Adrian Sanders MP Calls For Stronger Protection For Greyhounds

League Against Cruel Sports - Protect Racing Dogs

 

Torbay MP Adrian Sanders has called for stronger protection for racing greyhounds. Attending the launch of a new report by the League Against Cruel Sports and GREY2K USA Worldwide in Parliament, Adrian called for major change to stop thousands of dogs being needlessly killed.

Adrian MP said: “It is shocking that so many greyhounds die every year through injury or being deemed surplus to requirements by the industry, and many more live in inhumane conditions throughout their racing life. Major change is needed to protect these dogs from harm. I am delighted to support the League Against Cruel Sport’s important campaign.”

Adrian joined up with ‘Katy’ the greyhound to demonstrate his support for the campaign. Please see attached photo.

The state of greyhound racing in Great Britain: A mandate for change, shows that despite two major reports in 2007 recommending change, the life of a racing greyhound is still filled with abuse, neglect and early death.

The report shows that racing dogs spend 95% of their time in small barren kennels with little social contact. Those dogs that are housed in pairs are kept constantly muzzled. Frequently racing on poorly maintained tracks, dogs suffer painful and often lethal injuries such as broken backs and shattered limbs.

At least 10,000 dogs are deemed surplus to industry requirements every year. 8,000 are retired racers, the rest young dogs that didn’t make the grade. British charities rehome many of these dogs, but countless more are unaccounted for each year through being abandoned, crudely killed or sold to universities for research and dissection.

The League’s campaign is calling for:

  • Independent greyhound regulation with full welfare transparency
  • Tighter drugs controls
  • Greyhound passports to track all dogs from birth to death
  • Mandatory rehoming requirements
  • Controls on the breeding and importation of racing dogs

To coincide with the report, actress and long standing greyhound welfare advocate, Annette Crosbie OBE, has set up a Government e-petition calling for strengthened legal protection for racing greyhounds.

Getting Ready For Winter

As winter rolls around again, it’s important to be prepared and to take advantage of the free help that’s available to help with energy bills. There are a number of simple steps that everyone should take to keep their bills down and their home warm. Being energy efficient and keeping bills under control is important so it’s well worth getting in touch with your energy supplier to find out what support is on offer.

A few examples:

Insulate your home

British Gas is currently offering free loft and cavity wall insulation which is available to 90% of homes that need it. Loft insulation can save up to £145 and cavity wall insulation can save up to £150 per year. To find out more you can call free on 0800 316 4051 or visit britishgas.co.uk/insulation

Get the best deal

Make sure you are on the best gas and electricity tariff for you. There are lots of deals and fixed prices to help you control your costs. British Gas tells customers in every bill if we have a better tariff for them. It also offers flexible payment plans which allow customers the opportunity to set and manage their own payments. Anyone worried about their bill can call 0800 048 0202 to discuss the help available.

Financial support

You may be entitled to extra support from the Government and your energy supplier if you meet certain criteria – The Warm Home Discount – a one off discount of £135 on the electricity bill, rising to £140 this year. British Gas has the broadest eligibility criteria of all energy suppliers. British Gas customers should call 0800 072 8625.

British Gas Energy Trust

The British Gas Energy Trust is an independent charitable trust that offers advice and support if you’re struggling with your household bills. Over the last decade British Gas has provided it with more than £75 million to help 120,000 people with grants and debt advice.

British Gas has teamed up with 18 debt centres across the UK to fund support workers to help people apply for a grant and provide face-to-face advice. You don’t even need to be a British Gas customer to apply. For more information on the British Gas Energy Trust, visit: britishgasenergytrust.org.uk

Adrian Sanders MP Backs School Swimming Charter

COPYRIGHT PICTURE :  MARK PAIN2014. www.markpain.commark@markpain.con

Swimming isn’t just a fun leisure activity or a way for young people to keep healthy, it’s more than that. It’s a life-saving skill that every child has the right to learn, enjoy and be able to practice confidently”

New statistics have revealed that 45 per cent of 7-11 year olds are unable to swim 25 metres unaided. Nearly 1300 primary schools don’t teach swimming in Key Stage 2, even though it’s on the national curriculum and even at schools that do teach swimming, the average time spent by pupils in the pool was just 10 hours, less than half the recommended amount for learning how to swim.

