Watton-at-Stone Church Fete

May 26, 2009

There is something quintessentially English about a large Church Fete on a field below a flint church flying the St George’s flag. The last two Mays have been wet for fetes and Watton-at-Stone Church Fete has been no exception, so it was especially welcome that the weather kept fine on Bank Holiday Monday afternoon.

Christine and I were shown round the stalls by Ian Knight, wearing his other hat (from the River Beane Restoration Association) as one of the Fete organisers. My mother and daughter Victoria also came and enjoyed the stalls and the Tea Tent. The scones and home-made jam disrupted my latest diet. Victoria is an art student and thought many of the cups and saucers on the bric-a-brac stall “really cool and retro”.

Christine and I had a try at the grass skis and we felt that with practice … we could do well…Ian Knight used to run the darts stall and it showed. He won at “hit the pink spot” and I lost.

The dog show was a new innovation and the categories were not too strict. The winners were “beautiful dog” and “prettiest bitch” without too much Kennel Club input – just nice looking animals. The atmosphere was more fun as a result.

I was delighted that Des showed me round his traditional “Punch and Judy” Show. Everyone loved it and it makes you proud to see the tradition continue, although Des and other performers work for the pleasure of it. Parts of the act were quite scary, particularly Judy’s meat grinder! Local lads were enjoying operating the PC’s siren in his Z car and “Holby” fans had a chance to view a state-of-the-art ambulance costing £63,000.

I am short of a few runner beans and the Garden Stall obliged. It was nice to see local landowner Ralph Abel Smith on the gate collecting the entrance money and Parish Council Chairman Nigel Poulton on the “White Elephant” stall. Watton Fete did well and they hope to make £8,000 for the Church. Well done to everyone on a very worthwhile English occasion!

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Some good news on social care and the NHS

May 21, 2009

A constituent recently made contact to praise the work of the Orchard Residential Unit in Spencer Way Letchworth Garden City. She asked me to let David Cameron know of the excellent care and attention Mrs Maggie Pinner, Manager and her staff give. She could not wish for better treatment and – knowing David’s own personal commitment to the NHS – she wanted him to hear good news about the NHS as it was so often critical.

The Letchworth experience has been very positive and she wanted it known how grateful they are particularly to Mrs Pinner. I have immediately contacted David to tell him of the excellent care she provides to her patients.

Well done to the Orchard House!


A weekend of sunshine and showers

May 18, 2009

This was a weekend of sunshine and showers. On Friday morning I was at the House of Commons to support John Bercow’s Bill to help children with Special Needs and was glad the Government gave him some good news of future improvements. Then on the train back to Royston for a meeting at Barley School where they need some financial help after their boilers broke down leading to high heating costs. I then visited the new Children’s Home in Baldock and was very impressed. It was good to chat to staff and the young people, who had plenty of questions and points of view. Then a wonderful sunny hour as I opened the new Pavilion at the Grange Rec. in Letchworth. The Football Foundation had put in £290,000 and the North Herts Council the rest of this great £500,000 project. I have been to watch matches there and these new Changing Rooms will transform the place. The photographer had me doing “keepie uppies” with a football – something I haven’t done since I ran a Youth Football Team with Clive Efford (now a Labour MP).

I then had my surgery in Buntingford, before going to Great Ashby to meet residents. I had been avoiding the rain all day and boldly went out without my coat. Needless to say, I got soaked!

Saturday started in Furneux Pelham with some doorstep canvassing and afterwards I went to RAF Chicksands for “Beating Retreat”. MPs are very conscious of the need to support our servicemen at present and it was uplifting to hear the music and drum-work and learn more about the bravery of the “Poachers” – the Herts and Beds part of the Royal Anglian Regiment while on duty in Iraq. It spotted with rain, but we were lucky to be indoors before the downpour.

On Sunday morning I went to support Royston’s Italian Market in the pouring rain.The afternoon saw the rededication of Baldock War Memorial in its enhanced setting in the High Street. The service was very dignified and a tribute to the new Baldock British Legion, which has already built up to 100 members.

