On Saturday I popped into the Viceroy of India in Buntingford to congratulate Mr Chowdury on his 25 years of business in the town. Congratulations Mr Chowdhury!
Today’s figures on youth unemployment are shocking. Almost 1 million young people are looking for work in the UK. This is much higher than in 1998. Our young people should not become strangers to the World of Work. The loss they suffer is not just the lack of money from wages, but also the sapping of morale and aspiration.
Locally youth unemployment is almost double what it was a year ago. Conservatives propose to reward small and medium sized businesses for taking on new employees and to improve the quality and number of apprenticeships. We need a stronger response to the recession too with a sound approach to public spending and an effective loan guarantee scheme to help business survive. Let’s hope we have a better year in 2010.
It’s snowing at Westminster! Here’s a picture:
I wonder if it will look as nice as it did last year when it snowed.
Betting agents, have the odds for a White Christmas this year at 9/4, fingers crossed.
I was delighted when the Leader of the House of Commons conceded that legislation would be required to implement the recommendations in the Kelly Report on expenses and that they will bring in the changes.
At the time of the Queens Speech I asked the Leader of House, Harriet Harman, if she would support a Bill to implement the 11 law changes recommended by the Kelly Committee, her reaction was lukewarm and confused – saying “we do not want to legislate if that is unnecessary” (see the Hansard record of my request on 19 November, here).
All the main parties accepted the recommendations in the Committee’s report, yet the Labour Government stalled over the necessary law changes.
When I asked Harriet Harman if she would put the recommendations into law before the general election, she said that she thought some of the recommendations could be implemented using powers that already existed. Yet it was clear from the Kelly Report that this was wrong.
A while ago Christina Farley of Highfield School in Letchworth came for work experience with me in Parliament. It turns out she is also the Political Editor of the school’s newspaper and she has written a fantastic article about her experience, so in good in fact I thought it deserved sharing:
The London Underground on a Monday morning is more like a sardine tin than anything else. Amongst the smart, suited men, obviously well-travelled on the labyrinthine Tube, (but keeping a low profile lest someone should mistake them for bankers) I felt more at home with the overwhelmed tourists, conspicuous by their concerned glances at the Underground map, their alert expressions whenever the station name was read out, and their fearful “what if I miss it” lunges towards the door whenever the train stopped.
But somehow I made it (thanks Mum!), and at a quarter past nine found myself standing outside the Houses of Parliament, where I would be spending the day at the office of Oliver Heald, Conservative MP for North East Hertfordshire. When I met him at his surgery earlier in the summer, I was surprised to find him approachable and encouraging, saying he was always impressed when meeting Highfield students, and how much he enjoys coming to talk to the Sixth Form each year.
In the Visitor Centre, I was handed a badge with the date and my mug-shot on it, to ensure I couldn’t sneak back the next day. I then made my way to St. Stephen’s Hall, where my tour of the Houses of Parliament would begin. The building is nothing if not impressive. Thick stone walls and ornate decorations lend the place a gothic splendour, yet despite the building itself and the ancient rituals observed within, the winds of change are blowing in Westminster; on the tour, our guide informed us of proposals to make the Lords a fully elected House, which has wider implications for the future, when we will be old enough to vote.
Not everything on the tour was serious, however. I can’t possibly complete this account without passing on some of the fascinating trivia that peppered our visit. If you watch BBC Parliament (which, of course, you do) you’ll see that there are red lines in front of each of the benches. When a speech is in progress, MPs must stay behind these lines, which are exactly two sword-lengths apart; this tradition is thought to be the basis for the phrase “to toe the line” and dates back to a time when the Members carried weapons. Debates today are perhaps less dangerous, if not more cordial. Another ceremony from ye olden days (performed since the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, when Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament and the then-King James I) involves the Beefeaters, “bodyguards” to the Queen, performing a traditional search of the cellars beneath the Houses before the state opening of Parliament. To these “factlets”, I can add my own observation; the House of Lords smells of sausages. (At least, it did on the day I visited – I suppose they have to feed those hungry Lords and Baronesses with something).
Having seen The Robing Room (used by the Queen on the day of the state opening of Parliament to don the Imperial state crown and robes), wandered in awe through the red and gold House of Lords, and even had the opportunity to stand at the dispatch box in the House of Commons, and imagine for a minute that I was… it was back to reality and life as a mere intern.