So this week I joined with Olympic swimmer Duncan Goodhew to back the new School Swimming Charter from the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) aimed at boosting the number of primary school children that can swim and know how to be safe in and around water. The Charter aims to ensure every primary school in England has the necessary knowledge and resources required to deliver high quality school swimming programmes.

Drowning is the third highest cause of accidental death in children in the UK, and research suggests that if children do not learn to swim at primary school they will become one of the one in five adults in the UK that are unable to swim. We need to make sure that all local primary schools are doing everything they can to increase the number of people leaving primary school able to swim.

For more information about the School Swimming Charter, including how primary schools can get involved, people can visit www.swimming.org/schoolcharter

 

Herald Express Article Thursday 23rd October

A little known measure introduced by the last Labour Government has caused a major disagreement within the Coalition.

Labour introduced regional pay to the public sector through the Court Service.  Quite why Labour thought it was a good idea that a new employee in Wadebridge should be paid less than a new employee in Weybridge is anyone’s guess, but it made absolute sense to our Coalition partners.

The Conservative side of the Coalition proposed regional pay for the whole public sector and we said no.  Why should a nurse or teacher in Shiphay be paid less than a nurse or teacher in Shipley just because average wages are lower in South Devon than West Yorkshire?

If you want to condemn our area to a low-wage economy forever so there’s never enough money circulating locally to prevent business closures in tougher times or attract in higher quality retail in good times, or draw in the brightest and best to run our services at all times, this is it.

Preventing the Tories plans for regional pay in this Parliament was an important victory for areas like our own.

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Sometimes we overlook the fact that Devon & Cornwall doesn’t have a motorway, or even a fully duelled direct road link to London, the South East and of course the Continent via the Channel Tunnel.

To get to London by road we have to travel north to Bristol and turn right.

Upgrading the A303 to give us a quality direct route would not only reduce costs, but save lives, and give us a second way in and out of the region should the M5 have to close; it would cut polluting carbon emissions too.

I have been pushing the Government along with other South West MPs to get a move-on as according to the local enterprise partnership improvements to the A303 could reduce carbon emissions by 9 percent, save over 1,800 fatal or serious accidents over 60 years, improve transport resilience to cope with incidents and flooding while giving the economy a £41 billion boost with over 21,000 new jobs.

I am expecting some good news on this from Danny Alexander in the Autumn Statement.

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After leaving the Conservatives to join UKIP and announcing he would resign and contest his seat in a by-election I was quick to offer my congratulations to Douglas Carswell MP.  Resigning was the honourable thing to do and he was rewarded with a big majority when the voters of Clacton went to the polls a few weeks later.

I congratulated his former Tory colleague Mark Reckless MP when he too said he would do the right thing and resign and contest a by-election when he also defected to UKIP from the Conservatives.

There is no doubt UKIP is on a roll and even here in Torbay where Lord Ashcroft’s poll of over a 1,000 constituents found the Lib Dems and Conservatives heading for a tie, UKIP were in a strong third place streets ahead of Labour in fourth place and out of the race.  The Greens didn’t even register.

I get UKIP and understand their appeal to people like Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless.  Like other former Conservatives such as Nigel Farage and Neil ‘cash for questions’ Hamilton, they share a libertarian philosophy very different to the metropolitan Conservatism of David Cameron.

When Labour attack UKIP as being more Tory than the Tories they miss the bulls-eye because UKIP aren’t just Tory, they are a particular type of Tory.  Their politics is rooted in Mrs Thatcher’s brand of 1980’s Conservatism, and it is from this that their policies flow – policies they try to keep hidden for fear of frightening off voters who were less keen on Mrs Thatcher and remember the 1980’s.

Those of us who lived through that period will not forget its ideologically driven policies of division, privatisation, tax cuts for the wealthy, selling off council houses and not replacing them, and unemployment being “a price worth paying”.

Once you realise this you see why so many former supporters of Mrs Thatcher find such a warm welcome in UKIP with their advocacy of private pensions, education and health care, all based on their view of small government and people fending for themselves.

It’s not a vision I share, but I can see why true-blue Tories would find themselves among more friends in UKIP than the modern Conservative Party.

