Speaking to Lancaster University Conservative Future

October 31, 2013

I am often asked to speak to audiences outside North East Herts. On Saturday I was invited by Leighton Hughes, a constituent who is the Chairman of Lancaster University Conservative Future, to an evening of “Port and Policy.” Also attending was local MP Eric Ollerenshaw MP. The event was held in the ballroom at the Royal Kings Arms in Lancaster and was extremely well attended by over 50 young Conservatives. We discussed a range of policy issues ranging from the Human Rights Act to the political positioning of the Conservative Party. We had a very enjoyable time and it was interesting to hear the views of students who are politically active and whom the Conservative Party should be listening to. It was good to see students in action debating the issues. There was a chocolate fountain too which coupled with the port made for a great combination and very positive evening.

On Sunday I met a group of Lancaster solicitors over coffee. We discussed a range of legal issues and it was very helpful to hear their views.

Unemployment figures down for September

October 24, 2013

I am pleased to hear that unemployment figures for September which stand at 1,178 unemployment claimants have gone down again for North East Hertfordshire. The figure represents a rate of 2.4% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 485th highest of the 650 UK constituencies and a drop by 176 compared to the figures for September last year. Furthermore this September’s figures are also 26 lower than for those in August which is even more encouraging. We keep hearing good news about the economy in the news and clearly this is being reflected in unemployment claimant levels, particularly in my constituency.

Prisoners and their right to the vote…

October 18, 2013

Wednesday’s ruling by the UK Supreme Court about the voting entitlement of prisoners in the European Elections will be welcome.

As is well-known, the European Court of Human Rights has said that the UK is in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights by having a blanket ban on prisoners voting. Wednesday’s case was about whether EU law required that prisoners could vote in the Euro-elections and the Court said ‘No’ in a unanimous decision. This was a triumph for our Attorney General, who had argued the case personally. The Prime Minister tweeted that the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the latest legal challenge “was a victory for common sense.”

Prisoners with long sentences have never been able to vote in the UK, but until 1967 prisoners serving prison sentences for “misdemeanours” did vote. But since then, it is mainly prisoners awaiting trial who have been allowed to vote. The Supreme Court also said on Wednesday that even if a blanket ban on prisoners voting was removed, it would not be replaced by a law enabling very long-term prisoners to vote. This reflects our history and a measure currently before parliament.

There is a draft Bill with options being considered in Committee by Parliament. The three options being considered are continuing with a blanket ban, allowing voting for those sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment or less and allowing voting for prisoners with 4 years imprisonment or less. We will have to see what are the Committee’s views in due course.

There is still a judgment to answer with Strasbourg as my colleague Dominic Raab pointed out in Wednesday’s PMQs but I think for the meantime the decision of the Supreme Court is wise and welcome. Nobody would have wanted to see lifers voting in next summer’s elections.

Letchworth’s International Garden Cities Exhibition

October 11, 2013

This weekend Letchworth Garden City’s Heritage Foundation is opening the doors of its former Heritage Museum at 296 Norton Way South as part of its International Garden Cities Exhibition. The Heritage Museum has been newly refurbished to accommodate the Exhibition which will pay tribute to the influence which Letchworth as the World’s first Garden City has had on other garden cities around the world.

Drawing on Ebenezer Howard’s nineteenth century principles for future New Town planning, Letchworth’s architects Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin created a model in Letchworth which many other cities across the world proceeded to emulate. This weekend’s exhibition in the Garden City will celebrate this influence and welcome global visitors interested in the garden city movement.

Significantly, I understand that the Heritage Foundation is considering its response to development plans for land north of the Grange in Letchworth. They would develop in keeping with the rest of the Garden City and its principles of self- sufficiency, with a particular focus on sustainability and energy efficiency.

I am certainly very pleased that Letchworth is celebrating its rich heritage with its International Garden Exhibition, the principles from which I hope would be adhered to for further developments in the City.

The Lister’s Macmillan Cancer Centre

October 11, 2013

This week I was invited to the turf-cutting ceremony to mark the start of building the new £3 million cancer centre at the Lister hospital in Stevenage. This development will radically improve the Lister’s cancer facilities, double its current chemotherapy capacity and vastly enhance the current patient experience. The building is being funded jointly by the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust and Macmillan Cancer Support. I understand that Macmillan Cancer Support has launched a fundraising appeal for £1.5 million and is looking for donations. The Centre will also provide a greater number of consulting rooms, more staff working areas and access to Macmillan welfare benefit advisors to assist patients with financial concerns.

I was delighted to attend the event with my neighbouring MP for Stevenage Stephen McPartland, representatives from Macmillan Cancer Support, the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, a local patient Tracey and also members from local councils in the Lister catchment area. I believe the building is due to open by next May 2014 which is excellent and I urge people to get donating at: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/donate/macmillan-projects/lister.html