My debate this afternoon on Hertfordshire’s roads

November 21, 2014

I am greatly looking forward to my adjournment debate later today in the House of Commons on roads in Hertfordshire – it’s an issue that is very important to our local economy. Adjournment debates are held at the end of a day’s sitting and they last for half-an-hour. They present an opportunity for MPs to express their opinions on matters of local importance, and they always end with a reply from a Government Minister. Hearing the Government’s reply to the issues I raise will be of huge interest to everyone in Hertfordshire.

Tomorrow afternoon, I plan to raise the three most important road issues for the people of North-East Hertfordshire. The first issue is the section of the A1(M) between Stevenage and Welwyn, which I believe needs widening from two lanes to three. The A1 serves a large number of major towns and cities from London all the way to Edinburgh, and places like Stevenage are home to many major international companies. In order to ensure that these companies can get the commuters they need and access to UK markets to sell their products, the A1 needs to be a top-quality road. Sadly, it is not, and the Hertfordshire section of it suffers tailbacks morning and evening every working day. Hertfordshire is one of the powerhouses of the UK economy, but this is damaging it. Some economic potential is being left unrealised, and local people are struggling with heavy congestion, making travel around the County more difficult.

The second of these is my campaign for a bypass on the A10 around Royston. I held a similar debate in the House during the early days of the last Government, in which I called for three bypasses to be built. Two – one around Baldock, and one from Wadesmill to Puckeridge – have now been constructed, but the third – diverting the A10 around Royston – has not. The joint successes of London, Hertfordshire, and the Midlands, the development of the town and nearby areas in South Cambridgeshire, and natural population growth are exerting ever more pressure on our road networks, and Royston’s problems are becoming more serious. The heavy traffic makes life very difficult for people trying to use Royston Hospital, and for children in getting to and from school. Royston is the only town on the A10 from London to King’s Lynn without a bypass. We need one.

Thirdly, we have been very fortunate locally in recently gaining funding from Government for a bypass on the A120 around Little Hadham and for improvements to the A602. Hertfordshire County Council is currently consulting on the detail of the schemes, but given the strategic importance of the link between the A10 and the A120 in relation to Stansted Airport and travel on the A120 east of Bishop’s Stortford, I will argue that a by-pass around Standon is needed to complement the works just recently agreed.

The debate should start at around 2.30pm, and will be shown live on BBC Parliament. It will then be available to read in Hansard and to watch online on

The Government’s “Digital Transformation” and driving licences…

January 16, 2014

Francis Maude’s announcement about the digitalisation of people’s driving licence records is good news. It forms part of the Government’s move to cut bureaucracy and drive down the cost of the Civil Service. According to his statement, as of this June it will become possible to view driving licence records online. This will provide insurance companies with an accurate account of customers’ licence details and any penalties which might possibly drive down the cost of insurance premiums too. There are 24 other areas of the Government’s “Digital Transformation” which are being considered and these include electoral registration, claiming for carers’ allowance, digital tax self assessment plus many more which are in various stages of being rolled out. Applications for Student Finance have already been digitalised. I look forward to the introduction of digitalisation so that people’s lives are improved and money is saved.

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.

Steps taken to curb online child sex abuse…

June 20, 2013

I am extremely glad to hear that the Culture Secretary of State Maria Miller MP and leading members of the internet industry met at the beginning of the week to discuss the way forward on curbing online child abuse. This is a repulsive activity and every effort should be made to stamp it out. At the meeting, I understand there were also representatives of the UK’s major Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Virgin Media, Talk Talk, BSkyB and BT in addition to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, plus Ed Vaizey MP, Damian Green MP, Ed Timpson MP and Claire Perry MP. It was agreed that going forward the IWF and CEOP would work together to identify online child abuse and ensure its prevention. In addition, £1M of funding was pledged by the four ISPs mentioned above to deal with the creation and distribution of child sex abuse material and a “zero-tolerance” pledge was signed against child sex abuse imagery. The need for “splash pages” which alert internet users if they are attempting to access a banned internet page was also highlighted.

