Working for the future of Bedford & Kempston

Please note: This site covers the period that I was a Member of Parliament from May 2010 to June 2017. 

Democracy

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.

The results board after final poll of audience is taken at MacIntyre Hudson EU Referendum debate

The results board after a final poll of the audience is taken at the MacIntyre Hudson EU Referendum debate at Bedford Blues Rugby Club

Over the last few weeks, Richard has taken part in a number of EU Referendum debates and discussions around the constituency. Richard will be voting to LEAVE the EU on Thursday and urges his constituents to “vote with confidence, don’t vote out of fear”.

Richard’s views on the EU Referendum can be found here.

One of the debates Richard took part in was opened up to hundreds of local businesses at Bedford Blues Rugby Club, hosted by MacIntyre Hudson. Richard spoke for Leave and Richard Howitt MEP for Remain and the scene was set by Professor of Global Economy at Cranfield University, Joe Nellis. Both speakers made opening statements before questions were taken from the floor and from twitter submissions.

The audience was issued with voting pads so that polls could be taken at various points during the evening. The opening poll showed that 46% would vote to remain, 28% would vote to leave and 26% were undecided. After an hour of lively debate and passionate closing statements, the final result stood at 49% leave, 45% remain and 6% undecided.

The opening statement which Richard gave to the audience can be watched below:

The full debate, filmed by Bedford College Media Department can be watched here.

Richard added: “A Vote to Leave the European Union and get back control is the best gift we can pass on to the next generation”.

The Prime Minister has suggested that Members of Parliament should speak from their hearts about their views on the upcoming referendum so I wanted to share with you my thoughts.

Shaped by my life experience and by my home town of Bedford, my heart, and my head, tell me that our future is better and more secure if we vote to leave the EU when the referendum is called because:

  • We will trade with a renewed ferocity in the growing markets of the world
  • Our democratic future will be stronger
  • We will be able to draw on all the world’s talents equally and without prejudice.

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“Don’t let Da’esh divide us” was the call from Richard Fuller’s public meeting held on Sunday at St Cuthbert’s Hall which posed the question: “Syria. Terrorism. What should be the UK government’s response?”

Addressing an audience of over 80 local residents, Richard laid out a range of facts on the situation in Syria – military actions, diplomatic efforts, humanitarian support and atrocities by Da’esh – before opening the floor to comments and questions.

Many residents voiced concern at the use of violence – including bombing by the UK – but all acknowledged how complex the issues were facing the Syrian people.

Domestic security issues also featured with Kathryn Holloway amongst those calling on Richard to ensure Bedfordshire police had adequate counter terrorism resources to keep us safe.

Contributions included those from local residents who had special knowledge of the region from diplomatic, military or humanitarian service in the region. Richard said it was an honour to represent such a special town that could bring together people with such wide and personal experiences of Syria and with such compassionately held views.

Image: Parliamentary copyright/Roger Harris
Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

When I raised the need for criminal prosecutions in financial services at Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons last December, I did not believe we would come so far, so fast.

Yet I feel that we have only just seen the tip of the iceberg of potential wrong doings in the financial sector during the financial crisis.

That is why I welcome the call for a Parliamentary inquiry into professional standards in financial services.

Put bluntly, people want these issues sorted out quickly, and they don’t expect to fork out a fortune to get the job done.  The public wants to be engaged. If I draw one conclusion from recent judicial led enquiries, it is that they distance, rather than engage the public from the resolution of the issues that concerns them.

People want to know and see that those responsible are held to account and that those who acted criminally are imprisoned.

Parliament would have been weakened if, yet again, when a major issue of concern needed resolution, MPs had voted to pass it off to someone else.

Parliament has democratic accountability.  Members of Parliament are responsible to our constituents and Parliament has the power to reshape the laws of our land.

It is time that Parliament stood up to these responsibilities and stopped contracting them out to others.  The vote this week, and the willingness of the Opposition to engage constructively, is a positive development.

We are living through times not only of great economic uncertainty but also of great doubt about the veracity and legitimacy of major institutions that impact our daily lives: the media: the banks; the European Union and, indeed, Parliament itself.

In a democratic society, the pathway to recovering people’s faith in these major institutions – and Parliament itself – is for Parliament to assert its authority, to find its voice, and to work together to get the public’s work done.  I am pleased we have started the job.

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.

Substance in politics is what really matters but sometimes the tone matters too.  Contrast the opening efforts in the General Election campaign between Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

Gordon Brown and the Labour Party have launched divisive attacks – based on class, on bankers, on those with support hunting.  The tone is one that seeks to deflect blame from the Government’s own failings but also one which seeks to divide the country in to “them” and “us”.

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