Monday, 10 August 2015

My Summer Tour: Week One

Over the summer, MPs all get to return to their constituencies- in my case, enjoy being back at home full time for a few weeks - to catch up with family & friends, and to get out and about across their patch.

I am continuing in a long tradition of summer touring, which Lord Lampton in the 1960s and my immediate predecessor both actively participated in. Its a great way to get to all our 150 villages and hundreds of hamlets scattered acros North Northumberland.

My first week has taken me to Hauxley Nature Reserve to see how the new visitor centre build is getting on (no concrete, just rock, wood and straw); up the Coquet Valley and into Rothbury to host a broadband summit with BT and BDUK representatives there to listen to local community concerns about the slow pace of superfast broadband to our last 10% of homes. 

I visited the northern reaches of the patch from the Chain Bridge - where I met my Scottish counterpart, SNP MP Calum Kerr on the famous bridge which crosses the Tweed into Scotland. We are both supporting the Chain Bridge Friends campaign to raise the £3million or so needed to restore the very first chain bridge ever built, back in 1820. We also had a quick stop at the marvellous Chain Bridge Honey Farm, makers of the most delicious Northumbrian honey.

Our tour covered Horncliffe, Norham, Cornhill, Etal & Ford one afternoon, and reached Bamburgh, Seahouses, Beadnell and Embleton another. It was great to meet up with many residents, some just for a chat, many with specific education & transport problems, housing, or broadband & benefit blockages for which they need my team's help.

 I hope that the tour is helpful and I'm looking forward to the rest of the summer. 

My favourite moment this week was a villagers' convention asking for my help to get the Queen to recognize a devoted charity fundraiser in their village. I will certainly do all I can for them- how lovely to know that a whole village longs to see their neighbour publicly acknowledged for his dedication.

My weekend was unexpected: we had a family outing to the Sir Tom Jones concert at Alnwick Castle, which turned into a total technical disaster. I am challenging the organisers to give compensation to show-goers who had saved up & travelled from afar, for a summer concert which turned sour. Please do email me if you were there.

If you want to know when we will be touring near you, or catch up on earlier Weeks In Westminster, you can find details at (news section)

If you have any concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me anytime on 0207 219 4437 or by email to

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

My Week in Westminster (week 11)

The end of "term" loomed last week, with only two days in Westminster before we all return to our constituencies for recess, a little downtime and the chance to catch up more fully with local activities.

But those two days were certainly not without excitement and strange behaviour by opposition parties! On Monday we had the second reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, in which were sections of the Chancellor's budget to do with changes to the benefits cap- down from £26,000 to £20,000 (or £23,000 in London), cuts to tax credits and the introduction of a national living wage. 

This key new policy aims to return more financial responsibility to employers, cutting back on the taxpayer underwriting cheap wages now that the employment market is strong and trade is good. It will start at £7.20/hr for over 25s, rising to £9/hr by 2020. Under 25s remain on minimum wage rates. There are reductions in corporate taxes & national insurance so that employers are supported into this new framework.

Bizarrely, Labour decided to abstain on this Bill, which in my book means that they basically agree with the principles; all except 48 Labour MPs led by leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn MP and those on the furthest left of Labour. They were joined in the lobby by the SNP who seem to think that taxpayers' money grows on trees and should be available ad infinitum for use by the Scottish Government. 

So in the end the bill passed comfortably by 308 to 124.

On Tuesday- the last day of term (a time for pranks and attempts to cause mischief since time immemorial!) we debated the second reading of the Finance Bill, which contains the rest of the Budget plans. 

Now there are special "rules" for finance bills in the Chamber, in that they have no cut off point, so MPs can talk and talk until the next day if they want to, and there is nothing the Speaker can do.  There were rumblings through the day from whips about 3am finishes, but in the end Labour just went home (literally, they just opted out from casting a view on the most important piece of legislation which goes through each year). The SNP put up some opposition, and because Labour had left the building, they moved seats and sat at the despatch box and in Labour's seats! It seems that we have a turf war for supremacy on the opposition benches, which could go on and on. 

