessary if our economy is to flourish.

I continue to help a stone quarrying company on Portland, where more than 50 jobs hang in the balance.

I am hoping a meeting with Barclays will pour oil on troubled water, but we shall have to see.

I continue to work through a lot of correspondence, with queries covering a whole spectrum of problems and anxieties.

Thu, 14 Oct

Up with the sparrows and down to Portland to do a bit of DIY at Grove Infants School. Caught up with the charismatic head Jane Hurdiss before she put me to work painting and rubbing down some woodwork.

After finding unacceptable levels of radon at the school, a lot of work is being done to combat the problem and Jane hopes to have the children back in the school on 1 November.

She's very proactive in getting volunteers to come in and spruce the school up and many people have responded, which is great news.

I enjoyed the DIY, after which I drove to Weymouth for my surgery.  

Driving out of the town, I popped in to see the Blakeys at the former post office on Dorchester Road. They'd wanted to chat to me about a number of issues which the new relief road will cause when it opens.

In the evening, I held my first Drax Direct since being elected in Corfe Castle. It was an interesting evening and went on for nearly two hours as the points came thick and fast.

My next one is at Langton Matravers village hall on Friday 22 October at 2pm. I said I'd continue with the public meetings I started as a candidate because I feel it is important to get as much feedback from constituents as possible.  

Wed, 13 Oct

Having caught the last train to Bournemouth, I finally fell into bed at about 3am. It seemed like minutes later the alarm making its fiendish noise and I was off to Swanage to meet up with local councillors for an update on a range of matters.

After a lengthy meeting, I headed to Weymouth to meet Ken Whatley, a remarkable man who runs the community centre in the Park district. 

Ken has a wonderful sense of humour and despite having his arm in a sling he remains upbeat and enthusiastic, as only he can.

He's done so much for his area and wishes retire from running the centre and hand over to someone else. The difficulty is finding that someone else. Any volunteers out there?

Then, it was on for one of my regular catch ups with Toby Granville, the very able editor of the Dorset Echo.

Finally, back to my desk and a mass of constituency correspondence.

Tue, 12 Oct

 

Having had an early breakfast with my daughter, I was soon dealing with constituency matters with my secretary.

I hosted a lunch for our new secretary at the Association office, before entering the Chamber in time to see the Chancellor George Osborne deal with Treasury questions.

Afterwards, Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, made a statement on the future of funding for higher education.

To Labour's surprise, Mr Cable backed Lord Browne's independent report, set up by Labour on a cross-party basis.

So as not to deter students from low and middle income families, Mr Cable said the government was against upfront tuition fees.

But the question is how much the graduate contributions for tuition should be. Mr Cable said we were considering a level of £7,000.

To bellows from Labour, Mr Cable admitted that the Liberal Democrats had consistently opposed graduate contributions, but due to the dire economic climate he could not see any other way at the moment.

Mon, 11 Oct

Back to business after the conference season. First up was Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education.

As always, his performance at the Despatch Box was illuminating. Courteous to a degree, his sharp intellect rapidly tackled questions from both sides of the House.

Later in the afternoon, a sombre William Hague updated us all on the sad death of the British aid worker Linda Norgrove.

We learnt over the weekend that she'd been killed during a rescue attempt by American special forces. At first, it was thought she'd been killed by an explosion caused by her kidnappers, but it later transpired she might have died from friendly fire.

The Foreign Secretary said he was investigating, along with the Americans, what did actually happen and would let the House know what the outcome of this inquiry was.

A very sad day, and my heart goes out to Linda's family.

Then, just after 4pm, Ian Duncan Smith made a statement on welfare reform, which is long overdue.

Let me quote him to show you the extent of the problem.

He said: "We are at a critical point, with five million people on out of work benefits, two million working age people claiming incapacity benefit, of whom 900,000 have been claiming for an entire decade, and a system that has left Britain with the highest rate of jobless households in Europe.

"Those statistics reveal the human cost of leaving our welfare system unreformed, and with that comes an ever increasing financial cost.

"The working age welfare budget rose by 40 per cent in real terms from £63 billion in 1996-97 to £87 billion in 2009-10.

"A staggering £133 billion was spent on incapacity benefits in the past 10 years, and benefit spending is  forecast to be more than £152 billion in 2010-11, which is about 10 per cent of gross domestic product."

I think you will all agree that these figures are truly horrifying. 

Sat, 9 Oct

I had most pleasurable duty this afternoon and that was to present prizes to the winner of a shooting competition, aimed at raising funds for a local charity in Swanage.

The charity, Heroes Haven, needs £60,000 in order to build a holiday bungalow in the town for injured soldiers and their families who can then spend some time together.

It's a truly wonderful idea and I'm delighted to say they are well on their way to raising the necessary monies.

Local town councillor Stephen Poultney had organised the shoot, which was carried out in brilliant sunshine on a rifle range tucked behind East Holme.

I even met a big game hunter who fascinated me with stories of tracking elephants, lions and buffalo.   

Fri, 8 Oct

In addition to other constituency duties, I drove to the beautiful New Forest to a holiday park by Mliton Bashley.

I had been asked to address New Milton Conservatives, which I duly did after a good lunch. I was made to feel most welcome and much enjoyed meeting a large number of people who'd come to raise funds for their branch.

Their MP, Desmond Swayne, David Cameron's PPS, was present and in full flow. He's a member of the TA and has been out to war zones on more than one occasion - a brave man. 

Thu, 7 Oct

 

With a mass of correspondence to deal with, and my diary to further organise, I spent the day at my desk. 

