Today I am delighted that Cheryl Gillan’s Austism Bill won the vote in the Commons and will now go forward to the committee stage despite the Government opposing it. This is a victory for all those campaigning for a better deal for people with autism. This Bill will bring hope to the thousands of people’s lives affected by autism; well done Cheryl.
Tomorrow I will be backing Cheryl Gillan’s Autism Bill in the House. The Bill, supported by the main autism charities, would ensure that local councils provide much-needed support for people with autism and their families.
I know from constituents I am in touch with how important it is that autistic people are provided with the right kind of support, and this Bill promotes a multi-agency approach to the delivery of services to ensure an effective transition from child to adult services.
I and several other MPs supporting the Bill met Ministers on Tuesday and were told that the Government would agree to several of the proposals being put forward, including issuing new regulations to ensure Local Authorities take the needs of children with autism into account in their planning, and new guidance to help Local Authorities implement the Government’s Adult Autism Strategy. We could now decide to drop the Bill and wait for the Government to make good on its promises, but the need for action is urgent and we will continue with our efforts to put the Bill on the Statute Book so that the commitments are firm in law. The neglect of autism must be addressed.
Tonight, from 9 to 10.50pm, Lindsay Duncan stars as Baroness Thatcher in the BBC’s new drama ‘Margaret’, on BBC2. We just have to hope that they have done her justice!
Then there is the release of the BBC’s fantastic Thatcher Archive www.bbc.co.uk/archive/thatcher/index.shtml
To coincide with the release of ‘Margaret’, BBC Archive are ‘giving audiences a unique opportunity to view programmes from the archive in an online collection that shows how Margaret Thatcher went from one of only 30 female MPs, to become the first female Prime Minister- a rare opportunity to see how the MP from Finchley became one of the most iconic leaders in British history. “The World This Weekend” from 1971 describes Margaret Thatcher as “perhaps the epitome of the Tory Lady”, and continue describing her as “considerate, charming, well groomed and well mannered, with a nice line in hats”.’
I first met Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s when I was North Hertfordshire Conservative Association Chairman and she came to an area event in Luton. I introduced her to our members. We spoke for a minute or two and the surprising thing was how much she concentrated on what you said. She was totally wrapped up in your conversation. It really made you feel that your opinions mattered. She also put her points very clearly and succinctly. Some people just have charisma and she is one of them. Since then, I have met her on other occasions. I walked down from the Grand Hotel in Brighton with her the day before the bombing in 1984 and introduced two American friends to her. They couldn’t believe that you could walk down the prom chatting with a Prime Minister. Of course, after the Brighton Bomb, the world changed in terms of security, but she really enjoyed the freedom to engage with people. I attended Downing Street occasions when she was Prime Minister and wonderful Dennis was giving his own clear opinions in one corner.
At Liam Fox’s wedding reception, she so enjoyed the evening that she stayed far beyond the original plan and only last week she wrote a wonderful letter celebrating the work of Mrs Brenda Ball OBE of Letchworth, a Party worker for 50 years.
Margaret Thatcher is a remarkable person and I am glad that the BBC are giving recognition to her achievement and stature.
Here at Westminster there is widespread sorrow about the sad loss which David and Samantha Cameron have suffered with the death of their eldest child Ivan. The Prime Minister and William Hague spoke for us all in their comments yesterday. All parents will feel sympathy with the Camerons during this difficult time; any child’s death is a tragedy. Over the years I have known a number of constituents whose children’s lives have been cut tragically short and I know that the Cameron family will need time to grieve and express their sorrow, preferably away from the public eye.
Although we often disagree about political issues, MPs of all parties have friendships across the political divide and we all know each other well, because we spend so much time together. In many ways, the expression ” the Westminster Village” does describe the environment here. This means that at times of personal loss, the House comes together as one, as it did so movingly yesterday. I remember a similar communal feeling when the well-liked Labour Leader John Smith died.
Hertfordians feel a special pride in Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother because of her close connection with St Paul’s Walden and in North East Hertfordshire many residents will agree that it is excellent that she now has a really good statue.