I was met in St. Stephen’s Hall by Martin, Oliver Heald’s Researcher, before going through the underpass to Portcullis House. If The Palace of Westminster is the stage, then Portcullis House is one of several sets of artists’ dressing rooms, providing accommodation for 210 MPs and their staff. Although incredibly different in style from the Houses of Parliament, the ship-like Portcullis House has a charm all of its own. I couldn’t help but feel relieved, however, that I wasn’t left to find my way to the office alone; the “light oak” walls and doors mean every corridor on every floor looks exactly the same as every other.
After sorting some post in the office, and discovering that Highfield’s very own Sally Etchells was also an intern that day(!) we were taken to the atrium, where Martin explained the “Summary Agenda” – the “order of service” for the day’s Common’s debates – and the lawmaking process (see previous and future editions of the YAP). All this as, much to our excitement, we sat at the next table from Nick Robinson, the BBC’s Political Editor.
Then to lunch, and some absorbing political discussions, before we took our places in the Strangers’ Gallery to watch the afternoon’s debates unfold. Especially recognisable were Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat MP and participant in the previous week’s controversial Question Time, and John Bercow, the recently-elected Speaker of the House of Commons. The rest of the afternoon was spent in a Parliamentary Select Committee, of which there are many for both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It is their main function to investigate and report on issues in detail; while some look at areas of specific interest to government departments, others carry out separate inquiries.
As we left the Committee, we were greeted by a breathtaking view of Portcullis House at night, the shallow baths in the centre of the atrium reflecting the yellow light from the steel and glass in a slightly Christmassy way. Then it was back on the Tube, tired – very tired – but knowing that today’s experience had been extremely special.
The amount of money the Labour Government is borrowing is so massive that its hard to visualise it, but the Conservative party have had a good try with this picture of Battersea power station…
In the Pre-Budget Report today the Chancellor failed to take the tough decisions on spending before the election, and as a result there will be higher taxes and higher interest rates if they win the election.
For the next two weeks delegates from around the world will be attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. This is an important event where members of the UN will try to agree a framework to cut carbon emissions by 2012 and thereafter. This is the first international summit on Climate Change where a US President will be in attendance and is expected to make a commitment. The last time a similar treaty was signed was the 1997 Kyoto agreement, but without the backing of the USA the treaty largely failed to achieve the ambitious targets set. Now that President Obama is attending Copenhagen, hopes are running high that an agreement can be reached.
So far President Obama has pledged a 17% cut in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, 30% by 2025, 42% by 2030 and 83% by 2050. Britain, along with the rest of the EU, has pledged to cut 20% from 1990 levels.
I am supportive of action on climate change and am not sceptical about it. It is good that we question the evidence being put forward by our scientists, but many of the sceptics’ arguments seem to me to be nitpicking the details: from the Maldives to Moscow the evidence in support of global warming is clear to see.
I am personally backing the 10:10 campaign and have raised the importance of reducing our carbon emissions in the House of Commons a number of times. The last time I spoke in the Chamber I asked the Government to “send out a message ahead of Copenhagen that this is not going to be yet another occasion that is all about warm words and signing up to something vague and meaningless, but that it will be an occasion when the world means business.” It is vital that firm and long lasting commitments are reached at Copenhagen this year.
At my meeting with local businesses last Friday Barclays gave a presentation on the local economic scene highlighting a modest revival with new business lending up. There are also signs of some improvement in the construction industry.
Today I am in Glasgow with the Work and Pensions Select Committee examining the effectiveness of Welfare to Work programmes in big cities. Clearly this is a big challenge in the current climate.
Christmas seems to have well and truly arrived! On night Friday I went to the extremely well attended Buntingford Lights of Love Celebration. This ceremony gives everyone a chance to remember loved ones and celebrate Christmas. Chris Garrett of Isabel Hospice spoke and Councillor Basra, the Mayor of Buntingford, lit the Christmas tree after the traditional countdown. I was pleased to be able to do a reading, a passage from the writings of actor David Kossoff about the importance of lighting candles during this season. The fantastic choirs from St Peter’s Church and St Mary’s in Aspenden were well complemented by the corneteer from the United Reform Church and we all joined in singing the classic carols like “Once in Royal Davids City” and “Little town of Bethlehem”.
Then on Saturday I visited Baldock’s new Christmas market. The market raises money for the St Mary’s Church and was well attended with many stalls, an ice rink and fairground rides for children. My favourite part was the Baldock Midnight Morris Men’s performance! Their traditional dancing was a real delight and very colourful despite the black clothing they wear.