Monday, 21 February 2011

Reforming our democracy

A great deal of time in Parliament last week was spent on completing the Bill that introduces considerable reform to our democracy. During the year before the last General Election I spoke to many West Briton readers. The majority were disgusted with MPs and disillusioned with politics. People told me that MPs abuse of expenses, large donations to political parties and politicians not doing what they said they would do all created a general sense that our politics was broken. All MPs were ‘in it for what they could get out of it’ rather than to serve their constituents and work for the common good.

So what has changed since the General Election last May? The new government is a Coalition – with two parties working together to tackle the huge problems left by the previous government. MPs expenses are published on-line as are what we say and how we vote in Parliament. All MPs have to register their interests and donations over £1,500 are also published. There has been a revolution in openness, with for example, all taxpayers money spent by government departments over £500 published online so ‘armchair auditors’ can challenge how their money is spent.

Parliament has been renewed by a huge influx of new MPs, many of which are older and have had real jobs in the real world before entering Parliament. Most MPs are ‘back bench’ MPs whose job it is to scrutinise the Government’s plans and hold them to account. Backbenchers have new powers in this Parliament to do this – deciding on issues to debate in Parliament and electing Chairmen of the powerful Select Committees.
Other significant reforms have happened. General elections have been fixed for every five years. At the next General Election the number of MPs will be reduced from 650 to 600. Votes will be fairer as they will have more equal weight as the number of voters in each constituency will be much more equal than today. The boundaries of each Parliamentary seat will be changed for every General Election to make sure that as the population changes they remain more equal.

While I am very disappointed that along with my colleagues representing Cornwall we were unable to secure an amendment to the Bill which would have prevented the potential for a Parliamentary seat to cross boundaries into Devon, there are enough people eligible to register to vote to 'keep Cornwall whole' so I hope that will be the case. We'll have to see when the new register of electors is published soon.

Finally, the Bill enabled a referendum on changing our voting system to AV. While I think there are far more important things we could be focusing on, I accept that a deal is a deal, and the Lib Dems made the referendum on the AV voting system the Coalition deal maker, so it must go ahead in May.
I don't believe that by changing the voting system in this way we will improve our democracy. I will be campaigning to keep our reformed system of ‘first past the post’ as I believe it is well understood by people who know how to vote to get the result they want.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

A useful discussion with local councillors

At County Hall I today addressed delegates at the annual conference of the Cornwall Association of Local Councils.

The Government envisages a central role for Town and Parish Councils in delivering the Big Society, and I was delighted to be able to outline to Councillors new powers proposed in the recent Localism Bill. 

It was good also to have the opportunity to thank councillors for all their commitment to the communities they represent, their dedication and hard work being all too often overlooked. I also valued the useful discussion that followed and look forward to meeting with them again in the near future.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Have your say on the future of the NHS in Truro and Falmouth

I would like to inform constituents of the below meetings, organised by the NHS in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Tuesday 22nd February 10.00-11.30:  Lecture Theatre, Knowledge Spa, Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro

Thursday 10th March 14.00-15.00: The Dracaena Centre, Dracaena Avenue, Falmouth

The meetings are being held to allow local residents to hear about reforms that are being made within the NHS, and to state their views on these changes. All venues are accessible. If you need more information please call 01726 627895 or email

Welcoming a full inquiry into Coastguard proposals

I am pleased by the news that House of Commons Transport Select Committee is to conduct an inquiry into the Government’s proposals for modernising the Coastguard. I hope that this inquiry will allow the proposals, and their implications regarding maritime safety, to be fully scrutinised.

More information on the inquiry can be found through the below link:

Monday, 14 February 2011

Representing my constituents in Cornwall and Westminster

Ensuring that the UK has a sustainable and secure supply of energy is something I regularly work on. I want to make sure that the abundance of natural resources in Cornwall, along with our skilled engineering capacity is harnessed to generate heat and light in homes, public buildings and businesses.

In my maiden speech to Parliament I highlighted the opportunities in Cornwall and have been able to make real progress in securing commitments from the Government to support deep geothermal energy generation in Cornwall.  On Tuesday, at a meeting with parliamentarians and private companies involved with geothermal energy generation around the world, the Minister pledged to enable licensing which will help build investor confidence in this technology.  He also committed to include this technology in the forthcoming review of financial incentives to help renewable energy technologies get off the ground in the UK.  

I have also added my support to the Regional Development Fund bid to back the creation of the UK Centre
of Excellence for geothermal energy in Cornwall.  Many new and highly skilled jobs could be created as this technology could generate 15% of the UK’s electricity without the pitfalls of on-shore wind.

I have had a number of meetings with primary and secondary schools in my constituency and as a number of them are church schools, I was pleased to join a meeting at Westminster Abbey about the future of the Church of England and education.  I managed to secure a promise of support for the Diocesan Schools Board in Cornwall to help Church of England schools work with their partners through the possibility of becoming academies.  I also listened very carefully to their arguments for including RE in the English Baccalaureate.  I have discussed this with Michael Gove, along with a range of issues highlighted by head teachers during my meetings.  Throughout this challenging period of change for head teachers and governors, I will continue to work closely with schools in my constituency, helping in wherever they feel I can.

I joined several debates highlighting various constituents concerns, including welcoming the Government’s action in ensuring the Office of Fair Trading urgently investigates the functioning of the heating oil market; highlighting the impact of high fuel prices on residents and small businesses in Cornwall; and the need to deliver more support for hospices and not forgetting the invaluable role of respite care provided to families supported by Children’s Hospice Southwest.