What I find fascinating is the sheer range of issues an MP has to deal with. There's never a dull moment! 

Wed, 6 Oct

Rising before dawn, I was soon on my way to Birmingham, driving through the pouring rain. Three hours later, I arrived at the International Centre and walked into our conference.

The mood was optimistic and upbeat, despite the row going on about child benefit cuts, which Osborne had sparked two days before. 

I first listened to Liam Fox MP, our defence secretary. He was excellent, and I was reassured by his commitment to renewing our independent nuclear deterrent and defending the defence budget as much as he could.

Next came William Hague MP, our foreign secretary. Popular as always, he delivered a polished performance, as only he can. 

Then, at 1430, the Prime Minister delivered his speech. It was an impressive performance, deivered with humour and passion. His rap-style attack on Labour roused the audience and reminded us all of the terrible mess our predecessors have got us into.

Mr Cameron's warnings of tough times ahead were sobering. We're talking about jobs here, livelihoods, families and difficulties they will face as the cuts bite.

But, Mr Cameron, argued, we have no other choice to put this country back on her feet and I have to agree with him.

Labour's legacy is toxic and will take years to clear up. But I am confident it can be done and we must do everything we can to encourage business to flourish.

Tue, 5 Oct

 

A trip to the Nothe Fort turned out to be most interesting. I met the director, David Joy, a charming man who' s hoping the Olympic legacy will touch them.

The fort is ideally located to play a significant part in 2012 and I am doing all I can to support David and his team.

In the evening, I viisted the Weymouth Sea Cadets. What a fun evening, meeting the organisers and of course the cadets themselves.

Their smart, new premises off Barrack Road provide the ideal venue for an organisation which does so much for the young of the town. 

Having watched them parade, I then strolled around the various classrooms, listening to the cadets' achievements and enjoying their enthusiasm.

Mon, 4 Oct

After a meeting to discuss press, columns and correspondence, I headed off to Weymouth to meet a constituent at her home. 

It's a delicate housing issue and I wanted to see her plight for myself. I shall continue to try and get her re-housed.

I then met some fishermen who have several concerns, not least the controversial 12 metre rule which prevents vessels of more than that size from fishing within a six mile limit.

The rule is historical and now catches charter vessels who wish to fish with rod and line. Not an easy one this!

Sat, 2 Oct

 

I was up at dawn in time to enjoy a good breakfast before heading to Swanage. Arriving at the Catholic Hall at 9am, I soon realised I was a little early.

The Women's Institute were still setting up their stalls for a fundraising morning in support of a new charity called Heroes Haven. 

This remarkable initiative has already raised more than £20,000 as it continues on to its target of £60,000.

The money's being used to build a wooden bungalow for wounded soldiers and their families. It's a truly wonderful idea and it was so touching to see so many members of the WI devoting their time and energy towards this goal.

I met and chatted to many attendees and in particular I can recall one remarkable lady of 92! She told me. Her mind was as sharp as a knife. One of eight children, she had lived in the resort all her life and can remember her father walking to the farm where he worked every morning.

In the evening, he'd walk back, change and sit by the fire, with a pipe fixed contentedly in his mouth. Those were the days! 

Fri 1 Oct

On a wet and windy morning, I headed down to Portland Bill. The sea was most impressive, with grey, angry-looking waves crashing together, sending up an impressive plume of spray and froth. 

Just before I got to the lighthouse itself, I turned right and drove down a narrow road to the barrier at the entrance of the MOD site. 

Having passed through security, I parked outside a rather unimpressive building, which looked as if it needed a bit of renovation.

I was greeted by Barry Joplin, the head of site, and taken inside out of the wind and rain. I then spent a most fascinating three hours, receiving a well presented brief on QinetiQ, a company which specialises in defence and research and development.

The company is effectively tied to the MOD via a long term contract. Employing more than 10,000 staff worldwide, the Portland site is virtually unique, being one of only 12 such locations in the world.

Due to the sub strata of Portland stone, the site is exceptionally magnetically clean and the staff there can therefore test all kinds of equipment, including compasses, for their magnetic pull. When developing military hardware, you might see the significance of this. Say no more!

After wolfing down some scrummy sandwiches, it was off to the council offices to attend my first Dorset Olympic Board. 

There must have been about 20 attendees, from Angus Campell, the leader of Dorset County Council, to Gary Fooks, who is doing such a wonderful job co-ordinating the preparation for the Olympic games.

We discussed many issues and clearly a lot of work is underway to ensure the Games are a great success and leave a legacy which Weymouth and Portland can benefit from. 

Finally, I headed off to visit a youth club in Chickerell called Steps. Here I was left open-mouthed in admiration after receiving a top class presentation from three 17 year olds - Amber McNaughton, Tim Austin and Geo West.

They and a small team of friends have successfully bid for a government grant of more than £3 million! They are one of eight such successful bids across the country in the 'myplace programme' which provides capital funding to develop youth facilities in deprived areas of the country.

The money will be used to build a brand, new youth centre on the site of the existing one and to fund some improvements at nearby Weymouth Outdoor Education Centre, which are desperately needed. 

We are now waiting rather anxiously for the spending review to be announced in the hope that funding for the 'myplace project' is not cut.  

I chatted to the three for some time, impressed by their determination and drive. If ever there was evidence that not all young people are hooligans, here it was.

Amber, Tim and Geo were inspirational and I can only wish them and their friends well.

The success of any organisation depends on its leadership and in this regard praise must be heaped on Tom Lane, the area youth worker, who has driven this club forward in the most impressive manner.