In between all this shananigans in the Chamber we had our last Public Accounts Committee meeting in public, discussing the effectiveness so far of the Pupil Premium. I was leading the questioning and it was a surprisingly nerve-wracking experience to demand answers from the Permanent Secretary and others! It was a particular pleasure that one of the two witnesses to the committee was Berwick Academy's very own headteacher, Alexis Widdowson, who shared with the Committee some of the challenges of a coastal community with low aspiration in a large part of its parent group. 

Overall I think we have reached a fundamentally positive view of the Pupil Premium as a focused motivator for schools to ensure those with most needs are better supported. But the push elements to ensure schools which aren't making big strides to shrink the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils (those qualifying for Free School Meals) and the rest, need to be firmer from OFSTED and the Department of Education if the taxpayer's money is to be effectively invested.

The Westminster Term is now ended until early September and we all head home (& off on holiday for some sleep for ten days in my case!).

Local issues make progress and the next few weeks will see us get our application for Enterprise Zones in place amongst other things. Much to do, but a little rest first so that I can be most effective as we fight those battles for a brighter future for Berwick.

Oh yes, and I am now the very proud owner of military uniform for when I visit military bases as part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme.

If you want to catch up on earlier Weeks In Westminster, you can find them at

If you have any concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me anytime on 0207 219 4437 or by email to

Monday, 20 July 2015

My Week In Westminster (Week 10)

The last full week of term before Recess begins has kept us all in full swing at Westminster, with important Ministerial Statements from Secretary of State for Health on the new "Ofsted" style transparency regime for our hospitals & the new 7-day working plans; and from the Foreign Secretary on the "historic" international deal for nuclear disarmament struck with Iran.  

Whilst I support wholeheartedly Jeremy Hunt's statement and the ambition to restore real 7-day working in our NHS, I am deeply anxious about the supposed "deal" struck by the USA (with the permanent members of the Security Council + Germany) to accept Iran's commitment to stop trying to build nuclear weapons in return for removal of sanctions over £150bn of assets. The agreement on inspection of nuclear sites means it could take up to 24 days for international inspectors to access these, and many respected commentators note that the release of frozen funds will allow the purchase of huge reserves of state-of-the-art Russian & Chinese conventional weapons which can be used to disturb the Middle East's precarious balance of power. 

I was able to ask the Foreign Secretary a question during his statement on the Iranian commitment to giving up their nuclear ambitions, & others in the Chamber held similar anxieties to my own about the reality of this deal being better for the region's stability or the security of world trade routes.

I fear Mr Obama's legacy of this Vienna Accord may be less marvellous than he believes.

On the domestic front, I have been busy on the Public Accounts Committee, with public hearings on:

Tuesday: the Financial Sustainability of our Police Forces (fascinating insight into how different forces rely on national v local council tax funding- Northumbria being 85% dependent on national and therefore worst hit by cuts over last 5 years (25% hit on funding) compared to Surrey whose 43% use of council tax funds has meant only 12% cut in same period).

Thursday: Disposal of public land for new homes- I have now met my first "Sir Humphrey" in the new Permanent Secretary at DCLG, an impressive woman whose ability to deflect questions about the department's accountability to the actual building of the new homes for which government land was sold, was truly extraordinary. The view given was that the policy ordered by Ministers was to make sales of publicly-owned land from many departments, for homes to be built upon. It seems that civil servants were able to determine that - whilst they sold land which they had a high level of confidence could and probably would be built on- there was no compunction on the DCLG lead to monitor or encourage that building. Which means that as taxpayers its very hard to tell (a) how much money has been raised on these land sales and (b) how many homes have so far, or will in the future actually be built.

