Working for the future of Bedford & Kempston

Please note: This site covers the period that I was the Member of Parliament for Bedford from May 2010 to June 2017. I am now the Member of Parliament for North East Bedfordshire. Please visit my new website: for the latest news and information.


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The speed and decisiveness of Prime Minister Theresa May to reshape her Cabinet showed that she is a leader who means business.

On entering Downing Street, Mrs May said that her Government will be driven by the interests of families that are “just managing” and for whom “life can be a struggle”. I welcome this commitment and expect to see real progress to enable anyone, from whatever background, to go as far as their talents take them. This is the agenda of a government which I believe will resonate with the vast majority of people in Bedford and Kempston.

After a tumultuous month, now begins the steady work to put these strong intentions into practical effect.

The diversity of residents in Bedford and Kempston is a unique and powerful asset. Children in our schools get to meet other children whose parents come from every part of the world. Such an early exposure must surely help them prepare for a world – of work, travel, study and culture – that is getting ever smaller.

In the EU referendum, the country decided 52:48 to leave the European Union and the role of migration figured strongly in the debate. In the reaction to the result, some people have used the vote to leave as an excuse to act or speak in ways that reflect bigotry or prejudice. Others have sought to claim that those who voted to leave are somehow racist or are collectively responsible for racist acts.

Let me be clear: any action by anyone who seeks to foment discrimination must be opposed vigorously. There is no excuse, no justification ever for prejudice. The referendum result is not a signal of support for hate crimes, nor should the 17 million people who voted to leave the EU be judged any differently than the 16 million who voted to remain. We need unity against racism.

As your Member of Parliament and as a supporter of Leave, my job now is to speak for the 100%, not the 52% or 48% of the people of Bedford and Kempston. Nationally that means moving forward to implement the referendum decision in the best long term interests of our country. Locally it means unifying both sides, opposing those who would divide us and challenging anyone who would make any of our residents feel unwelcome.

Our country is a beacon of freedom in a world where so many people yearn for freedom. We are a generous country and one that has a strong sense of fair play. We have taken back control so we can embrace these values of openness – on our own terms and how we know best. Let us all reflect that spirit of openness and generosity in our daily lives as well and let this generation of Bedfordians proudly carry forward our heritage of tolerance and peace.

I am so deeply saddened by the death of Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen today and feel great sorrow for her family.

MPs rightly wish to be open, to meet and to talk with all the people they represent – a valued feature of our democracy.

Jo has made the ultimate sacrifice; a sacrifice she should never have had to make.

Thank you to those who have contacted me about military action in Syria. I have received a great many communications from people across Bedford and Kempston about this issue and I appreciate every individual taking the time to share their views on the subject.

I also thank those who were able to attend the public meeting I held at St Cuthbert’s Hall on Sunday 29th November. There was a considerable range of views expressed at that meeting and all views were heard respectfully and thoughtfully – a credit to our town. The mood of that meeting was summed up well by local resident, Kate Allen who said “if the government decides to extend bombing then we, the people of Bedford, because of harmony and diversity have a special opportunity to “lean in” and show ISIS that nothing can divide us. We can be a model of holding the complexity and tensions in unity.”

As you will be aware, Parliament was asked on Wednesday to vote to extend authorisation for RAF airstrikes against ISIS/Daesh in Iraq to include strikes in Syria.

I supported the motion and I would like to outline my thoughts on the issue.
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I value greatly the efforts of small businesses in creating jobs and building wealth in our community, and I also want to ensure that I know of any issues of concern to local businesses.

That is why I am launching my local “MP’s Panel on Business” quarterly surveys, so that local business owners can let me know how they think the local economy is performing, as well as their views on national and local issues.

If you own or run a business locally, then I would like to invite you to take part. The first of these surveys is available now and I do encourage you to get involved!
Take my survey!

Sue Rowen from Guide Dogs UK with guide dog, Layla, Richard Fuller MP, Barbara Norton and guide dog, Tommy

Sue Rowen from Guide Dogs UK with guide dog, Layla, Richard Fuller MP, Barbara Norton and guide dog, Tommy

I was apprehensive when Putnoe resident, Barbara Norton, encouraged me to take part in a “Blind Fold” walk so I could experience first-hand the challenges that blind and partially sighted people have getting about Bedford.  I needn’t have been as I was in the safe hands of supporters from the Guide Dogs as well as two wonderful Guide Dogs, Layla and Tommy.

First task: getting to the bus stop and while Barbara, guided by Tommy, stormed on ahead, I was proceeding slowly, noticing every crack and divot in the pavement with my cane.

A few weeks ago, I asked questions in Parliament about the Government’s plans to roll out audio visual prompts in buses and having caught the bus in to town as part of the Blind Fold walk, I now appreciate how helpful it would be to have my stop announced.  We have “Talking Buses” in London, so why not in Bedford?

My next encounter was navigating A boards, wheelie bins and an unexpected double glazing stall as I walked from the High Street to Harpur Square.  I know the town well, but what I learned was that you can never be certain that something new might not be in your way on any particular day.  No damage done, though I did apologise to a street sign for bumping into it.

