September 2012

Wed, 19 Sep

Another busy day. 

I had intended to go to Portland to meet Belinda Craig, the mum of Jack, who sadly drowned when the Purbeck Isle foundered.

Sadly, the sheer weight of work kept me at my desk, which I was frantically trying to clear before I go away.

I called her instead. She is a very brave lady and committed to the campaign to save our helicopter.

I ordered the flag to be raised at half mast on the tower as a mark of respect to the two fallen police officers. The whole case is so very sad. 

Tue, 18 Sep

 

Another early start and run. The park is stunning and autumn has definitely arrived. Much colder this morning.

Back to Dorset, where during the day news began to come in that two female police officers had been gunned down in Hattersley, near Manchester.

My heartfelt sympathies extend to all those involved in this barbaric act.

Yet again, this appalling act of violence reminds us how brave our police officer are.

Unarmed, they often venture into situations which put them at great risk of injury, or in this case, death.

My respect for them all is unlimited and we have a lot to be grateful for in this country.

My day was spent mostly at my desk.

Campaigners to save the Portland SAR helicopter are meeting again next Tuesday. I shall be away, so cannot attend, regrettably.

I and others are keen for the group to select a non political chairman who can co-ordinate all the efforts being made.

I was interviewed by BBC South Today and BBC Radio Solent following the tragic motorboat accident in Weymouth Bay on Sunday.

The SAR helicopter was used to take one of the men to Southampton General Hospital and it was yet another reminder how important this aerial asset is to us.

I've had a very disappointing reply from the RYA, who have washed their hands on this issue, claiming they do not have the expertise to comment on SAR provision. I find this very odd indeed.

Mon, 17 Sep

 

An early rise and run, and into the office for a short while until I headed to London and the Commons.

In the afternoon, Michael Gove made a statement on a new exam structure which sees the end of the GCSE and a return to a more traditional form of examination at the end of the year.

I do back this reform and believe, like Mr Gove, that it will push up standards and give our children a better chance in life.

There was a mass to do in the office and I worked steadily through a long list of must-dos with my London team.

In the evening, I enjoyed a wonderful dinner with my two daughters. 

Sun, 16 Sep

 

Today I judged eight teams of four, all dressed as pirates and rolling a beer barrel down the streets of Weymouth!

What, you proclaim?

Let me explain. Friends of the wonderful charity MV Freedom - a specially adapted vessel which takes people in wheelchairs for sea trips - had organised a fund-raising weekend for their own charity and Help For Heroes.

The teams of four spent Saturday walking over the moors in Devon, carrying an empty beer barrel for some 20 miles. 

They then to return to Weymouth 'in style', before racing their barrel over a short course to the finish line outside the Kings Arms on the quay.

That is where I caught up with them.

I then spent about an hour chatting to each team so I could judge which had performed best.

They had plenty of tales to tell and I and the Deputy Mayor agreed that the only group of girls, called the 'Firkin Fairies', won hands down. It turned out they'd won last year, too, so there were cries of bias!

What impressed me most about the girls, quite apart from the fact they'd walked the course, was the fact they'd organised a fly past in the SAR helicopter as their grand entrance into the town.

And they were in fact on board and in the air when that tragic motorboat accident happened in the bay and the helicopter had to return base.

The Deputy Mayor and I said a few words and then I presented the girls with a signed bottle of whisky.

Drinks all round followed and I left the assembled crowd having a good knees-up, I'm assuming for some hours!

Sat, 15 Sep

 

I chuckled as I spent most of what was a lovely, sunny day trapped behind my desk, reflecting on comments made by one constituent that MPs don't really work at weekends.

A MP's job is seven-days a week. You are never off duty and whenever you venture out from your home, you are the MP for, in my case, South Dorset.

This is not a whinge, far from it, but perception is often so different from reality.

I had a mountain of correspondence to wade through, including an update on the Swanage Hospital, the SAR helicopter, my jailed constituent, marine conservation zones, same-sex marriage, a charitable car club, yacht racing at the Portland Sailing Academy, pensions, three non-constituents stuck in a jail in Cairo, a closing HSBC branch in Wyke Regis, an invitation to the Royal Albert Hall for a musical extravaganza to celebrate The Rifles Regiment and planning a meeting at the Commons for a business in my constituency.