The news of this week’s summit is extremely welcome – access to online child pornography has clearly been far too prevalent in the past and I am glad to see that the Government is taking positive steps to ensure its distribution is stopped. I understand that following on from the meeting, industry representatives are planning on reporting back to Maria Miller in the next month on how they feel their technology and knowledge can be used to best facilitate this new approach going forward. I look forward to hearing on what further steps will be taken in the future.

The Communications and Social Media Debate in Westminster Hall this week.

March 1, 2013

This week I took part in a debate on Communications and Social Media. Steve Rotheram MP had secured the debate and I spoke as Solicitor General following the publication of the “Interim CPS Guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media” on 19 December last year, issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Government Consultation on this runs until 13 March.

With the rise of online commentary over the last ten years, the phenomenon of “internet trolling” has become an increasing problem. Steve Rotheram touched on the tragic case of Georgia Varley and her Facebook memorial page which became littered with offensive material posted by “internet trolls” who inflicted psychological abuse on readers of the page.

Steve Rotheram was concerned with how the Crown Prosecution Service will adequately prosecute those abusing social media and he touched upon certain points which he felt the DPP guidelines did not adequately cover, significantly what can be deemed as in the “public interest” and what can be deemed as acceptable speech, when considering a possible prosecution against a particular party. He referred to the timescales and investigative methods currently employed in the investigation of social media abuse claims and suggested they were not adequate whilst highlighting the need to take the European Court of Human Right’s decisions into account too.

In cases where credible threats of violence are made or harassment is occurring or court orders being broken, there must be prosecutions, but there also needs to be space for vigorous open debate, gossip and banter. So in cases of offensive remarks there needs to be a high threshold before prosecution, but clearly some offensive remarks are so gross that firm action must be taken. The new guidelines try to explain these matters and put them in legal context.

There is also some overlap with the Government’s work on the Defamation Bill which seeks to ensure a fair balance is struck between freedom of speech and the protection of people’s reputations and I look forward to seeing how this piece of legislation finally passes through Parliament. When I spoke in the debate, I was able to explain how internet trolling is addressed within the DPP guidelines. I commented on the rise of prosecutions brought against abusers of social media since December 2012 and explained that the DPP Guidelines are not intended to restrict free speech but people must take responsibility when expressing an opinion online.

Prosecutors can bring cases for serious Crown Court offences such as Threats to Kill and Harassment or choose Magistrates Court offences under section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act and section 127 of the Communications Act. The posting of grossly offensive messages online about certain parties cannot be condoned and under the new DPP guidelines, in conjunction with the Defamation Bill, steps are being taken to tackle this issue, whilst respecting the need for a margin to allow for freedom of expression.

Buntingford Senior Students come to Westminster

July 12, 2012

Senior students of the University of the Third Age Buntingford and District Branch on the Terrace

Senior students of the University of the Third Age Buntingford and District Branch

It has been very busy here at Westminster with the House of Lords’ debate (in which I spoke) and the speech by David Cameron to Conservative MPs. I even had a drink this week at Number 10 with the Prime Minister. One of the most joyful events was the visit by fifty senior students of the University of the Third Age Buntingford and District Branch led by Jean Cook, U3A Chairman David Austin and Co-ordinator Jean Devenish. The Senior Students took over the entire Terrace Pavilion for their afternoon tea and it was good to see them all having a fantastic time. I was happy to have been able to book the Terrace and we even had good weather with people able to stand out by the River, as they enjoyed a cuppa. This was very different to when Christine and I went to the Royal Pageant. Although the colours of the boats were stunning, it really did rain that day! Labour’s Gerald Kaufman MP came over to say hello to the group – we don’t agree politically, but are on good terms otherwise. One Lord left the tea he was having with a business group and joined the Buntingford party, saying “this is much more fun”. And they say the younger students have all the good times!

