Monday, 24 November 2014

Join my campaign team

Across the Hexham Constituency, local people just like you are working together on my campaign team. Our team of volunteers are at the heart of the campaign to secure a better future for Northumberland – and we want you to be part of it.

So get involved today, make great friends along the way, and experience the excitement of being on the front line in the most important election for a generation. Together we can win that election – and help secure a better future for Northumberland, and a better future for Britain. If you can help me, you can sign up to help HERE in just 30 seconds

Westminster this week

Busy week in Westminster with the Defence, Health, Scottish and Prime Minister questions the first 3 days this week. We are debating the remaining stages of the Recall Bill, and I am trying to attend the British Racing Parliamentary reception on Tuesday. I have multiple meetings his week on everything from Forestry and Housing in the North, plus discussion of the National Park consultation, where I shall be discussing affordable housing targets, and also the AGM on the All Party Group for Arch Cru victims, where we are getting an update on asset recovery for the victims.  

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Weekend Read: Ponteland and Hexham Greenbelt latest

 You can view a full copy of the Council's latest Draft Local Plan, including it's latest plans for the greenbelt in Ponteland and Hexham here: http://committees.northumberland.gov.uk/aksnorthumberland/images/att19724.pdf

The plan will go before the County Council's ruling Policy Board on 27th November and if approved will  then go out to public consultation on 12th December 2014 until 11 February 2015.  

I have reproduced the two Greenbelt maps for Hexham and Ponteland below.





Saturday, 22 November 2014

Battlesteads Hotel in Wark to be included in Great British Cookbook

Popped in for lunch to Wark's great hotel and restaurant last week and talked to Eddie the star chef over lunch. Delighted to see that the hotel is getting further recognition - this time in the Great British Cookbook: the book takes readers on a culinary journey around 10 regions, featuring recipes from some of the UK’s finest chefs en route - Rick Stein and Nigella Lawson among them - and 200 top pubs, guest houses, hotels, Michelin Star and AA Rosette restaurants.
Battlesteads, a stone-build former farmhouse in Wark on Tyne, near Hexham, has been signalled out for one of its signature dishes, braised beef cheeks, which has been included amongst the recipes.
http://www.thejournal.co.uk/north-east-analysis/analysis-news/hexhams-battlesteads-hotel-wins-place-8117061

Friday, 21 November 2014

Visit to the Sele First School

First Schools are the backbone of Northumberland 3 Tier education and there are none bigger, and few better, than the  Sele First School, which I went round recently. It has several hundred pupils, and is on a scale that is as big, if not bigger, than many Middle Schools.
Its success on so many levels - from classwork, to pupil happiness, to music, are clear to everyone. Certainly I saw a happy and forward school. They are well led by Margaret Anderson OBE. She has been in place as head teacher for a long time but her enthusiasm for the job and the school continue unabated and shine through.

The school occupies a unique town centre historic site, which comes with its issues. So, aside from extolling its virtues, Margaret showed me a lot of windows, and the ancient parts of buildings, that need upgrading. I will help on this in whatever way I can, as always.

The word Sele comes from the old English word for happiness and fortune. Both these words, in their traditional sense, were very much on display when I went round the school: the school is a happy place with pupils who have good fortune to be part of it.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Part of the Pension Bill Committee this week - scrutiny of the new flexibility to access pension savings at 55

The changes to the pension tax rules announced at Budget 2014 will give individuals greater flexibility to access their pension savings. They will not have to purchase an annuity. 
The Government announced in the Budget 2014 proposals to allow people aged 55 and above, from April 2015, to access to their money purchase pension savings as they wish during retirement. The Bill I am involved in will help effect this change.
The Committee has done line by line scrutiny last week, this Tuesday and today between 9.25-4.30 in Committee Room 12 of the House of Commons.
Full description of the Bill is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/draft-legislation-the-taxation-of-pensions-bill
As one Ponteland pensioner put it to me - "it is my money that I have saved. I think I should decide how best to invest it."

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

In case you missed it: Northumberlands landscape and Gardens explored by hot air balloon and on foot - well worth a watch

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04pr49m/glorious-gardens-from-above-7-Northumberland

A69 EPetition - please sign up and give support to help the campaign to get improvements west of Hexham to Carlisle

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/72020

Our proposed Bill of Rights will bring powers back under UK jurisdiction and protect a free press

Pleased that Sajid Javid, Culture + Media Secretary, has set out details of our proposed Bill of Rights. I do not always agree with the press but I do accept and promote its desire and need to hold elected politicians to account.
Details here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11222266/British-Bill-of-Rights-would-protect-free-press.html
Sajid set his thoughts out in detail here:
“The press exists not to pander to the powerful, but to hold them to account. And that applies whether they are Prime Ministers, business leaders, police officers or, yes, Secretaries of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Do I have days where I don’t agree with what I read in the newspapers? Of course. Have there been times when I’ve looked at the headlines and despaired at the way you’re treating my friends, colleagues and predecessors? Plenty. But should I be allowed to interfere and dictate what it is you should be saying? Never. As George Orwell said, “freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticise and oppose.” It’s one of the fundamental liberties on which modern Britain was built. There is no point in saying “I believe in freedom of the press, but…” Either you believe in it, or you don’t. It’s an absolute. A zero sum concept.”

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Good to see my Campaign to Electrify the Tyne Valley Line is getting support

The Tyne Valley Line will only truly prosper if it is electrified. I am making the case to the Secretary of State for Transport and local organisations are getting behind the campaign. I have had a very good submission buy the Tyne Valley Rail Users Group and now the NCC have got behind the campaign which is good.
I held a debate on this issue in September in the House of Commons

The crucial passage on electrification is here:
Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough, Conservative)
I am really enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech and he has a well-deserved reputation as a local champion. I chair the Government’s electrification taskforce. Will he meet me outside this place to go through his proposals, so that I know much more about what is necessary for the line and can take his proposals forward within the taskforce?

Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
One of the best advances of the Secretary of State has been the creation of the electrification taskforce, and I am glad that a northern MP—in this case, the Member for Harrogate—is leading the way, such that we can make representations. The longer term must see electrification of the Tyne Valley line, as it sits between the east coast line and the west coast line, both of which are electrified. Frankly, without that forward movement we will struggle in the longer term, so I will meet my hon. Friend, as will other Members interested in this area, and I genuinely welcome his intervention.

Subsequently I have met Andrew Jones MP and as a result sent this letter to
      -         the  NE LEP
    -          Cumbria LEP
    -          NECC
    -          CUMBRIA Chamber of Commerce
    -          John Stevenson MP
    -          Tyne Valley Rail Users Group
    -          Northumberland County Council
    -          Cumbria County Council
     -          Northern Rail

 "As the MP for Hexham I have been making the case for improvement of the Tyne Valley Railway Line. It is crucial to the connectivity and future prosperity of the far North of our country. The key improvement would be electrification of the line. The line is 59 miles long between the two cities but this takes around 1 hour 30 minutes to traverse. Electrification would improve the speeds considerably. It is a key freight and commuter and tourist route that is vital to the future of the North and crucially it sits between the electrified East Coast Mainline and the electrified West Coast Mainline.  

The government has set up the Electrification Task Force to take submissions on behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport. It is a cross party group of MPs, led by Andrew Jones, the MP for Harrogate. The MPs are assisted by DFT, Network Rail and have some back office support.

I have raised this case for electrification in parliament, most notably on the 3rd September 2014 in the debate on Transport Infrastructure in Northumberland, the transcript of which is here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2014-09-03b.399.0&s=%28transport%29+speaker%3A24962#g399.2 
I have today had that follow up meeting with Andrew Jones MP in the House of Commons and set out our plans in more detail. We have discussed the way ahead and he has made it clear to me that the door is still open to receive representations on this issue, albeit time is critical.

It is crucial that the case for electrification is made on a number of levels. I have therefore sent this letter to [The list of recipients above]. 

All, or some, of you may already have made a representation on this issue. If so, then please send me a copy so I can bring all submissions together. If you have not then please do so by Mid-November. It does not need to be long but a supportive 2 page letter would make a difference. If you can do a longer and more detailed submission this would be helpful.

Could you address your representations direct to:
Andrew Jones MP, Electrification Task Force, House of Commons, Westminster, London SW1A 0AA
And copy me in at the House of Commons as well.

The criteria which this is being judged upon are numerous, but it is specifically not limited to ease of engineering as per Network Rail approach. The Group are particularly focusing on the:
-          the impact on the economy
-          and the case for connectivity.

If you have any doubts or issues then please feel free to contact my office in London on the number below but I stress that time is of the essence. It may be that you can expand upon your representations at a later date but I would be keen for those outline representations to be with the team by mid-November.”

Yours ever,
Guy Opperman MP

The Journal reports the story today here:
http://www.thejournal.co.uk/north-east-analysis/analysis-news/campaign-mounting-tyne-valley-railway-8124853
I am still chasing a couple of the submissions but am really pleased the NCC are on board.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Red Cross Hexham Fair next week - 26/27 November - buy your christmas presents early!

BRITISH RED CROSS - HEXHAM FAIR - Hexham Racecourse
Wed 26 and Thurs 27 November
Wed 3pm-8-30pm & Thurs 9-30am-3-30pm

Hexham Fair. Admission: £4 adults and children free. Over 30 stalls and light refreshments available.

Westminster this week

Home Office Questions kicks off the parliament today, followed by a statement by the PM after the G20 summit this weekend in Australia. Later today we have the remaining stages of the Childcare Payments Bill; Tuesday & Wednesday sees the Small Business & Enterprise Bill. There is a debate on Thursday on the Union and Devolution which I will try and speak in.  

Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Prime Minister announces new measures to be included in Counter-Terrorism Bill to keep UK safe

·         The UK faces a real and serious threat from international terrorism – a threat that has grown in recent months with the conflicts in Iraq and Syria where some UK citizens have gone to fight. It is vital that we tackle this threat and confront the violent and repellent ideology that is the root cause of it, in order to protect British citizens and keep our streets safe and secure.

·     We will shortly introduce a Counter Terrorism Bill that will give the police new powers to seize passports, stop suspects travelling and stop British citizens suspected of engaging in terrorist activity abroad from returning to the UK unless they return on our terms. The Bill will also contain new measures to stop airlines that refuse to comply with our no fly lists or security screening measures from landing in the UK.

·         As the Prime Minister made clear, there is no opt-out from dealing with the terrorist threat that we face – we have to confront it wherever it exists. By remaining steadfast in the face of this threat and by standing up for our values we will, in the end, defeat this extremism.

We are doing this by:
·         Giving police a new power to seize passports at the border to prevent people travelling to the region. This would be a new power for police and designated border officers to exercise at ports where they have ‘reasonable suspicion’ that an individual is travelling abroad to engage in terrorism related activity, providing them with an immediate response if concerns arise at the port.
·         Introducing new powers to stop British nationals returning to the UK unless they do so on our terms. A temporary exclusion order is intended to stop British foreign fighters returning to the UK unless they are willing to be subject to strict conditions.
·         Preventing airlines that don’t comply with our no-fly lists or security screening measures from landing in the UK. This includes new measures on ‘no fly’ lists and new powers to compel airlines to undertake specific security measures, such as additional passenger screening.