It was good to see North East Herts looking so lovely and to meet so many people doing good work for our community.

Me talking to constituents

Me talking to constituents


Renewing my call to cut the cost of politics

May 14, 2009
I am renewing my call to cut the cost of politics, which I first set out in my consultation document in 2005 when I was Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. I am resuming my call for a 20 per cent cut in the numbers of MPs, Ministers and special advisers and pointing out that this could save £30 to 40 million per annum.
Here is a copy of my original call:

Fairness and Accountability

1. Introduction

Britain today is over governed over regulated and over taxed. As the decisive result of the North East regional assembly referendum illustrates, people do not believe that more politicians will help solve the problems they face in their daily lives.

Conservative will reduce unnecessary and costly interference in people’s lives by reducing the size and role of the State to be small.

A Conservative Government will freeze civil service recruitment. We will restore power to local government and to the professionals who work in our public services. We will free our schools and hospitals from centrally imposed Whitehall targets. Doctors and nurses will run our hospitals – and teachers will run our schools.

We will introduce a Smaller Government Bill in its first year. That Bill will:
– Reduce the number of MPs by 20 per cent
– Reduce the number of government ministers by 20 per cent
– Reduce the number of special advisers by 20 per cent

2. Fewer Members of Parliament

Today there are 659 MPs in the House of Commons. Conservatives believe that Britain as too many politicians. We question the need for so many legislators. If we are serious about reducing the size of the State, we need to start by controlling the number of MPs.
– We propose reducing the size of the House of Commons by a fifth, slimming down the number of MPs from the current level of 659 to 525
– Conservatives will introduce primarily legislation in our first ear – a Smaller Government Bill – to deliver the change, and ask the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions to draw up new boundaries. This would allow the change to be delivered within the first term of a Conservative Government, with the subsequent general election operating o the new boundaries.

More Equal Representation

Votes in different parts of the UK have widely different values. This is unfair. In 2001, the average size of an English constituency was 69,928 electors, in Northern Ireland it was 66,167 while the average size of a Welsh constituency was 55,904. Even within England there are big variations. The current Boundary Commission review proposes constituencies of widely different sizes – from Hackney South and Shoreditch (57,204) to Banbury (78,817) and the Isle of Wight (103,480).

– A Conservative Government will end the discrepancy between the size of Parliamentary constituencies, by introducing a fixed electoral quota across the United Kingdom (i.e. the electorate divided by 525). This would mean that there were approximately 84,000 electors per constituency, compared to an average of 67,000 today.
– This is a fairer system, as it ensures, each elector in the United Kingdom will have the same level of Parliamentary representation. Using a fixed quota of 525 seats will also prevent the Commons growing in size if the UK population rises

Nation

Current Parliament

Forthcoming changes

Conservative proposals

England

529

533

440

Northern Ireland

18

18

13

Scotland

72

59

46

Wales

40

40

26

United Kingdom

659

656500

525

Reducing the Cost

MPs’ pay and allowances currently cost £127 million, while the Commons administration costs £148 million. There are clearly certain fixed costs to running the Commons. Notwithstanding, Conservatives believe that these proposals to reduce the number of MPs by 20 per cent would save between £30 and £40 million a year.

3. Fewer Ministers

In addition to reducing the number of MPs, Conservatives would reduce the number of government ministers to create a smaller government. We propose a 20 per cent reduction in the number of ministers to reflect the reduction in the size of the Commons.

The Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 (as amended) limits the number of ministerial salaries that can be paid at any one time to 109, although unpaid ministers may be appointed. There is also a limit of 95 on the number of members of the House of Commons who can be ministers at any one time. This does not include unpaid Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs).

Under Labour, the number of ministers and particularly the number of PPSs has soared. The sheer size of the ‘payroll vote’ has started to reduce the effectiveness of Parliamentary scrutiny.

