I was delighted to join many hundreds of people in Romsey – and indeed elsewhere in the constituency – to welcome The Flying Scotsman on Saturday, it was a rare treat to see such a majestic piece of engineering steam through Romsey from Salisbury to Southampton as part of its historic tour of the country.
Since the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament last week, there have been a series of debates on specific areas of the upcoming legislative agenda. In my capacity as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Transport Minister, I spent an afternoon in the debate on transport last week, however in that role I am not able to speak in the Chamber. On Wednesday however, I did manage to speak on the subject of education, one which has been particularly controversial since the announcements surrounding academies in the Budget in March. It has certainly been no secret that Members of Parliament on all sides of the House were concerned about the original plans, however I am pleased that the Department of Education has listened to these concerns and acted on them.
I support academies, I know that the two highest performing schools in my constituency are both academies, and they do a brilliant job of supporting bright young people in order to fulfil their potential. Both Mountbatten and Romsey Schools collaborate with local business people, they foster talent, encourage students to learn musical instruments, to travel, to play competitive sport to the highest level, to dance and sing, to paint – I celebrate the freedoms they have, and the role they play in making sure Romsey’s young people are as fully equipped to face the world that they possibly can be. But that does not mean the schools in my constituency that are not academies do not do the same, and I welcome that they are to be given more time to make choices about whether to academise or not.
May 20th 2016
This week saw Her Majesty The Queen open the 2016/17 Parliamentary session in which the Government’s legislative agenda for the next year was announced.
I was pleased to see plans for a Digital Economy Bill which the Government hopes will make Britain a world leader in the digital economy and create jobs. Internet providers will be under new obligations to ensure everyone in the country has access to an affordable high speed internet connection. I think this is particularly important for many of my constituents who know just how difficult it can be to access superfast broadband.
Also of particular interest to businesses in Test Valley was the Local Growth and Jobs Bill which will give local authorities full control of the money they raise through business rates allowing them to attract new business and investment to the local area.
I know a number of ‘pathfinder’ villages in Test Valley have already embarked on producing a Neighbourhood Plan and this will get further backing by the Government with the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill. This Bill will reform planning and give local communities more power and control to shape their own area. This is very good news for my constituents as it will give every resident a genuine say – which will be enshrined in law – on where development occurs in their community.
On Friday I look forward to meeting with representatives of the National Farmers Union to discuss how the outcome of the EU Referendum may affect farming in the UK and the continuing Bovine TB situation which I know has concerned a number of local farmers. The rural economy in Romsey and Southampton North is significant and I am please to be able to support farmers in any way I can.
May 13th 2016
Part of my role as a Member of Parliament is making difficult decisions on behalf of my constituents, the recent vote on Lord Dub’s amendment to the Immigration Bill (referred to in last week’s letters page) was one of those decisions. I always ensure that constituents’ views are relayed to Ministers and many will attest to having received a personal response from various Ministers since 2010.
This week as we prepare for the prorogation of Parliament prior to the State Opening next week, I have been meeting with various organisations who have come to Parliament to discuss various issues. Friends of the Earth were in Westminster on Monday to discuss the threat posed to bees by the use of neonicotinoids and I was pleased to be able to lend my support to what has become an annual event. I look forward to planting my “Seeds for Bees” over the weekend. I was also at a drop in seminar to meet people suffering with ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). Action for ME do very important work raising awareness of the condition and also dispelling some of the negative myths that still prevail.
Next week, as I mentioned, it is the State Opening of Parliament, and I look forward to the Queen’s Speech which will set out the legislative programme for the coming year. We heard last week the Secretary of State for Education modify the plans for forcing schools to become academies, and that not only pleased me, but many of my constituents who had been in touch on the subject. The Education White Paper has provoked one of my largest post bags since the General Election, and I made sure the Secretary of State was aware of the views that were put to me. I am relieved that good schools, supported by good local authorities, will be given the freedom to make their own choices.