The Summer Recess Begins (From the archives)

July 22, 2008

The House of Commons is about to rise for the summer recess.

Many may think this will mean months of relaxation, kicking my heels. In fact, I plan only to take a short family holiday. The fact that I am not in the House during this time does not affect the post or email – I expect to continue to receive about 100 letters a day and over 150 emails. Many are from constituents with a problem or wanting to express a view. Helping them continues all through the year.

I also enjoy the chance to be able to visit schools and businesses in the constituency more in recess too.

The Soldiers’ March Past (From the archive)

July 21, 2008

Today soldiers who have served in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were honoured by the House of Commons where they were received for a march past.

The Speaker, Michael Martin, paid tribute to all that they do for us. It was very moving to see the soldiers dressed in their camouflage and sand boots, so recently used in the very different environment of war. I was glad that they were given such a good welcome. We also ensured that those who had lost their lives or who could not be there due to the injuries they had suffered were remembered for bravery.

I am still hoping that it will be possible for us in Royston to welcome the Anglians as they march through the town.

Relate’s platinum success (From the archive)

July 18, 2008

This year will be the 70th Anniversary of Relate, a fantastic organisation I first came across when I was a young barrister – then called the National Marriage Guidance Council. It is a shining beacon in Breakdown Britain and in Hertfordshire we are lucky to have such a strong organisation based in Letchworth Garden City.

Nothing is of more social value to our society than helping families to live together in harmony. A home with a father and mother supporting their children’s efforts is the ideal and Relate helps couples to resolve their problems and work together. They have saved many families from the agonies of separation and in the process have helped thousands of young people to have a solid start in life. I strongly believe that if more couples would trust Relate to help them, we would have less social problems than we do.

It is a great organisation and is to be congratulated on its success over the past 70 years.

A meeting about Policing in the UK (From the archive)

July 17, 2008

Today I had coffee with an Australian friend of mine, Andrew McIntosh the MP for Kew in the State of Victoria, Australia and his friend and colleague Bill Tilley (member for Benambra). Andrew is the Liberal Shadow Minister for policing and I was pleased to be able to discuss this vital issue with him, perhaps more important than ever now with the rise in violent and knife crime. Andrew was the Attorney General for Victoria and like me was a practising lawyer before he entered politics.

We had a really positive meeting and it was good to introduce him to our former Home Secretary Michael Howard and Philippa Shroud of the Centre for Social Justice, who has done a great deal of research into social issues with Iain Duncan Smith. They even arranged my factfinder five days at a hostel for homeless people (see February 2007 “press releases” for my diary).

Michael explained his approach to policing matters had been to look at the overall picture of the criminal justice system, and we discussed how Tony Blair had tried to take this on by being “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. We were also able to discuss the Police Green Paper.

As is often the case when I meet Andrew, it struck me how similar our public concerns are despite being from opposite sides of the planet. I wish him well in his efforts to realise his policies in Government.

Chairman of The Society of Conservative Lawyers (From the archive)

July 16, 2008

I was visiting Albury C of E Primary School in the constituency yesterday afternoon to see their new hall which was to be opened by the Bishop of Hertfordshire. Bishop Christopher did a wonderful job blessing the hall and I followed with a short speech. The hall was dedicated to the memory of Andrea Wright who had done so much to make it possible and it was very moving to hear her father, Andy Lloyd, saying how proud the family were of this tribute

It was also a big moment for head teacher Anne Atherton, her staff, governors, parents and pupils who have fought hard to persuade the authorities to fund the new hall. I should also not forget the Friends of the School who did so well to raise the money. The new hall should be a great asset to the school as it will enable pupils to do PE even when it is raining and will also provide a much better environment for school dinners.

The school is set in a beautiful location next to the church and whenever I drop in I always think how lucky the pupils are to be able to visit the church for important events through the back gates. I am pleased that the new hall adds to the grounds without spoiling its natural wildlife environment.