The Queen’s Speech

May 9, 2012

The Queens Speech
The Government is taking the tough, long-term decisions to restore our country to strength, dealing with the deficit, rebalancing our economy and building a society that rewards people who work hard and do the right thing.
The Government took action at the Emergency Budget and has subsequently laid out a credible plan to get the record deficit left by Labour under control. The deficit reduction plan is supported by the IMF, the OECD, and the Governor of the Bank of England.
The deficit reduction plan has gained the confidence of the markets and has ensured interest rates on UK government debt have fallen to record lows, and even fell below Germany’s for the first time in years. Today the UK can borrow at 2.0 per cent, while France pays 2.8, Italy 5.4, Spain 5.7, and Greece over 22 per cent.
There are new measures in the Queen’s Speech
• Public Service Pensions Bill – will reform public service pensions in line with the recommendations of the report prepared by the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission. Not only does this offer guaranteed pensions that are still more generous than those in the private sector, it also saves tens of billions over the coming decades.

• Enterprise, Employment, Regulatory Reform and Repeals Bill – will promote enterprise and fair markets, including provisions on a Green Investment Bank, a new Competition and Markets Authority and reforming employment tribunals.

• Banking Reform Bill – As the Governor of the Bank of England said last week, we need to learn the lessons of what went wrong. We need proper regulation by the Bank of England. And we need banks made to hold enough capital to keep them safe. The Banking Reform Bill will put into law the ring-fencing of retail banking and its separation from investment banking. And it will begin to replace the current flawed system of financial regulation with a framework that promotes responsible and sustainable banking.

To help people who work hard and do the right thing
• Cutting income tax for 24 million people. The Government has increased the personal allowance from £6,475 in 2010 to £9,205 by April 2013. This is a tax cut for 24 million ordinary taxpayers, of up to £546. Two million people on the lowest incomes will be taken out of paying income tax altogether. And for people working full time on the minimum wage, their income tax bill will have been cut in half.

• Freezing council tax. Council tax has been cut in real terms this year, thanks to the second year of the Conservatives council tax freeze helping hardworking families and pensioners. This will save an average family up to £72 a year on a Band D home, on top of last year’s freeze. The compounded saving of both years’ freeze is worth up to £147.

• Revolutionising education. The first ever Free Schools – 24 of them – opened just 16 months after we came to power and there are now over 1,700 Academy schools open in England. The Education Act, which received Royal Assent in November 2011, will help teachers raise standards and gives them new legal powers to root out poor behaviour. This includes a power for schools to search pupils without consent for any dangerous or banned items and the removal of restrictions that prevent schools from issuing detentions to pupils without providing 24 hours notice.

• Cutting fuel duty, saving 10p per litre compared to Labour. Petrol duty is a full 10 pence lower than it would have been without our action in last year’s Budget and the Autumn Statement. Families will save £144 on filling up the average family car by the end of this year.

New measures in the Queen’s Speech
• Families and Children Bill – will improve the lives of children, young people and families, especially those coping with special educational needs. It will reform the assessment, planning and provision for children and young people with special educational needs and those who are disabled, reduce delay in the adoption system, introduce new arrangements for children of parents who apply to court and reform court processes for children in care so cases progress more rapidly. The Bill will also strengthen the role’ of the Children’s Commissioner, enable both mothers and fathers to take flexible parental leave to share early years parenting and make it possible for all employees to balance their work and family commitments.

• Pensions Bill – will reform the state pensions system, creating a fair, simple and sustainable foundation for private saving.

• Energy Bill – will reform the electricity market. This will include powers to establish long-term contracts for low-carbon energy generation and to guarantee generating capacity, as well as other measures which together will deliver affordable electricity for consumers and help meet security of supply and decarbonisation goals.

Ending the something for nothing culture. The Government are already
• Capping Benefits. The Welfare Reform Act caps the total amount a household can receive in benefits to the average of household earnings so no household can receive more than £26,000 a year, the equivalent to a pre-tax salary of £35,000 – a step which the Labour Party opposes.

• Controlling Immigration. Under Labour net migration reached more than 2.2 million people – more than twice the population of Birmingham. The Conservatives are getting to grips with Labour’s chaos. We are capping economic migration, cracking down on sham marriages, shutting bogus colleges and reforming Student Visas. Our action will reduce net migration down from the hundreds to the tens of thousands a year, back to the sustainable levels seen under the last Conservative government.