I was actually genuinely astonished at the civil service consciously failing to data gather to be able to assess how well the policy is going. We will be issuing a fairly blunt report with our views and encouraging the next tranche of land sales to have much better data records. Sir Humphrey lives on.

The Education & Adoption bill committee completed its passage and will now go to third reading & report stage in the Autumn before heading to the House of Lords. The journey of a new law is long & considered.

On other issues, I met with airport leaders on the Heathrow v Gatwick new runway: this will be an acrimonious and slow battle as the preferred Heathrow option is thrashed against health & air pollution data through the British planning system. For the North East an effective hub is key to maximising economic growth for our region.

I met with the National Autistic Society team as part of my role in the APPG on Autism, to think about how I can help broaden the awareness of autistic differences into the mainstream; and I met with the National Numeracy team who are helping me with plans for our APPG on Maths & Numeracy. The huge gap in employability of those with poor numeracy & its impact on productivity is something we must tackle by investing earlier and more intensively in numeracy in the same way we have done in literacy. Both are vital for longterm economic success of our nation & all its participants.

I also met with the National Lottery 
Team who are keen to see community project investment across our patch- so anyone out there with an interest in sports investment (come on girls!) or heritage or other community activities, please drop me a line.

If you want to catch up on earlier Weeks In Westminster, you can find them at

If you have any concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me anytime on 0207 219 4437 or by email to

Monday, 13 July 2015

My Week In Westminster

Another busy week in Westminster which was centred around the Summer Budget on Wednesday. I have highlighted some of the major announcements below, but you can also read the full statement at

Other than the budget (a very noisy experience in the Chamber!) I enjoyed the hospitality of the brewing trade on Tuesday evening, as a guest of Simpsons Malts Ltd at the Annual Parliamentary Beer Awards. I tastes beers I had never come across, and learned a great deal about the brewing trade and its many facets, from barley growing to packaging of beer bottles!

A group of us rural MPs have now set up the Rural Broadband APPG- we will be gathering data over the summer in our far-flung corners of England and putting together proposals for DCMS to solve the final 5/10% of properties.

I had another new experience (they just keep on coming!) on Thursday morning which was a breakfast meeting with the Prime Minister at No10. A group of us raised the rural broadband challenge, and I also discussed my proposal to rename the A1(M) to Newcastle as the M1- now that the road from the M18 all the way to Newcastle is motorway standard, it deserves to be part of the motorway system. The Chancellor mentioned it in his budget speech as part of his continuing impact plans for the Northern Powerhouse too. So I will push hard for this categorisation upgrade with the Dept of Transport.

On Thursday there was a total shutdown of the London Tube strike so I shared a taxi with Emma Lewell-Buck, the Labour MP for South Shields, to get to Kings Cross Station for our journey home. Funny how it turns out we aren't that different- she trained to be a social worker so she would have a qualification which would ensure she was always employed; & I trained as a chartered accountant for the same reason- that if I had to look after any future family alone (as my Mum had to do because my Dad died when I was two) then I would always be able to find a job. 

The Public Accounts Committee preparations are now underway, as we met to formally constitute the Committee and prepare for our sessions for the weeks and months ahead. I will be leading on a public session in ten days time, which is exciting and nerve-wracking in equal measure! You will have to wait and see what we tackle- its always top secret until the day to ensure we can ask questions for which witnesses have not been able to "prepare". We are all about tackling Value For Money in delivery of Government projects. I can't wait to get started.

Busy constituency activities as usual on Friday, with an early meeting with senior officers at County Hall to discuss the continuing coach park saga in Berwick, the changes to onshore turbine planning guidance & the potential setting up of a social enterprise by staff at Seton Hall Care Home. I was also able to meet with North Northumberland Tourism chiefs and held a busy surgery with constituents.

The Budget- a bit more of the detail...
This was the first Conservative budget for 18 years, and the Chancellor presented a very full programme of tax changes which will bring fairer taxation for all- taking out more low paid workers from income tax completely and making those higher earners pay more on income from buy-to-let property & from dividends.