Conservatives’ Smaller Government Bill would ensure that the number of those holding ministerial office by a fifth, by:

– Lowering the limit on the number of Ministers in the Commons and the Lords to a total of 100; and

– Limiting the number of PPSs to 45.

This would generate a small saving (approximately £1 million) in ministerial salaries.

4. Fewer Special Advisers

Since 1997, the relationship between ministers and civil servants has changed more dramatically than at any time since the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms of the 19th Century. Indeed, many of the changes have reversed the whole thrust of those reforms, by replacing the idea of non-partisan appointments on merit with an increasingly powerful coterie of officials who owe their place solely to their links with the Labour Party.

A series of controversial incidents involving special advisers (Jo Moore, Charlie Wheelan, Dan Corry, Alistair Campbell) has exposed how the changes in their number and role has had a corrupting influence on the workings of government.

Under Labour, the number of special advisers has increased from 38 to 76, and their cost to the taxpayer increased from £1.8 million in 1996-97 to £5.3 million in 2003-04.

One of the first acts of an incoming Conservative Government will be to cut the number of special advisers by more than 20 per cent. In addition we would introduce a Civil Service Bill, stronger than the draft Bill recently published by the Government. The Bill would:

– Introduce a legislative provision making it unlawful for anyone other than a Minster of the Crown or a more senior civil servant to give instructions to a career civil servant in the execution of their duties;

– Establish a statutory cap on numbers of special advisers, set at 56; and

– Write the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers into statute, and tighten the Code to prevent the bullying and victimisation of civil servants.

This would also generate a small £1 million saving in special advisers’ costs.

5. Smaller Government

These proposals for smaller government go hand in hand with our existing ledges to scale down other tiers of administration – such as abolishing Labour’s unwanted regional chambers and regional housing boards, and reducing the size and scope of Whitehall departments.

6. Feedback

If you would like to comment on this policy statement, please send your comments to:

Oliver Heald MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
c/o Conservative Party
25 Victoria Street
London
SW1H 0DL


I back the new Cameron Rules – my allowances

May 14, 2009

I fully back David Cameron’s announcement of a tough new approach on Allowances. We are right to be apologising to the public. I am a supporter of reform of MPs’ Allowances and have spoken in the House of Commons about this in the past. I was involved in making the decision to start publishing information on Allowances and I support independent external audit and increased transparency. Last year I backed David when he asked us to volunteer much greater information and I already have a link to the currently published information under “Oliver” on my web-site, http://www.oliverhealdmp.com.

I believe the current system needs a complete overhaul by an outside body and I support the wide-ranging review now being undertaken by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

I will be following the new Cameron Rules and putting up my next claim for Additional Costs Allowance on line. I am also giving the new Cameron Review Body all the old claim forms and receipts, which the House authorities have sent me. The Review Body will check to see if they think any of my claims are wrong or unethical and whether I should pay back anything. I will follow their ruling.

The difficulty in publishing the bundles of documents as they stand is that they contain numerous pieces of genuinely private information such as staff addresses, bank details and the like. These documents have not been fully “redacted”, as they will be for publication. The House authorities are working hard on this and are very aware of the need to publish the details for all MPs as soon as possible. They have brought the date forward from mid-July and now hope to be ready in June.

I claim the allowance to pay for accommodation in London when I am there for Parliamentary work. I believe this is necessary. My main home has been and is in Royston 48 miles from London. The House of Commons now usually sits to at least 10.30pm on Mondays and Tuesdays; on Wednesdays to at least 7.30pm and to at least 6.30pm on Thursdays. The House may sit later on Treasury business or with Government support. I am on a number of Parliamentary Committees and have morning meetings at 9am. The 11.15pm train from London arrives in Royston after midnight and it would be necessary to take a train before 8am the next morning. Although it might have been possible to commute on a short term basis, I believe this would not have been sustainable over my 17 years in Parliament.