The PMs speech to the Australian Parliament on Friday is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/australian-parliament-david-camerons-speech

The BBC has done a full review of the pros and cons of this situation and how the Coalition is trying top deal with it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30041923

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Sir John Major speech to the Europeans in Berlin this week needs to be read; a great man making a well argued case

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/11/john-major-nearly-50-chance-of-britain-leaving-the-eu/

Is your milk tanker half full or half empty? Report on Northern Farmers Conference in Hexham

Wednesday saw hundreds of farmers and connected businesses descend on to the Hexham Auction Mart to hear a number of speeches, Q&A and get an understanding of the approach of the new Secretary of State for DEFRA, Liz Truss, the South Norfolk MP. Liz was excellent in setting out the ways in which the department is now trying to help farmers and food producers, rather than hinder them; she will continue to bang the drum for British farming and produce, and is clearly well engaged in the Brussels negotiations on everything from reform of the 3 crop rule to biotech. She spoke well on the earned recognition scheme and her efforts, following on from the robust Owen, to cut the Defra regulations unless they really matter.  

However, I have to mention the brilliant speech of dairy farmer Joe Delves - author of the half full milk tanker quote. His talk was part homespun wisdom, part confessions of a dairy farmer and thrown in were everything from Warren Buffet to a masterclass on Farming 101.


A couple of insights:
What can't farmers control?
- world markets
- weather
- milk price
- staff
- cows!

What they can control is
Vision - where do you want to be?
Values - don't expand at the cost of time together with your family.
Attitude - do you say I can't or how can I?

A couple of great quotes: "a cows performance is just a reflection on what she eats - your mind is just the same"

"Be around positive people and you will become positive"
A really interesting day.
 

Friday, 14 November 2014

Youth Parliament chooses the Living Wage and Mental Health services as its two key campaigns

Today I spent much of the day in the House of Commons listening to the brilliant debating skills and passion of the Youth Parliament. They were ably led by the Speaker, John Bercow, who is rightly passionate about the Youth Parliament. The day ends with a vote and the Motions were decided as follows:
- UK Wide:
- votes for 16 year olds: 117
- Living Wage: 156

Priority Campaign:
- Exam Resists: 33
- Work Experience: 78
- Improved Mental Health Services: 167

Full credit to all the MYPs, particularly those from the North East. A great day.
I will update on Monday with the Hansard record when it is published.
  

It is Children in Need Day - reasons to be thankful - please give if you can

Went yesterday morning first thing to Wark first school, and arrived in time for the weekly visit of the reverend Mike Slade, the Chollerton Vicar, who is providing the religious education and support to Wark school at present. He talked the children through their reasons to be thankful - basing it on St Paul's letter to the Thessalonians. On the day when the children were focusing on Children in Need and what it means, and the fact that there are many in other countries, and our own, who are struggling, it was a brilliant start to the day. The children gave many reasons to be thankful. Everything from our parents, the food we eat, the availability of water and so much more was mentioned. The children loved the tale of Mike's cat - purring in thanks from his spot on the warm boiler in his house.
So today if you can - please give to children in need. Full details here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/corporate2/childreninneed

Join the campaign team - out campaigning and canvassing whatever the weather!

Across the Hexham Constituency, local people just like you are working together on my campaign team. Our team of volunteers are at the heart of the campaign to secure a better future for Northumberland – and we want you to be part of it.

So get involved today, make great friends along the way, and experience the excitement of being on the front line in the most important election for a generation. I accept that todays picture of us on the campaign trail is a wet one in Stannington - but we went to a great pub afterwards!

The eagle eyed will spot Eileen Armstrong holding up a very soggy leaflet defiantly!
On Saturday the team, led by our Conservative County Councillors, are out in Allendale and Catton - simply call the Hexham Office if you want to come along.

Together we can win that election – and help secure a better future for Northumberland, and a better future for Britain. If you can help me, you can sign up to help HERE in just 30 seconds

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Youth Parliament this Friday Nov 14: our future MPs love this great opportunity + innovation

Youth Parliament is a fantastic success story - a single day when our future Prime Ministers and MPs come and debate a whole series of topics at the House of Commons - presided over by the Speaker. I will try and make it to the Chamber -Members of Parliament are allowed access, but must stand at the bar of the house and watch... and not say anything!
However, it is also on Parliament TV and well worth watching. Anyone who says we lack orators and that there is no future in our youth should watch this as they will definitely be proven wrong. I am not aware of the final motions they are debating but there is a shortlist of 10 that I set out below.

Votes at 16 and the argument that young people should be directly involved in making laws and a voice in improving their communities

Funding for youth services and a curriculum to prepare young people for adult life

Mental health services, paying the Living Wage and Assisted suicide / Euthanasia

Bring back exam resits in Maths and English, Work Experience

Busy day in Upper North Tyne, notably spending large part of the day in Kielder

Going to Kielder First School, and meeting several people in Kielder today, is the highlight, but also doing other visits. Hoping for no seriously bad weather!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

As the Tower of London poppies get taken down thoughts on Remembrance Sunday in Hexham

Hexham was packed last Sunday for the 11 o'clock service and the service in the Abbey. The town turned out in force to the clear voice of the Reverend Michelle Dalliston, and see the dozens of local organisations who had gathered to pay their respects; the parade was led by the well drilled troops of 39 RA and supporting cadets, ATC, and many more, all marshalled with military precision by the team from Hexham Town Council.

Before the service of remembrance - just to my left in the picture, albeit half out of shot - was the wonderful Mayor of Metzingen, Dr Ulrich Fieldler. We talked [him in his near perfect English, me in my very poor German] of the importance of the occasion and the fortune that our lives have not been scarred by full scale war on the European continent. It was a pleasure to help welcome him to our town.  