This was a budget that delivers security for working people – with our finances getting under control, the national debt falling, our defences supported, productivity boosted, welfare controlled, income taxes cut, and a National Living Wage. This Conservative Budget will keep us moving from a low wage, high tax, high welfare economy to a higher wage, lower tax and lower welfare country.

I was really pleased that the Chancellor has committed to the 2% NATO target on defence spending; and that we will be mandating a new National Living Wage. Its time that business takes back the full costs of employment rather than continuing a lower wage economy supplemented by Government funded working tax credits. If someone works hard they should be paid a living wage for it by their employer.

Personal allowance (income you can earn before you start paying income tax at 20%) up to £11,000 from April 2016. The 40p tax rate threshold will rise from £42,385 to £43,000. 

National Living Wage. Compulsory National Living Wage for all working people aged 25 and over. From April 2016: £7.20 an hour rising to £9 by 2020. It will mean two and a half million people get a direct pay rise. Those currently on the minimum wage will see their pay rise by over a third this Parliament, a cash increase for a full time worker of over £5,000.

Employment Allowance:
A firm will be able to employ 4 people full time on the new National Living Wage and pay no national insurance at all on their wages.

Cutting Corporation Tax: to 19 per cent in 2017 then 18 per cent in 2020.

Making £12 billion of further savings in the welfare budget. Britain is home to 1% of the world’s population; generates 4% of the world’s income; and yet pays out 7% of all the welfare spending. 

We are keeping our commitment to protect pensioner benefits and keep the triple lock. The BBC have agreed that in future they will take responsibility for funding free TV licenses for over-75s. We are also not going to tax or means-test disability benefits. 

Those who can work will be expected to look for it and take it when offered. We are replacing Job Seekers Allowance for 18-21 year olds with a new Youth Obligation so they are either earning or learning, and abolishing their automatic entitlement to housing benefit.

Putting working-age benefits on a more sustainable footing. We will freeze working-age benefits for four years to 2019/20 – addressing the issue of benefits growing faster than wages since 2008; focus Tax Credits and Universal Credit on those on lower incomes by reducing the levels at which they are withdrawn; reduce rents paid in the social housing sector by 1 per cent a year for 4 years – ending the ratchet of ever higher housing benefit and rents, and benefitting working tenants who pay their own rent; limit, in future, the support provided to families through tax credits or Universal Credit to two children – so all families thinking about having another child face the same choices; reduce the benefit cap from £26,000 to £20,000 outside London. 

This is a progressive and Conservative budget- and it seems that the Labour Party is accepting that their tax & spend view of the world is unsustainable. Lets see if they will vote for this radical Budget at the end of the week ahead.

Monday, 6 July 2015

My Week In Westminster

There is a long list of "new things" you have to do for the first time as a newly elected MP, one of which is to ask the Prime Minister a question in PMQs. I was fortunate enough to be called by The Speaker on Wednesday, and was able to tell the PM and share with House the bravery of constituent Paul Short from  Wooler, who saved lives in the Tunisian massacre by putting himself in harms' way. 

This week has seen the first stages of my helping to make a law... not quite as straightforward as making a cake! It is absolutely fascinating, and makes me understand in real detail why it is that the British legislative system is respected the world over.  The latest stage of Law-making was the start of the Bill Committee for the Education & Adoption Bill. I am one of the group of Conservative MPs charged with helping this bill through its various stages, report stage, third reading, to the Lords then hopefully enacted.

We met in four sessions this week, the first two listening to oral evidence from experts in the fields of school improvement and of adoption services, the two parts to the bill. The second two sessions were the debate of various amendments put down by Labour MPs on the Adoption section, which were all asking for various extra items to be added, or amendments (known as "scoping" amendments) which simply generate debate so that Ministers have to explain the bill in more detail.

We will sit for a further 6 sessions this week and next to debate the "coasting schools" part of the bill, which is likely to be contentious and generate some heated debate.

