Please note: This site covers the period that I was a Member of Parliament from May 2010 to June 2017.
On Tuesday 5th February, the House of Commons debated a Bill aimed at allowing same sex couples to marry. I attended the House of Commons for the entirety of the debate because I wanted to listen to points raised on both sides, and I am glad that I did so. I also spoke in the debate to explain why, though I share the ambitions of the Bill, I would be abstaining in the vote in order to ensure that concerns expressed with anomalies in, and potential consequences of, the bill would be taken seriously as the Bill progresses. You can view a video of my contribution to the debate below, or you can read a transcript here.
As you may be aware, the Prime Minister has detailed his view of the UK’s future relationship with the EU. In short, Mr Cameron has clearly declared that the EU needs to change; that ‘ever closer union’ is not the right path; and that he will seek a better relationship for Britain.
Importantly, he will put the outcome of these negotiations to a referendum where people can decide to accept a new settlement or to leave the EU.
As I have said before, I want the British people to be given a choice over our future with the EU. To this end, I am pleased that the Prime Minister has committed to holding an ‘in/out’ referendum. As he must have time to negotiate a better position for Britain, I see the merit in deferring this until no later than the end of 2017.
I realise that some people are calling for an immediate in-out referendum, but a vote today between the status quo and leaving would be – as I said previously – a false choice. The EU is in a state of flux while the Eurozone countries work out their new relationship. For a vote to be held there must be clarity of the choice on offer.
On Tuesday I was one of 91 Conservative MPs to vote against the proposed reforms to the House of Lords. We were joined in the ‘No’ lobby by 26 Labour MPs, and 8 members of the Democratic Unionist Party. Had the Government also sought to limit the amount of time Parliament could spend debating the Bill, it is likely there would have been far more rebels.
I did not take the decision to vote against the Bill lightly and it is not because I am against reforming the House of Lords.
I agree that the size of the House of Lords should be reduced and that provision should be made to allow for the removal of Peers guilty of wrongdoing. I agree that we should get rid of the system of political patronage and remove the remaining hereditary Peers. I think that these are points that everyone can agree on.
So why did I vote against the Bill? There were a number of reasons why I did not feel able to support the proposed reforms, the most significant of which were:
- Making the Lords into an elected chamber will provide it with a democratic legitimacy that is incompatible with the expectation that the House of Commons will retain primacy. The two Houses will most likely compete and this will lead to legislative gridlock. The issue of the roles of each House needs to be addressed before we can press ahead with changing the composition of the Lords.
- Election via a proportional party list system and a term of office of 15 years does nothing to promote democracy. Party leaders will still be able to exert powers of patronage by placing their chosen candidates near the top of the party lists and elected peers will have no real accountability to voters. Turning the Second Chamber into a party political body like the House of Commons will remove many of the expert and diverse voices that are currently heard in the Lords and who are not the type of people to seek election.
- The new system will be much, much more expensive than the current one. There will be the expense of another election and the running costs of a full-time salaried and staffed Upper House.
Finally, I would urge the Government to give much greater consideration to holding a referendum on such a significant constitutional change. If we are to alter the very structure of our constitution, then we need to have the full support of the people.
The Opposition front bench believe the Coalition Government has exaggerated the problem in the public finances. “Too far, too fast” is their easy, guiltless mantra.
In a culture – media and political – that has become used to “solving problems” with public money and leaving future generations to pick up the bill, every step the Chancellor is taking to reduce the deficit is met with varying degrees of hyperbole, with predictions of disaster ahead or fairness undone.
In truth, the concern should be that by focusing on deficit reduction rather than debt reduction, the Coalition government has not yet gone far enough in creating the conditions for stable, long term growth. The greater imbalance in the economy is not between sectors, it is between what we demand and our ability to pay – an imbalance between generations.
The announcement of the Olympic Torch’s route to London 2012 has now been made, and I am delighted to hear that the torch relay will be coming through Bedford.
I am pleased that LOCOG has recognised the diversity and sporting importance of our town, and that the residents of Bedford and Kempston will be able to share in this great festival.
So, make a note in your diaries that Sunday 8th July will be the day the Olympics comes to Bedford!
LOCOG are now looking for ‘local leaders’ to get friends, family and neighbours together to celebrate the torch relay and to organise local events. Please visit London 2012 Local Leaders to sign up
On the 5th July, I spoke at Bedford Academy’s ‘Sod Turning Ceremony’. Here is the full text of the speech I gave:
“We meet today, not only to celebrate a building, but to celebrate education.
Not only to mark the achievement of a goal, but to ready ourselves for the challenge ahead.
Nothing defines better the success of a community than the teaching of its children.
Nothing fuels the innovation, the creativity, the passions, the heart, the strivings, the successes of the generation of Bedfordians that will follow us – nothing fuels this future, more than the passion, dedication and skills of our teachers.
Today, at Bedford Academy, we recommit ourselves as a community to the critical importance of raising educational standards and strengthening the ethos of high expectations, respect, openness and honesty with a focus on every student; the ethos that lies at the heart of this Academy. Principal, teachers, assistants and staff – we commend and encourage your every effort.
Today, we commit ourselves, not only to the education of every student, but to each year of schooling. We recognise that each child only gets one chance at each year of their education.
We commit ourselves that the quest for higher standards is not only a long term discussion, but an urgent priority for today, where failure to perform demands leadership and action so that not one single year of any child’s education is wasted.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the General Election in Bedford on May 6th. I was delighted to win the seat and to have the opportunity to represent the people of Bedford and Kempston in Parliament.
You can get in touch with me in any of the following ways:
69 Harpur Street, Bedford, MK40 2SR
Update! 135 Midland Road, Bedford, MK40 1DN
Phone (Bedford): 01234 261487 Phone (Westminster): 0207 219 7012
One of former Mayor Frank Branston’s innovations was to emphasise Bedford as a “town of markets”. With specialty food markets and other events, Frank’s insight has done much to boost the town centre while we wait (and wait) for the much needed regeneration of the bus station area.
So, it was with great delight that I gave Nick Herbert, a tour of the fruit and veg market on Wednesday. Topics we discussed with shoppers and shop owners ranged from the importance of locally grown produce, to preferences for brown versus white eggs, to the increasing cost of weekly shopping. With wages flat and prices increasing, budgets are being squeezed for many of the shoppers in the market.
In the first week of talking with voters on the doorstep in Bedford and Kempston here are some of the reactions and issues that stuck in my mind. First and foremost, people want change. Bedford and Kempston have not been well served by Labour these past 13 years, and people here know that the government of Mr Brown has had its day. They want change.
People are worried about the recession – no surprises there – but interestingly, people are very curious to know more details of what a Labour or Conservative government will actually do – to promote growth, to nurture the recovery, to protect jobs and key services. People understand that there are savings that can be made in our public services – and people want those savings to be made. They trust the Conservatives to do it and they want to know the details.
I thought the first TV debate was excellent television, and that ITV and their host, Alastair Stewart, were the clear winners. The key comparison was between Mr Cameron and Mr Brown as one or either of them will be the Prime Minister. With an easier wicket to play on, I thought Mr Clegg answered some questions well, but he was very vague on details in some areas and was given an easier pass than the other two. Overall, congratulations to all the participants, but especially to the excellent chairmanship of Alistair Stewart.