Fri, 14 Sep

 

An early start and then on to my motorbike and down to Portland to visit my young constituent in jail, who'd been moved from Dorchester only yesterday.

The excellent new Governor, Russ Trent, a former Royal Marine and a most able fella, had also said he could see me, so a good chance to catch up.

The YOI is a most imposing place, but Russ has managed to attract a lot of new investment in the place and is smartening it up.

Having passed through security, I was taken to meet my constituent and we met in a small room in one of the wings.

He was suitable shocked to find himself in jail and was clearly remorseful. We chatted for 15 minutes, time enough for me to check he was ok and being well looked after.

Then up to the Governor's office for a long chat with him.

Russ really is an outstanding boss and already the improvements he has instigated are making their mark.

He is farsighted and not afraid to speak his mind ... hurray!

We talked about my constituent and when he qualifies for a tag and early release. Clearly, it's up to Russ to decide who gets that prize, but I left it on his radar.

As I said, our meeting went on far longer than either of us had anticipated and I eventually headed home at about 4pm.

Today was a day that an MP's role really came to the fore. My constituency duties are many and varied, but helping those in trouble is clearly one of them.

Yes, youngsters should pay a price for misbehaving, but if there's a genuine chance for that person to learn from his mistake then he must be given a second go.

In this case, my constituent's employer has kept a job for him which, together with a loving and supportive family, will see him back on the right path on his release. 

Thu, 13 Sep

 

Spent much of the morning organising a visit to prison to visit one of my constituents. The circumstances are unfortunate and this young man needs support. I know he will never repeat his offence, and this is a tough lesson to learn at such a young age, but he has a good family behind him and I am confident he will come out a different fella.

I did an interview with BBC Radio Solent regarding my submission to the Transport Select Committee and spoke to Dr Ian Mew, the affable and able consultant who launched the first epetition to save the Portland helicopter. We both agree that we need to team up with the various individuals who are running their own campaign so we can better co-ordinate it.

Then, in the afternoon, my wife and I hosted about 70 members of the Association to tea at home. It was a wonderful afternoon and we were lucky with the weather.

Our secretary has left for another job in London and we all wished her well. Katherine is a fabulous, young lady, who will now be working for Teresa Villiers, who has just been appointed Northern Ireland secretary.  

Wed, 12 Sep

 

An early rise and out into the park for a run. Autumn has arrived, I felt, because it was colder and the leaves are now beginning to turn. I wonder if we are in for a cold winter this year? I hope so. I prefer snow to rain!

Another busy morning before I dropped down into the Chamber for PMQs.

A rather muted 30 minutes, really, with Miliband adopting a quieter and more dignified approach. Interesting. Who's been briefing him, I wonder.

Then, the PM made his statement on the Hillsborough disaster and he did so sombrely and with great dignity.

The findings are truly appalling and amount to a massive cover-up by the police. This is as low as things can get and I feel for those poor families who lost loved ones in the tragedy.

Who knows where this report will lead but, as I understand it, an inquest is likely to be reconvened, with the Coroner likely to return a different verdict and perhaps one of unlawful killing.

That would open the floodgates to further legal action by the families. So this whole tragedy is not over yet.

A trip to the dentist in the afternoon, was followed by two interviews: one with ITV, to discuss my submission to the Transport Select Committee, and the other with Channel 4 regarding the economy, which was apparently shown later in the day.

Last vote was at 7pm and I'd finished in my office an hour later, when I headed back down to Dorset. 

Tue, 11 Sep

 

Up to London in the morning.

A frantic day catching up with numerous issues, campaigns and writing my column for the local paper.

During Treasury questions, George Osborne hinted that he'd been moving the goalposts on his borrowing target.

Not good news as borrowing has spiralled and might even exceed Labour's excesses! Quite extraordinary.

Our job must be to cut state expenditure and allow the private sector to fly.

The Opposition had its day today, with two debates. We finished at 10pm.