The note I wrote on my wreath remembered my grandfather who survived WW2 and the cousins of his who died at Dunkirk, and elsewhere: the most poigant moment for me was the descriptions of the young men who passed away and the wonderful Flight Sergeant Ronnie Watson who attended to lay a wreath on behalf of all veterans.

We then went to the Abbey for a formal church service, where the 39RA Padre the Reverend Chris Groocock gave a sermon on the significance of the Tower of London field of poppies and reminded us of the John McCrae poem that inspired the poppy wearing that we all now take for granted: details are here: http://www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/john-mccrae-in-flanders-fields.htm.
My thoughts went back to the Falstone event I attended with the Duchess of Northumberland 3 weeks ago to commemorate the opening of a new war memorial - these 2 wars took so many of our men from us. That day and Sunday also were truly moving. The full McCrae poem is set out below.

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields."

One Month until Berwick 2015 Road Trip: Come & help make Anne Marie the next MP for Berwick upon Tweed

In exactly a month a large group of us are travelling North to the town of Berwick upon Tweed to campaign for Anne Marie - come with us on the train - it will be a lot of fun!

According to the latest polls Berwick upon Tweed could well be won by the Conservatives at the General Election for the first time since 1973.

Our candidate there is the excellent Anne-Marie Trevelyan. You will struggle to find a more passionate, determined and effective voice for the people of North Northumberland.

Anne-Marie is a tireless local campaigner on behalf of Northumberland: just look at the progress she has made with her campaign to Dual the A1.

That is why I am so keen to see Anne Marie elected as the next Member of Parliament for Berwick upon Tweed. You can help me make sure she wins by joining our next Action Day up in Berwick on 12th December. We will be meeting at Newcastle Central Station at 9.30am (for the 09:54 train to Berwick)
or Berwick Station at 10:38am to start campaigning at 11.00am.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Hexham Mart tomorrow: looking forward to the Northern Farmers Conference with Liz Truss, DEFRA Secretary of State

9.30 tomorrow I will be at the Hexham Mart for the Farmers Conference. Really pleased that Liz Truss, the Norfolk MP and DEFRA secretary of State is coming to speak and take part in a Q&A as part of her visit to the North East trip to Hexham and many other parts of Northumberland. For my part I am not speaking but watching, listening and learning and catching up with many of the locals who I know will be going.

The Norfolk MP will head the line-up of nine farmers and industry experts speaking at the conference under the theme of Which Way Forward?

Conference Chairman Andrew Robinson has said: “We are delighted to welcome the new secretary of state to our conference and very much looking forward to hearing her plans for supporting and developing the farming industry following the latest round of CAP negotiations.”
Also confirmed for the conference are: award-winning farmer Richard Price of Lowther Park Farms, leading share farming exponent John Henderson, dairy farmer and Nuffield Scholar Joe Delves, award-winning poultry farmer Richard Tulip and HSBC head of agriculture Allan Wilkinson.
Now in its fifth year, the Northern Farming Conference aims to give forward thinking farmers the chance to consider how best to progress their business.
The conference details are here: http://www.northernfarmingconference.org.uk/
Not too late to come along tomorrow!

 
 


2015 Energy Booklet now online

I am very conscious, talking to many residents, that energy costs and fuel are a real concern.

There is lots of help already out there but it can sometimes be hard to find and difficult to know who to turn to. Based on the positive reception last year, I was delighted to be able to organise 16,000 of my improved and updated Energy Guide.

The guide is designed to help you make your home more energy efficient and make you aware of what support is now available.

There is advice on how to get the best deal from your energy supplier and details about schemes ranging from the Government’s Green Deal to the new Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive.

Included is also a range of financial assistance to which you may be entitled.

At the end is a list of various organisations and how you can contact them ranging from the Citizen Advice Bureau to the Oil Buying Clubs. There is also advice to help you with savings with details about Credit Unions and our plans for a Tynedale Community Bank.

Now is the time to start thinking about how you can stay warm and save money this winter. I hope you find the booklet useful. It is being delivered all across Tynedale. However, you can access the online version here:
https://www.scribd.com/doc/245703367/Energy-Guide-2015

Monday, 10 November 2014

Westminster this week

I have Home Office, Women 2 Win, and other meetings today as well as the European Arrest Warrant debate; this will mean a late night tonight - I will not finish tonight much before 11; tomorrow we have various other smaller bills to address, but I will probably try and go to help in Rochester by election tomorrow morning.
The main activity in Westminster is the speculation about Ed Miliband: Labour seem to circling the wagons around the beleaguered Ed but as Boris explains this is not a wise move.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11219697/Ditching-Ed-Miliband-will-not-change-the-fact-that-socialism-has-no-relevance-these-days.html

Our Northern Roads upgrade plan closer to action

http://www.thejournal.co.uk/north-east-analysis/analysis-news/prime-minister-put-a1-upgrade-8078484

Tonight's vote on the European Arrest Warrant is about security and I will support this measure

Everyone agrees that Britain’s relationship with Europe must change, but we should also use Europe for our benefit when we can , and I believe that using European co-operation to ensure our security is a good thing. Having dispensed with dozens of measures over the summer we are now agreeing to continue to this key measure to allow us to bring back criminals to face justice in the UK.

Without the Arrest Warrant there are 22 EU member states – including France, Germany and Spain – who could refuse to extradite their own nationals to the UK. In the past five years alone, more than 100 people from these countries have been returned to Britain to face justice – many for serious crimes including rape and murder. And even when extradition was allowed under the old Convention, it often took many years. In the case of Rachid Ramda, a terrorist, it took 10 years to extradite him from Britain to France. In contrast, using the Arrest Warrant, it took just 56 days to get Hussain Osman – who tried to blow up the London Underground in 2005 – back to the UK from Italy.