From 1992 to 2001 I rented a room in London. In 2001 I bought a studio flat in Lambeth and in 2003 I moved to a 2 bed flat in Lambeth. I paid Capital Gains’ Tax on the profit of £15,000 at 40 per cent. I claim Allowance for mortgage interest (of course, I paid the deposit and capital repayments) and for household costs and necessary repairs. I have never had a flat screen TV. I have never “flipped” my main home designation.

I claim the Office Costs Allowance to pay for equipment and materials for constituency casework.

I claim Mileage Allowance for my constituency work. The North East Herts constituency is one of the largest in the Home Counties and by far the largest in Hertfordshire at 181 square miles.


Minister agrees to crisis visit to local Rivers

May 13, 2009

I have just got back from holding my debate on the condition of rivers in England and I am pleased to say that it went really well, it was very well supported by MPs from all parties and the Environment Minister Huw Irranca Davis MP even agreed to visit the “water stressed” Rivers Beane and Mimram!

After the Minister agreed that the situation was serious, I asked him if he would visit these rivers in my constituency and he accepted to arrange a visit this summer with myself and local campaigners.

Tony Last and Tony Langford of the Friends of the Mimram and Dave Stimpson of the River Beane Restoration Association who attended the debate were delighted at the news and at the end the two Tonys later met the Minister for a quick chat.

Now that the WWF are on board and the Minister has agreed to visit the rivers perhaps we are now one step closer  to saving our precious Hertfordshire environment.

Me in Westminster Hall

Me in Westminster Hall


A helping hand for Herts’ rivers

May 11, 2009

I will be raising the issue of the condition of rivers in England in Westminster Hall from 2.30 until 4 on Wednesday 13 May. I hope that this debate will expand upon my recent Early Day Motion 1392, which has attracted all-Party support with 39 signatures already, but also cover the issues English chalk rivers face from over-abstraction, pollution and excess development (the East of England plan); the political nature of the problem and the role of the Environment Agency, the water companies (Three Valleys Water and Thames included) and OfWat; Government sponsored and other possible solutions, and also climate change.

WWF, with its partners (Angling Trust, Association of Rivers Trusts, etc.) are running two campaigns “Our Rivers” launched last week and “Rivers on the Edge”, which is launched tomorrow. Both campaigns highlight the plight of the Mimram and other rivers.

In North East Herts we have 7 chalk rivers/streams (the Ash, the Beane, the Ivel, the Mimram, the Quin, the Rib and the Upper Rhee). The Mimram – shared with Peter Lilley, Grant Shapps and Mark Prisk – has been in difficulties over recent years with long stretches running dry due to high abstraction levels. It supplies Welwyn Garden City. The Beane – shared with Barbara Follett is similarly stressed – normally dry north of Watton-at-Stone. It supplies water to Stevenage. The two rivers have very low levels of flow according to the Environment Agency. Their studies put the Mimram on satisfactorily meeting the flow requirements of the environment only 1% of the year and the Beane on 10%.

There are approximately 35 chalk rivers and major tributaries ranging from 20 to 90 kilometres in length in the UK. They are located in the South and the East England – from the Frome in Dorset to the Hull in Humberside. Of these 35 chalk rivers in the country, one of them, the Mimram, has a Site of Special Scientific Interest (or SSSI) which is located at Tewinbury, North East Hertfordshire.

The rivers of Hertfordshire, including our precious chalk rivers, are a refuge for our country’s wildlife and form an important amenity for the people who live in our heavily populated county. An Environment Agency report in December found that only 20 per cent. of the rivers and lakes of England and Wales are currently at “good status” and with the rivers in my constituency drying out in hot summers I am raising this issue before the House.

The key messages will be:

* urge Government to implement a plan for more ambitious targets to achieve good status for our rivers, including measures to reduce/amend water abstraction and cut pollution

* better water efficiency with the water industry to lower water use to 130 litres per person per day

* encourage residents to save water

Comparative photos of the Mimram

Comparative photos of the Mimram

 

More comparative photos of the Mimram, with Charles Rangeley Wilson of WWF

More comparative photos of the Mimram, with Charles Rangeley Wilson of WWF