As I left the House, I bumped in Graham Brady, chairman of the Backbench '22 Committee.

We agreed that the recent reshuffle had caused a lot of anger.

What this bodes for the future is anyone's guess, but we do need to begin creating clear blue water between us and the Lib Dems.  

Mon, 10 Sep

 

A day that started well and got knocked off course by events.

This is the week that I must submit my report on the Portland SAR helicopter to the Transport Select Committee.

The wonderful supporter Dr Ian Mew called me, having sent a copy of his submission to me. It is quite excellent.

He has suggested, and I entirely agree, that we can better co-ordinate our campaign to save the helicopter.

He is now making moves in that direction.

The local press called to ask me about my expenses. Having only spent what I need to spend, I was more than happy to chat.

I think it is a terrible shame that so much trust has been lost between voters and MPs and the expenses' scandal really did a lot of damage.

Hopefully, no one would be stupid enough to put their hands in the till now, surely!

Had a lot of correspondence to work through, most of it to thank those who had accommodated my visits over recent days.

The papers were full of Olympic euphoria, and rightly so.

Both Games have proved hugely successful and inspirational. Well done Teams GB and GB herself.  

Sat, 8 Sep

Another lovely day. I hopped on to my motorbike and headed to Weymouth for some campaigning.

I met up with our team outside Debenhams, where our association secretary had set up a stall.

We then campaigned until 1pm, handing out literature to the public, both promoting Nick King, our new police commissioner candidate, and talking to constituents and dealing with their problems.

I always enjoy these events and I met many people who expressed a wide range of views.

One gentleman harangued me over immigration until I explained we'd discussed this very issue in the Chamber only two days earlier.

There were several groups of children performing across the resort and one of the pitches was opposite us.

Dressed in all kinds outfits, these youngsters danced and jigged with great enthusiasm, much to everyone's pleasure.

A lady from one team, representing mother earth, came over to me and whispered rather conspiratorially in my ear that she did not support our Party.

I whispered back that that was perfectly all right with me and her democratic right!

Back home on the bike for a very late lunch. 

Fri, 7 Sep

Into the office for a short while before heading down to Weymouth to the Osprey Leisure Centre, which has just had a multi-thousand pound windfall and bought some fitness equipment, some of which can be used with physical disabilities.

So, with Paralympics coming to an end, the timing of this is most fortuitous and appropriate.

The centre is managed by the charming Nigel Williams, who really is a star.

He's most ably supported by the charity executives, who took over running the centre when the navy left.

We were divided into two groups and given a guided tour by a young man who works there.

The range of equipment was impressive and we met several users, all of whom were delighted with this new investment.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a cup of tea and cakes, which had been most generously made for us.

Nigel said a few words, followed by the lovely Mayor and finally by me.

And, while I am on the subject of the pool, I heard back from LOCOG following my request to allow the remarkable Sue Austin to swim in the Olympic pool in her wheelchair.

Regrettably, the workmen move in the moment the last athlete climbs out, to prepare it for the general public.

Anyway, I have now suggested and requested that Sue is the first user when the pool re-opens. We shall see.

Time had flown past by now, so I returned to my office and worked through until the evening on a range of issues.

Thu, 6 Sep

 

Another early morning run - so lovely when the weather is like it is. There are fewer bicyclists too at this time of day. Some of them are mad! Must be the lycra.

I spent the morning going through my two speeches. I knew we'd only have a few minutes each due to the number of MPs who wanted to speak.

After business questions, Eric Pickles made a statement on planning, which I listened to intently.

I do not want us to start moving into Green Belt land to enable more house building. The solution is to tackle immigration, not build more homes in our stunning countryside.

I was called to ask a question and sought Mr Pickles' reassurance that he would not use these 'muscular' reforms to overturn the decisions of locally elected councillors.

He could not guarantee that if the council in question had been preventing house building for no good reason.

We began the first debate on immigration control later than expected and speeches were limited to seven minutes.

The motion to basically cap the UK's population at no more than 70 million by any means possible was brought by Nicholas Soames for us and Frank Field for Labour.

The Labour benches were pretty empty and opposition to the motion was limited to one or two MPs.