The Arrest Warrant – and the 34 other measures the Government proposes we opt back into – are practical measures that are necessary to protect us from serious criminals and terrorists. If we want to stop foreign criminals from coming to Britain, deal with European fighters coming back from Syria, stop British criminals evading justice abroad, prevent foreign criminals evading justice by hiding here, and get foreign criminals out of our prisons, these measures are vital. Tomorrow evening, the House of Commons will vote to give the police, prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies the powers they need to keep us safe. My boss, Theresa May has set out her position on this issue in detail here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/11216589/Theresa-May-Fight-Europe-by-all-means-but-not-over-this-Arrest-Warrant.html

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Iran Debate:my speech + powerful speeches by Jack Straw & Richard Ottaway -both will be missed on their 2015 retirement

2.6 pm Thursday November 6th
 Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con):
I want to start by welcoming the debate and making it clear that I wish to seek a better relationship with Iran. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) not only on securing this debate with my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon), but on making an outstanding opening speech. It really was superb. Anyone who read the article that the right hon. Gentleman wrote on 24 September in The Daily Telegraph can see the line of travel that he wishes us to take, and he set out his case extremely well. Similarly, the contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Sir Richard Ottaway) underlined why we will miss both Gentlemen, from different sides of the House, very strongly when 2015 comes and they are no longer in this place.
 
I take the view that it is important to visit a country, if one can, before one tries to cast an opinion. I regret that I have not had the opportunity to visit Iran, although I have travelled extensively throughout the region, going to Beirut, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan. However, it is good to speak almost last in the debate—obviously I await the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish)—because I have had a chance to listen. There are clearly differing views across the House. There are those who have grave concerns that we are being too generous to Iran and that we run the risk of making things more dangerous and difficult and appeasing a potentially very dangerous adversary. One cannot deny those risks, and the hon. Gentlemen who set those matters out do so legitimately and, in some cases, with good cause.
At the same time, however, as was set out fairly by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), the failure to act at this stage has its own significant downsides—that is an underestimation—and consequences. In this House and in Government, one often does too much, but often one does too little as well. I feel that this is a case where if we do too little, the opportunity will ebb and flow away, and we will not be in this place again for a very long time.
 
It is rare that I would want to quibble with comments from my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who made the point in an earlier intervention—I summarise; this is the note I took of it—that it is tough if Iran does not abide by the rules. Of course one makes that point, and it is a fair point well made, by someone with every historical advantage that most of us do not have. However, at the same time, one must be realistic, in that, first, this is a negotiation, secondly, there is distrust on both sides and, thirdly, we have to work out what ultimate objective we seek to obtain, and it is inevitable that there will be difficulties, hurdles and obstructions along the way. I, for one, would wish our Government to push ahead, while accepting and making the fair point that this is not going to be a perfect ride along the way.
 
I was struck by how my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South set out that this is very much about two nations in conflict. Parts of Iran are genuinely liberal and generally progressive—he made the fair point that there are more women than men at the university in Tehran—but other parts we all find abhorrent, not least the difficulties in relation to Iran’s human rights record, but also its support for Assad and Hamas, its actions in Gaza, its opposition to Saudi Arabia and, frankly, the interventions it is pursuing in many countries.
We should not ignore the idea that Iran is a country that we can do business with. We have that opportunity now in a way that has not been possible for a considerable period of time. Although we need to look for a deal that is good for both sides, I take the view that the more we can move towards a deal, the more we empower the elected Government of Iran in what is obviously a power struggle over the country’s direction of travel.
 
Several Members have drawn attention to the interesting and complex political situation. The right hon. Member for Blackburn said that the elected Government do not control the judiciary. When I heard that, I nodded very wisely and thought that the point was particularly important, but our Government do not control the judiciary. It just so happens that the Iranian Government and the judiciary have slightly differing views of where the country should be going. In many cases, the judiciary has raised cases of great concern. We are all aware of constituency examples, to which the BBC and other organisations have rightly drawn attention. However, with a quasi-elected or appointed House of Lords, a coalition Government of parties that often move in different directions, and other interesting concepts—my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk and I had a rather esoteric discussion about what role the Privy Council genuinely took or might play in our country—the Iranians would probably look at us and say, “Well, this is also a slightly interesting political arrangement.” The reality is that we surely cannot push Iran away.
 
I want to talk about the 24 November deadline. It seems that we are all tremendously focused, and rightly so, on 24 November, but if the deal cannot be done within the period available and we need to extend the deadline, that is what diplomacy is about. It is no different from a contractual negotiation between two businesses. If both sides wish to make a deal, but for whatever reason they cannot reach an agreement, my view is that the deadline should be extended. I have no difficulty with that, and I would totally support the Government and the various parties to the deal if that is what they so wish.
It is absolutely paramount that everybody stays around the table in the long term, and ultimately that a deal is done. That will take—one must be realistic—concessions and a control of rhetoric on all sides. It will clearly not be easy for everybody to accept all parts of the equation. From some of the speeches today, it is clear that several organisations or interest groups are very sensitive about any particular deal. I want to make it clear that I have gone on a Conservative Friends of Israel trip to Israel and that I am a massive supporter of Israel, but that support does not prevent me from wanting progressive and better relationships with Iran.
 
My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk increased our linguistic awareness by explaining that “purdah” was originally a Persian word. As we all know, in UK politics, purdah means that the Government effectively cease to exist and cannot make decisions, and that no actions are taken. We are approaching purdah in several ways, not just in this country, but in the US with the changes following the mid-term elections. However, there is still a very large window up to—and potentially beyond—24 November in which to resolve these matters.
 
