Time for another update. The summer recess is a distant memory now, the Conference season has come and gone and Parliament is back in full swing. There is a lot to share with you.
HS2 has been high on the agenda. With Dan Byles MP and Chris White MP, I went along to Downing Street recently with members of the Stop HS2 campaign to present a petition of over 100,000 signatures to the Prime Minister.
Following that, on Thursday 13 October I led a debate in the House of Commons to discuss HS2. I was particularly pleased to see that MPs from across the country including the North West and Birmingham raised their concerns about the project. I made clear that I entirely support the need to improve capacity on our railways but that this particular project is neither environmentally friendly nor will it narrow the North South divide, it is, in fact, an enormous waste of taxpayers' money. I argued that there are many measures we can take now to deal with the capacity issue. These measures can be delivered far quicker so that commuters on the West Coast Mainline do not have to wait until 2026 at the earliest for relief to the overcrowding.
Thousands of constituents are doing a fantastic job of writing letters, attending meetings and giving up their own time to oppose this project – keep up the hard work. The battle continues, and now that we have a new Transport Secretary in Justine Greening, I feel there is a new opportunity to win the argument!
There has been another important debate on the National Planning Policy Framework. I believe the Planning Framework does contain the protection required for the countryside. Our rural areas are incredibly important to us all, and I have personally long campaigned to protect them. I do still have reservations regarding the 'grey area' between now and when neighbourhood development plans are put in to place and I am concerned by evidence that developers are using this 'grey area' to have plans approved on appeal. I am still challenging Ministers on this point and raised them during the debate in the Chamber. I have closely followed the Localism Bill from when it was introduced at the end of last year to now and I have followed the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework. Constituents can rest assured that I will continue to monitor the Bill and the NPPF closely.
Staying with the topic of planning, I would again like to reassure constituents that I continue to represent their views on onshore wind farms. I am meeting with Charles Hendry MP, Minister of State for Energy on Monday 7 November with many MP Colleagues to discuss the subject. My main concern is that onshore wind power still needs to be proven as a valuable contribution to our energy security needs rather than just an opportunity for 'subsidy farming' by developers. Britain has some of the best renewable resources in the world - not just on land, but in offshore wind, wave and tidal power available off one of the longest coastlines in Europe and it is right that we utilise such resources. I am holding a public meeting at Sponne School on Thursday 10 November at 8.30pm to update all concerned residents.
I am also pursuing the issue of how sex and relationship education is being delivered in primary schools. There is no doubt that sex and relationship education is important and needs to be taught to our children as we try to deal with issues such as teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. However, there is evidence that some of the material being used in some schools is completely inappropriate for the ages of the pupils.
I am confident that every school is teaching SRE with the best of intentions; however most of the material is unlicensed and supplied by private companies without proper guidance to schools. A number of head teachers have said to me that they would appreciate far more guidance on what is age appropriate and suitable for children of different age groups. The debate was well attended with some interesting and constructive speeches and comments being made. Away from the Punch and Judy style politics of Prime Ministers' Questions and the big debates in the Chamber of the House of Commons, which the media tend to focus on, it is often the smaller debates that receive less attention that are the most constructive, informative and productive.
I imagine that few would have failed to notice that the issue of our membership of the European Union has again reared its head. On Monday 24 October a debate was held in the House of Commons on whether to allow the British public a referendum on our membership of the European Union. The Government had told all their MPs to vote against the motion calling for a referendum. Whilst I believe the Government are doing an excellent job in Europe, for example keeping us out of further bailouts of Greece and putting in place the EU Referendum Lock, nevertheless I decided to support the motion for the sake of our democracy. For too long, voters have been denied the chance to have their say on ever closer EU integration, and so, whilst it was a very difficult decision, I concluded that I had to support the principle of a referendum.
Finally, I would like to tell a little about the new EU Reform Project, sponsored by me with Colleagues George Eustice MP and Chris Heaton-Harris MP that aims to research and build cross party support for a new relationship between the UK and EU, culminating in a draft White Paper that we will produce by July 2012. Working closely with Open Europe and other think tanks, we will produce detailed research on each policy area affected by the EU (social and employment law, financial services, Structural funds, CAP etc) and we will then consult with MPs, MEP's, interest groups and constitutional experts on the substance of each area.
This has been a mammoth update, so well done if you have made it all the way through in one go! I haven't even touched on the fantastic events, interesting meetings and exciting visits I have been to in the constituency but I will save them for my next newsletter. As ever, if you think I can be of any help in any way, do not hesitate to call, write, and email or come visit me.
With best wishes
Pictures show Andrea and Colleagues presenting the HS2 petition to Downing Street and Andrea speaking in the House of Commons during the HS2 debate.
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