The first meeting of the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) on Autism took place this week. I met with Jane Asher, patron of NAS, and a wonderful autistic teenage campaigner, who has set me a challenge on bus route mapping. We heard from a number of speakers on just a few of the longterm social & employment attitudes we must tackle for those with the life long challenge of autistic spectrum disorders.

In my new role as vice-chair of the APPG on Forestry, I have been challenging departments on tree planting plans for the next 5 years, not just in DEFRA but also with the Department of Energy & Climate Change. Trees are, after all, some of the best carbon capture & storage tools we have. We shall see what they think of this way of looking at trees.

On  Thursday the Labour opposition day debate focused on the gender gap. I was able to raise the key issue of sports funding supporting women's sports. I am a great supporter of Sport England's #thisgirlcan campaign, and of course of my constituent Lucy Bronze from Alnwick & England ladies football team, who won bronze medals in the World Cup this weekend.

There are several local issues bubbling at the moment, including the ongoing Alnwick School partnership review.  Two rural schools are caught up in this review- which was driven by Alnwick town schools-so I am working closely with both Branton First School & Embleton C of E First School to ensure good outcomes for their future.  if you have any concerns about your local school, please email me anytime.

The changes in EU legislation on clean water beaches is  also going to lead to new standards which are likely to see Spittal beach declassified - no longer "fit to swim in". a variety of consultation processes with industry and the Environment Agency are ongoing and I am working with Ministers to get the best outcome for local users.

The week ahead will be dominated by the Chancellor's Budget on Wednesday, but I will also be sitting in The Education & Adoption Bill Committee and the Public Accounts Committee ( of which I am a newly elected member) will sit for the first time in public on Tuesday. A group of us new MPs are launching an APPG on rural broadband & mobile provision and I am meeting the Northern region head of the Environment Agency.  And apparently I will get my Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme uniform, for which I had to divulge my vital statistics - a good reason to consider a health drive over the summer recess!

If you have any concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me anytime on 0207 219 4437 or by email

Monday, 29 June 2015

My Week In Westminster

My visit to Armed Forces Academy.

There is a sense of order settling into the Commons now, with two Bills well under way and the Education & Adoption Bill now presented at second reading. 

I have been asked to be part of the team of MPs who will sit on the Committee working through the next stages of this Bill. I am not sure how the whips decide who gets onto Bill Committees (perhaps it was my confession to being a maths graduate passionate about getting more girls to study STEM), but I am honoured to be asked to contribute so soon, since educational inprovement has always been so important to me in the campaigning work I do.

It has been a week of new committees setting up, and I have become the vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Forestry, and co-chair with the excellent veteran Labour MP Barry Sheerman of the APPG on Maths & Numeracy. Having been elected to the Public Accounts Committee, I am now getting stuck into key areas of interest. 

A group of us with rural seats are also gathering some momentum to build a stronger voice for rural broadband, and my colleague Matt Warman MP secured an excellent Westminster Hall debate at which we raised many of our last 10/5% concerns with Minister for Broadband Ed Vaizey MP. There is also an APPG being set up on mobile & broadband, so we hope to make real progress for our most rural corners of Great Britain.

Thursday & Friday were spent at our national Defence Academy in Shrivenham, being briefed by chiefs from each of the armed forces commands on military matters. I have joined the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme as I feel that I know far too little about our armed forces, and I may one day be asked to send them to fight for us.  I am attached to the RAF for a year and will spend time with them at RAF Boulmer (& further afield) learning more about what they do to keep us save, and how their day-to-day lives are working with families on base.

As part of our two day briefing, we were asked to try out 7 different rifles used by our & other infantrymen across the globe, from British to US, German and Russian weapons. I don't think I would frighten too many with my success rate on the target, made worse when the instructor guffawed at me, that "Only an MP could go for the corner of a circle!" as I declared I was going to hit the right hand corner of the target.