I completely endorse the points that several Members have made about the embassy, but the British Government must knock heads together to ensure that the embassy is reopened. I entirely accept that such things are not simple. We in this place, like many others, have often decried our Foreign Office’s failure to train and upgrade people to have sufficient ability to speak the language like a native or to have a genuine grasp of all aspects of the geopolitical situation in the country to which they are sent. However, if ever there was a need for diplomats in Iran, it is now. In my humble opinion, the prize post for diplomats of any shape or form should be a post in Iran in the next year or two. The capacity of such individuals to make a difference there, by working the traditional diplomatic routes, is patently obvious to all of us, but it needs to be grasped by the UK Government. Such diplomats clearly have a genuine and real job to do, and it is vital that they do it.
I support entirely all the comments that have Members have made, and I praise the quality of their speeches. I endorse the direction of travel, and I urge the Government to do everything possible to do a deal so that we can take this matter forward."
The full debate and Straw and Ottaways outstanding speeches are here:
http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/commons/todays-commons-debates/read/unknown/378/

Friday, 7 November 2014

Ed Miliband is not fit to be PM - What North East Labour leaders say about their own leader [and this is their public line]

‘They have got to get a coherent line on the economy… Personally I’d bring back some of the grown-ups’ – Chris Mullin, former MP for Sunderland South
Source: World at One, BBC Radio 4, 13 Aug 2013

‘(There is) a lack of vision and ambition’ - Kevan Jones – MP for North Durham
Source: Northern Echo, 17 June 2014

"Ed pulls his punches, triangulates against himself and ends up in a no-man's land" - Alan Milburn, former Labour Minister and MP for Darlington.
Source: The Times, 25 August 2014

‘Little more than a shopping list without any real understanding of the impact on the daily lives of men and women’ - Dave Anderson, MP for Blaydon, on Labour’s manifesto under Miliband
Source: Labour List, 1 June 2014

Or take journalist Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times this week, who said on Miliband…

“…Mr Miliband does not have a 35% strategy. He has a 35% world view. He is authentically left-wing and was only ever going to seek a left-wing path to power. His effort to cobble together enough like-minded voters to pull off a slight but doctrinally pure victory is better understood as an urge – what Amis calls a “frisson” – than a decision. And it was not his error to follow this path; it was Labour’s error to choose as its leader someone who was always incapable of doing anything else.”

Finally this is what the Guardian says today:http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/nov/06/ed-miliband-faces-labour-leadership-crisis

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Proud to support Living Wage in Debate in the House of Commons today - My speech and full debate

Today in the Commons I hosted the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty, along with the Living Wage Foundation, Citizens UK, and partners such as KPMG, the Reverend Angus Ritchie and many MPs from 4 different parties including a thoughtful contribution of Mark Durkan MP for Foyle in Northern Ireland. We also heard from Nana-Ben one of the cleaners in the DFT who explained how it would make a difference to him if he was paid the living wage. It was a very positive and helpful morning. Then it was a mad rush to the Commons - I was involved in the Iran debate first - but at around 3pm we started the Living Wage debate

My full speech today is here: 3.35 pm

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con):
I wholeheartedly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) on securing the debate and I thank the Backbench Business Committee. Some would say that Parliament does not often have important debates, but with the debate on Iran and now this debate on the living wage, I cannot think of a more important day to be in Parliament. I am delighted to be here to support my hon. Friend.
I was delighted, too, to have been part of a briefing that took place with the all-party group on poverty this morning with the good people from the Living Wage Foundation and Citizens UK, who came to the House of Commons and met several hon. Members, from many different political parties, to brief them on the living wage and to hear some of their experiences. I thank Emma Kosmin and Stefan Baskerville for coming in, along with the Rev. Angus Ritchie, Mike Kelly and Nana-Ben, who is the cleaner I mentioned earlier from the Department for Transport.
 
This is not just a debate on the living wage but a debate on tax thresholds and tax credits, but one must start with the wonderful news that the living wage has risen again this week. I was pleased to see the Mayor of London going to Kaffeine, a coffee shop in Great Titchfield street, to celebrate and support it. The Evening Standard pictured him with a large cake, which I am not sure is quite the message we are trying to get across, but the point is that he has been an enthusiastic and vocal supporter of the living wage, and quite right too.
I am sure the Minister will make the point that it is fantastic that it is this Government—acting as a coalition, to be perfectly fair—who have raised the tax threshold, which makes a massive difference to the pennies and pounds in the pockets of people earning a living wage or a minimum wage. That is the first direct impact. Clearly, there is a legitimate and correct debate on tax credits and how one takes them forward. I will leave others to discuss that in more detail, although I did set out my views on that in fairly lengthy detail in an article for the New Statesman in July 2013.
 
Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab):
I enjoyed reading that article, in which I think the hon. Gentleman described himself as an old-fashioned left winger. I think he would acknowledge that the advantages of an increase in the tax thresholds he describes are significantly undermined for people on the lowest incomes by the fact that tax credits are withdrawn to such a large extent.
 