I was told afterwards that my Blind Fold walking was a little wayward, so I am grateful to the people who had to dodge out of my way and who were, in almost all cases, very understanding.

At the end of my journey, I felt a sense of accomplishment, but I can’t help thinking that in a truly equal society, getting from A to B should not require such exertion.  There are so many small changes that could make such journeys easier.

For more information about Guide Dogs UK’s Talking Buses Campaign, visit

The release of national school results lets me recognise the dedication, hard work and results of teachers, and the support staff, at our schools in Bedford and Kempston.

In 2010, local schools were 13 percentage points behind the national average for the proportion of students achieving 5+ A*-C GCSEs including English and Maths.
Now, that gap is down to 8.8%, and 52% of students achieve that standard in Bedford and Kempston schools compared to just 42% in 2010.

Though not always consistent, each step of progress has to be hard won.
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Bedford Hospital

On the face of it, the Inspection Report by the Care Quality Commission on Bedford Hospital published on August 29th makes strong criticisms of our local hospital. I wanted to read the details to see the extent of the failings and the causes of them.

The Hospital passed one of the nine standards evaluated, had minor or moderate concerns on five standards and major concerns on three standards. Major concerns related to staffing, supporting workers and assessing and monitoring the quality of service. I was particularly concerned about the criticisms about care for the elderly and for those with dementia.

The CQC’s concerns were quite widespread across the activities of the hospital, and in some areas these concerns were significant. However, there were also positive comments to balance these concerns, and recognition by the CQC that the Hospital did provide good quality care in many cases.

The most frequent criticisms related to issues that should have been addressed by the people in charge of the Hospital’s human resources department: inconsistencies in training, lack of succession planning for replacing consultants, ineffective rosters of staff, staff shortages.

Following so quickly on the problems in providing adequate supervision in the paediatric ward, these further criticisms should focus Hospital management attention on sharpening up its human resources performance. These are manageable problems, but the Hospital has to manage them, not hope they will solve themselves. I will write to the Chair of the Hospital to ask what actions are being taken and will raise this point at the Hospital AGM next week.

The House of Commons debate on Syria and the use of chemical weapons should have been about healing some of the damage done to the level of trust on these issues between our people and our government by the Iraq War.  Indeed, I believe that was the part of the intent behind the Prime Minister’s decision to recall Parliament.

In the end, rather than rebuilding trust, the result has been to question that trust further and to create an unsustainable basis for future decision making on military action by the United Kingdom.  More pressingly, the next time that Mr Assad decides to use chemical weapons on women and children, the United Kingdom will, effectively, sit on our hands and do nothing.

Is that really the outcome we wanted?  How did we end up in this situation?

Many people in Bedford and Kempston, like many other people across the United Kingdom are weary of British military involvement in foreign conflicts.  They see the expense – in terms of lives lost and money spent and, though never doubting the bravery of our armed services, they doubt the wisdom of our involvement.  Even more seriously, a sense of deceit over the justification for the Iraq War has left people deeply sceptical of much of the substance of any decision about military engagement:  the quality and veracity of intelligence; the intentions of our allies; and the assessment of our top military commanders about the consequences of any “initial” action.

Such scepticism, in the circumstances of recent history, is understandable and even laudable to an extent.  However, it does not provide a secure basis, or a better alternative, for decision making on issues of conflict than properly managed executive leadership.  Why?
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Bedford Hospital has recently announced that it is making changes to the provision of some paediatric services at Bedford Hospital. This is as a result of failings of clinical oversight of junior doctors in the paediatrics department. Like many local residents, I am very concerned about the impact of the changes on families in Bedford and Kempston and I am working with Alistair Burt MP and Nadine Dorries MP to help find a solution.

Full details of the changes that have been made to paediatrics are available here.

The Hospital will continue to provide a minor injuries service for children in A&E, children’s outpatient clinics, the Day Unit, and nurse-led care for children with chronic or long-term conditions. Maternity services and neonatal services are unaffected and continue to run as normal.

Patient safety must come first and the decisions that have been made have been taken on that basis by clinicians, including the Hospital, NHS England, the NHS Trust Development Authority, Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group and the East of England Ambulance Trust.

Last week, I spent two hours at the Hospital visiting Riverbank ward and talking with nurses, patients, doctors and parents. We have a first class team locally and we can be proud of their commitment in these difficult times.

Alistair Burt and I have called for an independent inquiry and this has now been agreed. In this era of transparency in the NHS I believe it is important that the public know why concerns with clinical supervision of junior doctors in this department persisted for so long, what remedies had been attempted, and why these fell short of a satisfactory solution. I hope the Hospital will be open to including a trusted member of the Bedford community – not connected to the Hospital – as part of the inquiry.

I am maintaining contact with the Chief Executive of the Hospital and with the head of the Clinical Commissioning Group as I will want, as I know that you will, to ensure that the Hospital takes all steps to resolve this unsatisfactory situation and to restore full paediatric services to Bedford.

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