As I was leaving my mobile phone rang and I was asked if I would like to be put forward for the post of Chairman of The Society of Conservative Lawyers. Having been a member of the society for many years I felt quite honoured by this invitation. So that evening when I was duly voted in I took the chair for my first meeting of the executive committee. The society has a history of producing excellent publications and also providing legal advice to the party spokesman. I am following in the footsteps of Dominic Grieve QC who was recently made Shadow Home Secretary and I am looking forward to this new challenge.

I will be putting a particular emphasis on encouraging our younger members and we are planning to hold a debate with the Labour Party lawyers in the autumn.

Visiting the new Major Crime Unit (From the archive)

July 4, 2008

With all the current publicity about knife crime, I was glad to be invited to visit the new Major Crime Unit at the Welwyn Garden City Police HQ by Detective Superintendent Andy Schrives

This unit deals with murders, attempted murders, kidnapping and other major crimes in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, and has 94 dedicated officers and staff. When I spoke with Andy, who used to be at the MET, it was clear to me that he is building four excellent teams to deal with major incidents. They have certainly had their work cut out over recent months and a number of their enquiries are now successfully in court with trials or are approaching the court. One case being tried in St Albans involves the notorious Bishop’s Stortford murder.

After meeting the team I also has the chance to visit the communications centre where all the 999 calls are received and dispatched. I was amazed at the level of technology they are using, the computers are able to find the caller on a map and even call on CCTV cameras in the area.

The centre is run by Andrew Crook and I’m going to write community groups and parish councils and explain that it welcomes visitors. I am sure that it would provide a fascinating insight into the modern technology the police now use.

My speech to the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (From the archive)

July 3, 2008

I’ve always been a strong supporter of the environment and was pleased to be asked by CPRE director Kevin Fitzgerald to be guest speaker at the Hertfordshire branch meeting at Wheathampstead. I’ve been vice-president of the society for many years and this was a chance to set out a vision for our county’s countryside in 2026.

I often find myself concentrating on the threats facing Hertfordshire: massive development, water shortages, airport expansion and the like, so I was pleased to have an opportunity to set out a more positive vision for our county. I explained to the CPRE members my belief that as a country we need to learn to understand the social value of the countryside amenities so often taken for granted, the post offices, local hospitals, small schools and of course GPs surgeries.

I said that development should always meet the needs of Hertfordshire’s people and should include enhancing our landscape and improving our infrastructure, particularly public transport, footpaths and cycling routes. I called for a rich mix of landscapes and an increased emphasis on youth leisure activities in the countryside.

I mentioned the importance of strengthening the connection of local farmers with food outlets, such as farmers markets, restaurants, shops, hotels and butchers, and the exciting possibility of developing a Hertfordshire cuisine. I also welcomed Hertfordshire University’s scheme to set up a centre for planning excellence.

My final message was the need to improve our Hertfordshire chalk rivers, especially the Beane and the Mimram. And I told them how pleased I am that the Secretary of State for Environment has now ordered the Environment Agency to conduct a report into the chalk rivers. My final words were,

“Let us enable people locally to take charge and achieve social value and to share a vision of a Hertfordshire countryside robust, healthy and thriving, where the rivers surge, where trees and hedgerows flourish with wildlife and green spaces are open for the enjoyment of all and with an improved Green Belt, worthy of the name and all next to well-planned towns meeting our housing needs, having been enlightened by our University.”

Moving House (From the archive)

July 3, 2008

This week we’ve also been trying to sort ourselves out in our new home in Royston.

We had mixed feelings as we left the house that has been our family home for 25 years. Naturally we had many happy memories of the children growing up there, but they have moved on now and Christine and I felt we should “downsize” a bit.

Moving into our new home, makes me think of all the new couples wishing to buy their first house and start their own family, and I worry for their chances. It is of great importance that we create a country which gives young people the same opportunities we once had.

I like our Conservative pledge to abolish stamp duty on homes under £250K for first-time buyers, I think that would really help in our area.

For now though I am trying to learn about growing vegetables, as we have inherited a well tended vegetable patch at the new place.