DIARY (First appeared in The House Magazine)

Wednesday 23 January 2008

My latest diet involves porridge for breakfast, so off to Portcullis House before the Work and Pensions Select Committee. 

In the Committee, I question Chris Jackson, Health and Safety Solicitor, about whether Health and Safety requires disproportionate action by employers to prove they have done “everything reasonably practical”. He agrees and suggests a new definition to reduce burdens on business. Music to my ears! 

On to Prime Minister’s Questions, where David Cameron has a clear win, discomforting the Prime Minister over Northern Rock, but I feel the PM was a tad more confident than on previous occasions. 

Then to a meeting with Sir Alan Haselhurst and other Members of Parliament protesting against Stansted Airport expansion. We are briefed on the possible effect of the credit squeeze on plans by the Spanish owners of the Airport to expand it. Such growth could be disastrous for North East Hertfordshire.

The event of the day is the National Rally by the Police Federation with a March of over 22,000 Police Officers, followed by speeches in the Central Methodist Hall. I am able to meet some of the representatives I knew when I was Conservative Police Spokesman and I also have the chance to talk to local Police Officers, Sergeants Clive Reader and Dave Mance, who are there. The passion felt by the Police over the Government’s refusal to pay the arbitration award is palpable and Jan Berry makes the speech of her life. Measured, but cold anger at the breach of trust. David Davis’s speech chimes well with the mood. The key point he makes is that the pay agreement had held for twenty eight years and it should not be broken without a vote on the floor of the House of Commons. This goes down like a storm and there is no doubt that this is a change which must be made.

Then to the National Flood Forum Awareness Event in the Macmillan Room. We have had a number of flash floods in my Constituency, caused by surface water rather than by rivers flooding and I am anxious to make sure that these are being fully taken into account. 

The day ends with dinner with my daughter Victoria at Live Bait opposite the Young Vic. 

Thursday 24 January 2008

I ask a Treasury Question on Stansted and a Business Question on the Police Rally, then most of the day is committed to the Education and Skills Bill. I am shocked by the high levels of illiteracy and innumeracy with 40,000 young people leaving school each year functionally illiterate or innumerate. This means their English is so bad they cannot even write to their bank, explaining a change of address. This is called a “lack of basic skills”. The Bill is trying to raise levels of skills for young people, making them continue education or training until they are eighteen years. Professor Alison Wolf gives evidence that that this will lead to fewer sixteen to eighteen year olds being employed. The new burdens on small business will make them reluctant to employ youngsters. I make the point that if someone cannot read, write and add up properly at the age of sixteen after twelve years in school, why is another two years going to make the difference? The evidence seems to show that by Year Eleven, 11% of young people are persistently absent, over 60,000, and I am asking how they will be lured into staying on in education or training. The Bill Committee has certainly been an eye-opener for me. 

Committee ends and I hop on the train home to Royston.

Friday 25 January 2008

I am up early to attend Macmillan Cancer Support’s “Big Hush” event at Highfield School in Letchworth Garden City. The students at the school are very excited and particularly enjoy waving a large green hand made of sponge and some little monsters on sticks, provided by Macmillan. There was lots of giggling as they prepared to keep quiet. Not easy for a politician either!

Then I am back on the train up to London to support Michael Fallon on his Planning and Energy Bill. The Bill would encourage local authorities to support micro-generation and energy efficiency. There seems to be a warm welcome for the principles of the Bill. Only the Minister is out of step. Michael Fallon asks me to be one of his Tellers for the event. And we won, 45 – 0! I am delighted to have the opportunity to actually read out the score. 

Back on the train to Royston, to sign my post and check e-mails, before my surgery in Baldock. 

This is always well attended and this evening lasts until eight o’clock rather than the usual 7.30. Some interesting cases, including a gentleman from Barbados, who came to Britain in 1960 with a full British passport, has a full National Insurance Contribution Record and is now being asked to prove that he is settled in the U. K. for his housing application – a strong letter needed on that one.

Saturday 26 January 2008

After a Briefing at County Hall by Hertfordshire County Council, Christine and I go off to the cinema to see “In the Valley of Elah”, in which Tommy Lee Jones investigates the death of his soldier son in suspicious circumstances. It is set against the background of the Iraq war and the terrible effects of conflict on young men. It was very thought provoking. 

Sunday 27 January 2008

Our son is home from university and his girlfriend comes to lunch. An enjoyable family day.

Monday 28 January 2008

After working in Royston I take the train into London for lunch with the new Chairman of the Bar Council, Tim Dutton. As a non-practising barrister, I am interested in legal issues and the Bar. It was good to catch up on the latest. There are real problems with the way in which legal aid is being handled with long and costly criminal cases. We discuss alternatives and share our delight that Dominic Grieve has been awarded Queen’s Counsel. This reflects his hard work standing up for civil liberties as Shadow Attorney General

Into the Chamber for Culture, Media and Sport Questions. Then Derek Conway makes his personal Statement, which creates a shockwave around the House. Derek has always been popular, so at first there are mixed opinions. However, it looks serious. 

The Select Committee on Work and Pensions starts deliberations on a Report on Child Poverty with a vigorous but friendly exchange of views. 

Afterwards, I go back to the Chamber to hear more of the European Union Treaty Bill Procedure Debate. There is a real argument about the amount of time for discussion of each Amendment. Dinner is in the Members’ Dining Room with Paul Beresford, David Wilshire and others. 

Tuesday 29 January 2008

This was another day on the Education and Skills Bill Standing Committee. I continue to make the point about literacy and numeracy. One or two of the Labour Members are beginning to groan at my persistence. 

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Porridge again! I look rather covetously at the bacon roll on offer in Portcullis House, but resist. This morning the Work and Pensions Select Committee is continuing to deliberate on the Report. 

Into Prime Minister’s Questions and I hear the excellent news that Jill Pay has been appointed as the new Serjeant-at-Arms. This is a real breakthrough. Simon Hughes suggests a congratulatory EDM, so we put one down. Table Office staff say they wish they could sign too.

I attend part of the EU Treaty Bill debate on Energy, where Peter Lilley is on good form.

The event of the day is the Prince’s Trust reception in Strangers with Bill Gates as Guest Speaker. Many young entrepreneurs there have overcome real troubles to succeed in business and I wish Gina Moffatt well with her flower business in the Bernie Grant Centre, Tottenham. Chandrika Thomas of Ealing explains about her Wedding Dress Designs. Both are now providing jobs to others. The event was hosted by Reading East MP Rob Wilson. The Microsoft Founder gives an uplifting speech about the use of technology to harness young enterprise and “Creative Capitalism”. 

Back in the Chamber, we vote and vote again. 

Tomorrow is another day on the Bill and, yes, I will be continuing to raise the issue of literacy and numeracy – and eating porridge!