Guy Opperman:
I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman, who sits on the Opposition Front Bench, is taking advice and instruction from me, a humble Back Bencher in this House since only 2010, but I take his point. The Government clearly need to address how taxing the individual is dealt with to avoid the problems he identifies so eloquently. I do not think it is quite as simple as he sets out. I accept and endorse the approach of the Chancellor: I think the fundamental is the tax threshold and then how we deal with tax credits. The harsh reality, as the right hon. Gentleman will know from the article he read, is that we have the bizarre situation where the Government step in and provide tax credits to the tune of approximately £4 billion for a variety of individuals when they should be encouraging an increase in wages and taking away tax. I will, however, leave that debate for another day.
We can provide local leadership. I am proud to wear the badge of the Living Wage Foundation, and I am a living wage employer in the House of Commons. I would like the foundation to accredit MPs who pay the living wage in order to incentivise us not only to talk the talk but to walk the walk. In addition, particularly in living wage week, I would urge all Members, if they have not done so already, to visit the living wage employers in their constituencies. I have met several of mine.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) asked about small employers, particularly in rural locations, but, as is well known, the Federation of Small Businesses supports payment of the living wage on a voluntary basis. I can give some local examples. Aquila Housing, in Gateshead, and several churches in my constituency have shown the benefits, and Mike Joslin, an employer in the north-east and across the country, would eloquently set out the benefit it has brought to his relatively small business. However, my best example is the fine coffee shop Tea and Tipple, in Corbridge, which has barely three or four members of staff. When the snows fell—they fall through to May in Northumberland—his staff fought through the snow to get to work and open the coffee shop. There was clearly a sense of camaraderie, loyalty and commitment to the business that he might not have seen had he not been a living wage employer. He went the extra mile for his staff, and they went the extra mile for him.
 
Of course, we should be pushing the large employers too. Today, I met Mike Kelly of KPMG, and the human resources directors of companies such as Barclays. We need to ask the large employers in our cities and regions why they are not living wage employers. When KPMG did the transfer in 2005-06, it found that approximately 700 members of staff were not being paid the living wage, but when it compared the turnover of non-living wage staff with that of living wage staff, it found that the turnover dropped from 47% to 24% in one year.
 
In my New Statesman article, I cited the example of Costco. Craig Jelinek, its chief executive, who pays the living wage in America, said:
“We know it’s a lot more profitable in the long term to minimise employee turnover and maximise employee productivity, commitment and loyalty.”
I think he is right. Last year, when I spoke to Dominic Johnson, Barclays’ HR director, he was clear that it made sense for business.
When I go to my local Barclays in Hexham or any other branch, I am told that when cleaning staff are paid the living wage—traditionally it is the cleaning staff who slip through the net—capitalism takes over and, market forces being what they are, everyone wants to be a cleaner for Barclays, staff turnover drops through the floor, everyone feels much more valued and the offices are cleaned faster. Bizarrely, therefore, paying people more ends up costing the business less, and the quality of the product—the cleanliness of the offices—is improved.
 
There are, then, examples from big businesses and small businesses, and I am pleased that the public sector and the various Government Departments are leading the way. Some are quick to criticise Departments for not moving quickly enough, but it is extraordinarily difficult for some—the NHS, for example, has a vast array of subcontractors and private finance initiative contracts—to change.
But if I can move on, in the limited time we have, to allow others to speak—
 
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo):
Order. Perhaps I can give the hon. Gentleman some guidance about how limited the time is. We have to conclude the debate so that we can hear the wind-ups within 50 minutes. I currently have seven other speakers, so I am going to ask people to be disciplined, so that nobody is squeezed out. The hon. Gentleman might bear that in mind, given that he has already been speaking for 10 minutes.
 
Guy Opperman:
I will take barely a minute more, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The living wage is a campaign that unites all faiths. It unites Christians, Muslims, Jews and those of other faiths, and quite rightly so. When this was first looked at, it was decided that it was an idea whose time had come. I cannot endorse that more strongly.

You can read all the debate here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/commons/todays-commons-debates/read/unknown/692/

Tynedale Plans this weekend

Remembrance Sunday in Hexham dominates this coming weekend but I also have key meetings on prison reform on Saturday morning with a number of interested parties / locals in Corbridge, followed by surgeries; Saturday afternoon I then have a meeting with many of the oil buying group leaders, so I can get an update of where they are, what campaigns they are keen for us / me to pursue on their behalf, and for me to explain both the energy booklet and the idea behind the Tynedale Community Bank / credit union.
I am trying to come home tonight but today is very busy in the Commons. Tomorrow I have various meetings in Tynedale and Newcastle and am then going to a Newcastle dinner where Liam Fox, MP, the former defence secretary is speaking.

The Journal article on the economic turnaround that is beginning in the North East

http://www.thejournal.co.uk/north-east-analysis/analysis-news/parties-clash-over-claims-north-8055789

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

My Question and Answer with the Prime Minister today

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con):
Returning to the economy, is the Prime Minister aware that the region with the most tech start-ups outside London, the fastest rate of growth in private sector businesses over the last quarter, and the highest rise in the value of exports, is the north-east of England? Does he agree that we should stick to the long-term economic plan so that we can all have the benefit of that?
 
The Prime Minister:
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is notable when we look at things like small business creation, exports and investment that growth is coming from around the country, including the north-east. That is a huge contrast with 13 years of Labour when in our economy, for every 10 jobs created in the south only one was created in the north. That is the record of the last Labour Government. We need to increase entrepreneurialism and start-ups in every part of our country—that is what start-up loans and the enterprise allowance scheme are doing. There is a new spirit of enterprise in Britain, and this Government are backing it.
 
I cannot overstate how noisy PMQs are - Labour MPs try and shout you down, particularly Ronnie Campbell. Anyway, if you want to watch the PMQ playback you can click here and I am about 25 minutes in:  http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=16246&player=smooth&st=12:08:22

My PMQ today

Is the PM aware that the region with :
-         the most technology start-ups [300] outside of London,
-         and fastest rate of growth in private sector business nationally over the last quarter
...is ….. the North East of England..... and does he agree with me that only by sticking with our long term economic plan can we secure the future for all regions of the United Kingdom?