• Biggest ever increase in the Basic State Pension. The Government has introduced the triple lock guarantee which ensures that State Pensions will be up-rated by earnings, prices or 2.5 per cent – whichever is highest. This has brought an end to the paltry rises in the state pension under Labour, which one year amounted to 75 pence. In April this year, the basic state pension rose by £5.30 per week – the biggest cash rise ever.

• Making work pay. Under Labour too many people turned down offers of work because they were better off on benefits. From 2013, the new Universal Credit will simplify a range of benefits into one payment to make it easier for people to see they will be consistently and transparently better off for each hour they work and every pound they earn – making work pay.

New measures in the Queen’s Speech
• Crime and Courts Bill – will establish the National Crime Agency to tackle serious, organised and complex crime and strengthen border security. The Bill will also maintain the capability of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to acquire communications data to protect the public within a framework of strict safeguards. Measures will further reform and modernise the courts and tribunal service to increase efficiency, transparency and judicial diversity.

• Justice and Security Bill – will provide for strengthened oversight of the security and intelligence agencies; to provide for closed material procedures in certain civil proceedings; and to prevent disclosure contrary to the public interest of certain material in judicial proceedings, including material shared with us by our allies.

Reforming our politics. What is proposed
• Fixed-term Parliaments. The Coalition have legislated to introduce fixed-term Parliaments in the United Kingdom to remove the right of a Prime Minister to seek the Dissolution of Parliament for pure political gain

• Standing up for Britain in Europe. The European Union Act ensures that for the first time British people will have their say on any proposed transfer of powers from the UK to the EU. If in the future a change to an EU treaty is proposed that moves powers or areas of policy from the UK to the EU, the Government will have to get the British people’s consent in a national referendum before it can be agreed.
The Queens Speech will help Britain to move forward.

The Welfare Reform Act

March 2, 2012

The news this morning that the Welfare Reform Bill has now made it onto the statute books is extremely welcome. David Cameron is correct when he said that “today marks an historic step in the biggest welfare revolution in over 60 years.” By introducing and passing the Welfare Reform Bill, the Government has sought to ensure that lives will change for the better, giving people the help they need, while backing individual responsibility so that people can escape poverty, not be trapped in it. For too long the welfare system has hindered rather than promoted individual responsibility and the time has come at last after many years, when this will be reversed. The introduction of the “Benefits Cap” and “Universal Credit,” within the terms of the Act, actively encourages those with an option to do so, to go to work. Equally such measures will hopefully not only address the soaring benefit bill which the Coalition government inherited from the previous government but with any luck it will improve social well being too. Those who have long sought the sanctuary of the benefits system will be provided with an opportunity for self-betterment and a chance to improve their lives and I applaud the Government for taking this positive action.

Renewable Energy…

March 1, 2012

I am a long standing supporter of both energy efficiency and renewable energy -particularly solar energy. In his recent announcement on 9 February, Greg Barker the Minister pledged a target of three and a half times the amount of Solar PV by 2020 than the scheme originally planned [1] and I welcome these moves made by the government as well as their “Green Deal” policy on energy efficiency.

In a newly released briefing, Friends of the Earth highlight the importance of community and social housing energy tariffs too. As Friends of the Earth say “a community energy tariff is needed to give uplift to community energy schemes, including social housing” [2]. The Government are consulting on social housing schemes and whether a higher tariff might apply there. I would also like more thought given to community schemes more generally. The aim should be to empower individuals and communities to be energy efficient and to generate their own power. In this way we can give people the chance to make a difference themselves.

[2] Briefing for MPs -Feed-in Tariff Review Friends of the Earth (February 2012)

Today’s Westminster Hall Debate on Cycling

February 23, 2012

Yesterday evening there was a volley of people flooding through Parliament Square on their bicycles. Not only was this a pleasing sight because everyone there looked so cheerful but I also enjoyed witnessing the amount of support which the Cycle to Work Alliance has obviously engaged (encouraged by the Times newspaper) ahead of today’s Westminster Hall debate on the subject. I have signed EDM 2689 and 2685 and firmly embrace the principles which the two EDMs espouse. I hope the Debate this afternoon goes well. Preliminary details about the timing of the Debate can be found here:!/calendar/Commons/WestminsterHall/2012/2/23/events.html