The week has ended with a lovely thank you party for the hundreds of volunteers who helped deliver leaflets throughout the election & wider campaign.  But we are all a little overwhelmed by the ghastly and outrageous massacre on a Tunisian beach of innocent British (& other) citizens. The challenges ahead for the #longtermsecurityplan for our nation, the rule of law & protection of our values of freedom, democracy, equality for women and freedom of religion are enormous, but I know that David Cameron will be resolute and determined in the face of these atrocities.

If you have any issues you would like to raise with me, please email me anytime to or call the office on 0207 219 4437.

Monday, 22 June 2015

My Week in Westminster.. Midsummer!

We have made it to Midsummer's Day, and back home in Northumberland the weather resembles April showers... But in good Northumbrian style it hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of around 500 visitors to our village open day in support of the excellent Pegasus Centre for Riding for the Disabled in Morpeth.

Our showery weekend rounded off a busy week in Westminster, with:

- Fantastic news on the protection of our landscape & getting fairer energy bills for the poorest: we have fulfilled our first major election promise, that the onshore wind turbine subsidy will stop from April 2016 and local views will at last now have real weight in determining any future builds;

- the second reading of the EU referendum bill (a bit challenging around the clause relating to Purdah, on which I will be working with ministers to improve the Report Stage to ensure that the Referendum is as balanced as it can be within the challenges of supra-national forces from the EU who will do all they can to encourage an "In" vote);

- the second reading of the Scotland Bill: the SNP voices were lyrical and articulate, but continued to beat up Westminster over their urgency to run from our Union, demanding fiscal autonomy alongside keeping the benefits of the Barnett formula... but they don't seem to mind the hypocrisy of demanding that even if Britain voted out in the EU referendum, they would want Scotland to stay IN the EU... Leave one union but stay in another. Beyond my powers of logic!

Each week brings the opportunity to meet with charity & lobby groups, and this week has afforded me time to talk with:
-the fantastic Citizens Advice Bureau (pic of me & two Trustees, one our very own Councillor John Woodman from Bamburgh), an organisation I have watched at close proximity for years work miracles for people in need of guidance in Berwick & Alnwick.  They are doing some really interesting work on gathering data and deciding how can we use big datasets to improve government policy delivery;

- a delegation of constituents who came to London for the Climate Change Rally. It was great to catch up with friends from Berwick Green Party - I believe there is much we can do together on improving small scale renewables on our schools & on improving the carbon neutral positioning in house building.

I have also been able to meet with health ministers to discuss the ambulance provision challenge in the North East. The Secretary of State is keen to support any solutions we can offer for better service in rural areas. I hope to meet up with the new Chief Executive of NEAS before long to progress these discussions. We cannot continue with the day-to-day gaps in rural provision which are the reality today.

On a personal area of interest, I had the opportunity to speak in the Debate on Skills, and I raised with Nicky Morgan (Education Secretary) the challenge of understanding why more girls do not study maths to a higher level in the UK? I also confessed to a personal interest since I am a girl with a Maths degree!  My public announcement has led to my being asked to co-chair the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) on Maths & Numeracy. You really can get involved in anything that interests you here in Westminster!

Local news:
The Alnwick Schools Partnership review took another step this week as the Scrutiny Committee at County Hall met to discuss what to do next. I have submitted my view of a sensible mixed-economy solution, with two tier in Alnwick town, and the rural mini-hubs of Seahouses, Belford & Wooler being able to run three tier schools. You can find the full letter at

Seton Hall Care Home: We have some potential progress with staff considering the prospect of turning it into a social enterprise. County Hall are offering technical help if staff decide to go down this route. I am still battling to get to the bottom of the 'over-supply' of care home provision which has appeared in the market in recent years. Do you know of anyone who is stuck in their home with carer visits, but who might be much better cared for & happier in Seton Hall?  Do email me.

If you have any issues please do not hesitate to contact me at or call on 0207 219 4437.

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