It was a pleasure to join the Mayor of Falmouth and Glyn Winchester from Falmouth Art Gallery to receive a Sandford Award.  We all missed Brian at this prestigious event.

My last vote of the week was to vote against prisoners being given the right to vote.  You can see how I vote on all issues by going to the website:

Over the weekend I had the great pleasure of meeting many constituents including apprentices at Pendennis Shipyard, and people participating in the Bewnans Kernow conference at County Hall where Cornish sports and cultural organisations explored the very important opportunity of Cornish identity and its power to generate business and investment in the Duchy.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Discussing Cornwall's culture

I today participated in the Bewnans Kernow conference at County Hall.

Bewnans Kernow is a partnership of Cornish cultural groups, and exists to deliver a clear and united voice for indigenous Cornish culture.

I very much enjoyed the chance to share with conference attendees ideas about how the richness and strength of Cornish identity can generate business and investment within the Duchy. 

Friday, 11 February 2011

Celebrating young enterprise at Falmouth Docks

Another busy day in my constituency commenced with holding an advice surgery in Probus Village Hall. It is always pleasure to visit the beautiful village of Probus, and to meet with residents.

I then joined Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Rt Hon Danny Alexander MP in a visit to Pendennis  boat builders, to celebrate the success of their partnership with the Falmouth Marine School apprenticeship scheme.  I was delighted to meet with youngsters  there, engaged in acquiring the specialist skills that have made Pendennis  super yachts world renowned.

In the afternoon I met with members of the Cornish Residential Landlord’s Association. As ever, I very much valued the opportunity to listen to the Association’s thoughts on what more can be done to meet the housing needs of the local people.  

I spent the evening discussing further the needs of local people, at a meeting of Conservative Cornwall Councillors.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Securing the future of the NHS and Coastguard in Cornwall

Over the past four years on doorsteps and in public meetings, residents have told me that the future of the NHS was of great importance to them.  I have listened to patients, NHS staff and care providers from all sectors and taken their concerns with me into Parliament.  Informed by them, I have worked closely on aspects of the Health and Social Care Bill that was first debated in Parliament last Monday.

Before entering politics I was a Director of Age Concern England and one of my main motivations to become a Member of Parliament was to reform the care system; both services and how they are paid for.  There can’t be a reader of this column who has not had experience of an elderly person who has been bundled around the system, referred to as “bed-blockers” and made to feel a burden.

The Bill links two crucial services together.  For too long the separation of these services and the silo mentality of care delivered by Cornwall Council and health services commissioned by the Primary Care Trusts have prevented care pathways being effectively delivered that work for the patient.  Adult social care has historically been under-funded in Cornwall.  The vital role that family carers and volunteers play in supporting people shut out.

This Bill and the money the Government is making available to help fund the integration - £7.8 million so far this year, will enable our local NHS and Cornwall Council to develop joined-up services.  Despite severe budget constraints and pay freezes I have seen really good work going on to improve services for older people and their carers.  Cornwall has the fastest growing ageing population in the country – a cause for celebration and an opportunity to lead the way on ageing well.

As we have seen from campaigns about changes to NHS services in Cornwall, people do not want decisions taken about health and care services available to them in their community without the opportunity to get involved with the decisions.  The Bill we ensure that no future decisions about us will be taken without us.

Just as significantly, on Wednesday I was delighted to have secured a debate in Parliament on ‘The Future of the UK Coastguard Service’.  I was pleased so many MPs from around the UK joined me.  The Minister invited Falmouth Coastguard to make proposals to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency who are consulting on their plans for the modernisation of the service.  During the consultation I will continue to work closely with Falmouth Coastguard to make the case for maintaining a 24hour operation.

Finally, on Friday and Saturday I spent time at Falmouth Community School and with all Falmouth’s primary school headteachers, as well as participating in the election of Members of Cornwall’s Youth Parliament.  I discussed a range of concerns brought to me by residents with some Cornwall Councillors and I met with the Environment Agency to discuss the future of flood defences for Truro and Portloe and progress on community flood wardens.

Discussing the future of Marine Industries in the UK

I today enjoyed meeting with marine business leaders in Westminster to discuss the future of marine industries in the UK.  

Government, industry and other key stakeholders have formed a Marine Industries Leadership Council to build a collaborative, strategic approach to developing opportunities for growth in the marine industry. 

This growth will be vital to the future of Truro and Falmouth, the constituency has a thriving maritime sector that will  develop further over the coming years. 

Supporting geothermal energy generation

In Whitehall today I participated in an important meeting with parliamentarians, officials  and private companies involved with geothermal energy generation.

At that meeting I was pleased to see the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s continuing commitment to encouraging the growth of geothermal energy generation within the UK. I am excited by the potential of geothermal technology, both in generating renewable energy for the UK, innovation and jobs in Cornwall.

I have added my support to the Regional Development Fund bid to back the creation of the UK Centre of Excellence for geothermal energy in Cornwall.  Many new and highly skilled jobs could be created as this technology could generate 15% of the UK’s electricity without the pitfalls of on-shore wind.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Welcoming new Members to the Cornwall Youth Parliament

On Saturday 5th February Sarah Newton MP was delighted to join Cornish youngsters in participating in the election of Members of Cornwall’s Youth Parliament. The election took place at County Hall, Truro.

Commenting on the election, Sarah said:

‘I was very impressed by the organisation of the elections, and the passion and political articulacy of the candidates standing for election. I made a careful note of the issues they raised.  

I look forward to working with the two members representing my constituency.’