Fact checker:

Technology start ups:
http://www.britishchambers.org.uk/policy-maker/blog/north-east-businesses-are-busting-the-%E2%80%98only-manufacturing%E2%80%99-myth.html

Private Sector Growth by PMI Output

The graph below shows the regional PMI Output Indexes for the UK. An average of the latest three months is used. All 12 UK regions registered an increase in private sector business activity on average over the third quarter of 2014. The fastest rate of growth was seen in the North East, while Scotland registered the slowest expansion: PMI = Purchasing Managers Index [Lloyds Bank]

 


And ….Worth making the point that we are also the region with the highest rise in the value of its exports

Conservative Party changing on merit -Jo Churchill selected in Bury St Edmunds & 4 women in Banbury Final

Last night the Bury St Edmunds Conservatives chose Jo Churchill, businesswoman [she helps run a scaffolding firm] and mum as their candidate: I have met Jo - she will be an outstanding, no nonsense, MP with real life experience and a great deal to offer Suffolk, the House of Commons and her country - more details here:.
http://www.conservativehome.com/parliament/2014/11/jo-churchill-selected-for-bury-st-edmunds.html

The interesting point is that she defeated 2 other outstanding women - Helen Whately and Zehra Zaidi, and able James Cleverly = a strong shortlist.

And on Saturday the Banbury Conservatives choose their parliamentary candidate from a list of 4 women, all of whom have been helped by Women to Win, but again a list chosen on merit, not by an imposed all women shortlist.
Update: the Banbury Conservatives have now published the following about Saturday's selection:
"The Executive Council interviewed eleven candidates on Saturday (five men and six women) who were objectively marked against a set of predetermined criteria.

The names [of the 4 finalists] are as follows:
  • Kemi Badenoch
  • Rachel Joyce
  • Victoria Prentis
  • Helen Whately

Kielder is rapidly becoming the hot spot for astro tourism - come visit soon

http://www.thejournal.co.uk/ambitious-85m-plan-build-worlds-8028742

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Join my campaign team

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So get involved today, make great friends along the way, and experience the excitement of being on the front line in the most important election for a generation. Together we can win that election – and help secure a better future for Northumberland, and a better future for Britain. If you can help me, you can sign up to help HERE in just 30 seconds

Greater Manchester's predominantly Labour Leaders decide to have a Boris style elected Mayor - good news

I fully support the decision of the Greater Manchester Council leaders who have decided to embrace regional control of budgets and the power to decide what happens with transport, housing, planning and policing. One politician told the BBC they were "amazed" at the amount of powers being released to them by Central Government. This is the culmination of a long process of negotiating with Manchester's Local Authority leaders - mostly Labour and some other parties, who were originally sceptical about a regional Mayor - now they are convinced that a Boris-type elected mayor is what the region needs.

The concern was about one person having all the power over an area where different places have different needs. So what Wigan and Oldham need might be very different to what Manchester needs or wants. But in order to introduce major changes, the mayor will still need the support of two thirds of the combined authority's leaders. One council leader said this effectively "puts the brakes" on the kind of elected mayor they were worried about. On that point individual city mayors were rejected a few years ago but what is now proposed and agreed upon by the Labour run Greater Manchester is totally different. This is about different areas coming together and working as one, in partnership not competition, but with the democratic accountability and checks and balances you need. I support this plan and think it would work in the North East. I stress that Greater Manchester is run by Labour local authorities working together for the common good of the region. I think we have much to admire about that and that this is a plan for the future.
The BBC report of the announcement and why Greater Manchester has agreed are set out here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-29876939
The possible people who could do the job for us in the North East are mischievously shortlisted in the Journal: http://www.thejournal.co.uk/north-east-analysis/analysis-news/who-would-north-easts-answer-8043381

Monday, 3 November 2014

Good news that the Living Wage has risen and my thanks to all LW Employers

The UK "living wage" - an hourly rate based on the amount needed to cover the basic costs of living - has been raised by 20p to £7.85.

The voluntary wage - set by the Living Wage Foundation - is now 21% higher than the compulsory National Minimum Wage, which is currently £6.50 an hour.

The rate in London will rise from £8.80 an hour to £9.15, the mayor, Boris Johnson, announced.
My thanks to the growing number of businesses in the North East who are paying the living wage. My views on this can be seen in more detail here: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/08/guy-opperman-conservative-case-living-wage

Labour's £40m White Elephant - or is it £100 Million - to move to Ashington?

The facts that we do know are that Labour's new white elephant of an Ashington Council HQ will cost local Tax payers at least £40 million. Although it got worse last week when I am told the Leader of the Council admitted that for all he knows the figure could hit £100million. At a time when everyone is having to make savings and tighten their belts Labour's plan to blow £40 million on a white elephant new headquarters is madness.

Yes, we should be de-centralising services and returning jobs from Morpeth but you don't need to build a £40 million white elephant headquarters in Ashington to do that. The Council should be focussing on a genuine plan to put jobs back into Tynedale, not this ridiculous plan for a new flash headquarters in Ashington.

Local people will not be bullied or bribed into accepting their Council Tax being wasted like this. The fact that Labour are also not allowing scrutiny on this white elephant of a plan I am afraid tells you everything you need to know.

Westminster this week

The Wylam First School meeting with David Laws is today as we try and recover the cost of their new kitchen equipment. Meetings tomorrow concerning the A69 with the Highways Agency. Today also sees the Living Wage announcement. There is a debate later this week on the Living Wage, although I am no sure if I go north on Thursday or Friday, so I am not sure if I can make the debate.
Also very busy with Home Office matters this week 

Our team of General Election volunteers are at the heart of the campaign to secure a better future for Northumberland – and we want you to be part of it. So get involved today, make great friends along the way, and experience the excitement of being on the front line in the most important election for a generation. Together we can win that election – and help secure a better future for Northumberland, and a better future for Britain. If you can help us please sign up here