All those on our side spoke well, especially Mr Soames, whose views I know are mirrored across the country.

Unsustainable immigration must be stopped, before our country changes forever and becomes so overcrowded that we completely destroy what everyone wants to come here for.

I was the penultimate speaker and was told to keep it very short as time was pressing, so my carefully prepared speech went into the dustbin and I got to my feet to utter a few words before the debate ended.

By this time Jan Turnbull, chairman of the League of Friends of Swanage Hospital, Dr Tim Morris, a former GP in the resort, and Helen Tucker, the author of a report commissioned by the Friends, had arrived in the public gallery.

Dr Sarah Wollaston kicked off and spoke well about the need to retain cottage hospitals.

As you know, NHS Dorset wants to close Swanage Hospital and replace it with a polyclinic. When I mentioned this in my speech, I could not resist asking whether this was a place for "parrots or carrots".

Joking apart, I explained why our community hospital was so important and should be expanded not closed.

The newly appointed health minister Anna Soubry listened in her place. She has a lot to learn in a very short time.

The debate ended at 6pm when I joined Jan, Tim and Helen in the Lobby to guage their view of the debate.

They were satisfied that the points had been made and we now wait nervously for the next move.

I have submitted Helen's excellent report to both Mrs Soubry and the new Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

It calls for the consultation process to be stopped on the grounds it's been administered wrongly in every respect.

We said our farewells and I drove back down to Dorset after a hectic week. 

Wed, 5 Sep

 

Up at 6am, a good run and then breakfast with my youngest daughter, which was wonderful.

Into the Commons and worked on my two speeches for tomorrow.

I also wrote my weekly newspaper column before entering the Chamber for PMQs at midday.

Miliband v Cameron was, as always, interesting theatre.

They came out about equal, I'd say. The former is getting better and more confident.

The Opposition had two debates on rail fares and housing, both of which I missed as I was attending my Efra Select Committee.

We had an interesting issue today - dog welfare and control.

Our first witness's son was killed by a so-called 'status dog' owned by the family, so you can imagine how emotive that was.

The witness did very well indeed and her evidence was of great value.

Then we took evidence from a union rep for the postmen and women, Guide Dogs for the Blind and the NFU.

I think I can paraphrase by saying they all agreed something must be done to tighten up on dog laws, especially for those who use dogs as weapons or breed them for fighting.

Another gaping hole is the problem of dog attacks on private property, which is not covered by law at all.

One of my constituents has suffered an appalling experience when her daughter nearly lost an eye when she was attacked by a Scottish Terrier in the owner's house.  

Our session took some time and I got back to my office at about 5.30pm.

The final vote was at 7pm, so I continued working on my two speeches.

Tue, 4 Sep

 

An early rise and into the office to clear my desk before heading to London.

A busy morning once there, catching up with all the news and wading through a pile of work on my desk.

Lunch was eaten at it while I worked on through the day until it was time to attend an afternoon tea in Dining Room B, hosted by my colleague Sarah Wollaston GP.

Sarah is leading the debate on the future of all 320 cottage hospitals in the country and this was a preliminary meeting.

Swanage Hospital Matron Jane Williams, her husband and daughter attended, along with some Friends of Blandford Hospital and other representatives from across the country.

Some useful contributions were made by those attending and at 6pm I gave Jane and her team a brief tour of Westminster.

They then headed home to Dorset while I went back to the office and worked through until 8pm.

Mon, 3 Sep

 

First port of call was to the doctor for some jabs! Never my favourite pastime and even today I find it hard to sit and wait for the inevitable sting in the arm.

It was the first day back in the Commons following the summer recess, but I marked it by informing my Whip I was not going to vote for the EU stability mechanism bill. Like all things EU, it really is too complicated to explain here, but take my word that it was not worth supporting.

Instead, I began work on two speeches I am due to make on Thursday. One's on immigration, the other on Swanage Hospital.

In addition, I put the final touches to my report on the Portland SAR helicopter which is due to be submitted to the Transport Select Committee next week.

With a Cabinet reshuffle under way, let's see if Justine Greening and Mike Penning survive the cull.