I visited the new statue in the Mall today. Many others were there. It was very good to see a proper statue of her and people were saying how much better as a memorial than a fountain or something less personal. The statue is next to the late King and is exactly right as my photograph shows.
There is a warm welcome for the memorial because of the affection so many of us feel for the Queen Mother. Those of an older generation remember her bravery during the War when she and the King spent so much time in London and were bombed, while people of my age think of her as a very hard working and kindly figure, who gave so much of herself to her role. She will be remembered anyway, but this will keep her name alive for the future.
Over the coming months I believe another aspect of the recession will become apparent. Company pension schemes are bound to be stretched with the value and yields of investments down. There will be worrying valuation reports, showing large funding requirements, some of our largest pension schemes are for companies which are smaller than the pension schemes they sponsor. I hope that the Pensions’ Regulator will help these schemes as they work out recovery plans to make up for cash lost to the recession.
In November I asked the Work and Pensions’ Secretary of State James Purnell Parliamentary Question about pension scheme losses and how they are to be covered if companies go bust. I asked if an increase in the levy on pension schemes for the Pension Protection Fund was going to be put forward. He said No, but there must be some concern at how losses are to be made up if companies go out of business.
It’s a gloomy picture made worse by the Pension Raid by Gordon Brown in 1998, when he ended Dividend Tax Relief, taking £5 billion per annum out of pension schemes. For a time the effects of this were hidden by rises on the Stock Market up on a tidal wave of credit, but now as that tide recedes, we see washed up on the shore the debris caused by that Raid. How those schemes could use the billions of pounds taken from them now.
I was talking to constituents from Letchworth today who told me how sad they felt to see on TV the devastation caused by the terrible fires that have affected the State of Victoria in Australia, and to hear of the fatalities and destruction. I am sure that we all hope that family and friends there have been able to avoid the loss and damage and that the thoughts of Hertfordians are with Victorians.
I thought that Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister, spoke powerfully in condemning the fireraisers, who have caused so much misery. I have written to a friend of mine in the Victoria State Parliament Andrew McIntosh giving him my best wishes at this difficult time.
I have also been asked to look into the way “Choose and Book” for hospitals works, if you use the telephone. Apparently, no written confirmation is sent. One constituent feels that this is unhelpful for those who do not use the internet and that it is no wonder that appointments are not always kept. I think she has a point and will be asking the local NHS Chief Nick Carver what can be done about this.
It has also been pointed out to me again how difficult it is to negotiate the stairs at Letchworth Railway Station. I am pleased that our campaign has finally succeeded and that the work to put in new lifts will be done soon.
Royston in the snow is fantastic for all ages, but specially for young people – with many great slopes on the Heath for sledging. With the schools closed yesterday, it was like a Winter Sports’ Resort. There was some very vigorous snowboarding too. Today, as I walked our dog Soda before leaving for London, mothers and toddlers were enjoying a more gentle snow ride. If the weather goes on like this, I will dust down my sledge from the garage…
As you can see from my Gallery photographs, the House of Commons is very scenic in the snow, but many of us here are beginning to think that Britain has been transported back in time to the 1970s – what with a heavy winter, strikes across Britain, trains out of action, rising unemployment, a Labour Government that’s lost its way and debts through the roof.
At the House today, Conservatives are putting forward a motion calling for better training for the young and for more young people to be taught to read write and add up properly. This is even more necessary as jobs become harder to find in the recession.
It is a cause of national shame that 850,000 young people are not in education, work, or training – a figure up from 686,000 in 2000. I feel for youngsters who have not learnt to read at primary school, sitting at the back of a secondary school class, hiding from teacher and unable to learn more complex subjects or do any homework. No wonder so many truant or cause trouble. As a society, we need to be tackling this at age 7 years, not 17 years. Of course, we are asking for more courses to help adults who have missed out on the basics, but the real answer is to find those struggling and give them a high degree of help at an early age.