Today I have just been to speak to Ashwell School Year 6 who are here at Westminster for an educational course. The questions were excellent, all about current affairs and my life as MP. I then went to meet representatives of our local Wildlife Trust including Chair Mike Master. They had worked out all the wildlife issues locally and it was great to have a briefing here at the House of Commons.
David Cameron has secured the necessary UN approval for a “No Fly Zone” and action against inhumane attacks on Libyan citizens by President Gadaffi. We must hope that the World has not left it too late to act and that the Libyans can be saved from vicious attacks and retaliation for standing up to their unpopular government. David is speaking in the Chamber today.
Meanwhile the agonies of Japan continue. I know that many people in North East Herts will feel great sympathy for those affected by the Earthquake and Tsunami and I am writing to the Ambassador passing on our best wishes at this time. I have also been in touch with Minister Jeremy Browne MP, who has told me about the huge Consular effort in Tokyo to ensure the safety of British people there.
After my blog yesterday mentioning the suffragettes, I was asked to say that it was Emily Davison, the famous suffragette, who hid in parliament to be able to put on her census form that she was resident at the House of Commons on Census Day. Tony Benn put up a plaque to record this and the store cupboard she hid in behind the MPs’ chapel can still be seen today. Of course, this brave lady met a sad end trampled to death at the Derby as she protested her cause.
Today we are debating fuel prices and the future NHS changes. I hope the Government will be able to help hard- pressed motorists in the Budget. In a big rural area like North East Hertfordshire, which is over 200 square miles, motoring is important and the costs are hurting those who need to use a vehicle.
On the NHS, North East Hertfordshire was an area where in the 1990s GPs loved the freedom and took to fund-holding like ducks to water. North Herts was one of the areas which embraced it. Of course, Labour scrapped it. Now GPs are being offered the chance to lead commissioning (buying) services from hospitals. They will, of course, have administrative staff to help. This contrasts with the current situation where the officials of the PCT have this vital commissioning role. Less bureaucracy will mean more Front Line money. The new North Herts GP commissioning group is being formed and other local practices will probably join up with their colleagues in Cambridgeshire.
As part of the programme of events marking the 100th anniversary of the 1911 Census, Dr Jill Liddington, Honorary Research Fellow at Leeds University, will be speaking today at Westminster on how women across the country responded to the suffragette invitation to boycott the census.
This reminded me of the battle for “one woman: one vote” and how hard campaigners fought for our current voting system. This led me on to the current debate about the referendum on the Alternative Vote system (AV). In this proposed changed system one person’s vote is counted once, but another person’s vote can be counted many times if they have voted for a candidate who comes in last or close to the bottom of the poll. As each round of vote counting goes on, the second and later preferences of this voter are counted again and again. Because the second and later preferences of fringe party voters are so important, large parties would have to consider how to appeal to such voters. This could lead to damaging consequences.
The principle of “one person: one vote” has been fought for and the battle won. Our voting system has been successfully exported around the World and it is the most widely used system. It is often called “First Past the Post” – the person with most votes wins.
You would only change such a system if something better was on offer. Yet AV is only used in three places Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Australia. It is unpopular. If you ask friends or relatives “Down Under”, they will tell you. One lady gave me her thoughts from Sydney:
“We and most of Australia don’t like it. To us it seems such an unfair way of doing things. The Libs got more votes in the last election but Labour got in”
When leading Lib Dem the late Roy Jenkins (Lord Jenkins) reported on voting systems, he rejected AV as unfair. AV is not a proportional system and it can lead to big fluctuations.
This week I have been very involved in looking into the Government’s welfare reforms, which ensure that people are always better off in work than on benefits – a vigorous work programme to provide people with the help they need to get into work, and adequate training where necessary, designed to meet the skill needs of the country.
On Monday, the Select Committee on Work and Pensions went to Burnley and held a meeting with benefit claimants who are moving from Disability Benefits into work, when they are assessed as capable of doing a job. The meeting was held at Burnley Football Ground “Turf Moor” and, as reported in The Guardian yesterday, a number of people had criticisms of the Work Capability Assessment. I was able to discuss this with the Minister Chris Grayling last night and it is good to know that changes are being made to ensure that the test is fair for the future. However, what impressed me most at Burnley was that a number of people who had been on benefits for some time were pleased to be receiving help in finding work, and looking forward to taking up a job as soon as possible. If people can move from benefits into work, this is good for Britain and good for them.