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For the second year running the people of Glasgow made those attending the Liberal Democrat conference most welcome and with flights from Exeter to Glasgow taking half the time it takes to get to London by train there must be considerable untapped potential for tourism between our two parts of the United Kingdom.

I was delighted to see my constituents mentioned on posters across the city.  Torquay residents ‘The Krankies’ are starring in Cinderella with John Barrowman from 13th December to 4th January at the Clyde Auditorium this year.

Shame the posters didn’t say “starring the Krankies from the gorgeous English Riviera”, but I’m sure they’ll give their home a plug for folk looking for a great holiday just a short flight away.

 

Speech to Pluss Conference – Friday 17th October

Speech to Pluss Conference Friday 17 October at Living Coasts, Torquay.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you here today at the start of the Disability Confident event for Pluss in Torbay.

Disability Confident is a national Government campaign, launched by the Prime Minister in London last year, which encourages employers to be positive about the skills that disabled people bring to business. Pluss is a national partner in the campaign and is working closely with the Minister for Disabled People’s team to bring the campaign to local areas.

Employers are crucial to improving employment outcomes for disabled people. Pluss is proud to work with employers of all types and sizes nationally, and over 250 here in Torbay and South Devon.

Pluss is working to remove barriers, increase understanding and ensure that disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations.

So I would particularly like to welcome the local employers who are here today. I know how vital your role is and how much Pluss values your support.

*   *   *

Nearly 7 million people of working age in the UK are disabled or have a health condition. There has historically been a large gap between the numbers of disabled people employed compared with non disabled people.

You will hear from many employers today how employing a disabled person is one of the best decisions they have ever made; how it has helped transform their culture, their customer relations, their performance – and their bottom line!

Many employers find that by encouraging applications from disabled people, they are able to extend the pool of high quality applicants available to them.

It also makes good business sense to engage with the widest possible consumer audience.

For an average business, 20 per cent of their customers are disabled people. A workforce that reflects the diverse range of customers it serves, and the community in which it is based, is good for business.

On top of this, disabled people spend £80bn a year in the UK.

And when it comes to the retention of disabled people; in many cases, the cost of making reasonable adjustments to accommodate people is low, very often funded partly or wholly by the government, through Access to Work.

The benefits of retaining an experienced, skilled employee – as well as being good for the individual – are usually far greater than the alternative, which could mean expensive recruitment and training.

*   *   *

I was delighted to be asked to speak at today’s Disability Confident Event, because I know that the work Pluss does is so important, not only here in Torbay and South Devon but across the country.

Pluss’ purpose is a simple one: itwants to make sure that people of all abilities are inspired to achieve a career.

It does this through its wide range of employment services.

These services support people with a learning disability, people with mental health issues, people with a physical disability, and those with long-term health issues.

What’s more, as a social enterprise, Pluss invests all its profits back into the organisation – to help it deliver more and better services for the people it supports.

*   *   *

Of course, we all know that these are challenging times. The current economic climate means that competition for vacancies can be tough.

The situation for people with disabilities can sometimes be harder still.

We know that the majority of disabled people want to work.  And all the evidence shows that people with disabilities make good employees.

But the Government’s own statistics show that if you have a disability, you are much less likely to have a job than someone who doesn’t have a disability.

For example only 7% of people with a learning disability are in paid employment.

This isn’t because they can’t or don’t want to work, but because the impact of their disabilities, and society’s attitudes towards those disabilities mean they must frequently overcome complex challenges if they are to achieve their ambition of a career.

In fact, surveys continue to show that some employers (obviously excluding our employers here today) are reluctant to recruit a person with a disability.

Low expectations and a lack of knowledge still deny people the chance to get a job that they have the skills to excel at.

*   *   *

So, you can see why the kind of supported employment services that Pluss deliver are so important.

Although a lot of progress has been made, it’s still vital to get the message across that people with disabilities make good employees, and to challenge discrimination when it occurs. What we need is for everyone to see the person and not the disability.

Pluss is well placed to meet that challenge. It already advises more than250 employers here in Torbay and South Devon, helping them to recruit and retain staff with a disability.

The Torbay and South Devon teams are clear about the ingredients for success:

  • Their approach is founded on building professional relationships with employers; to understand each business and their recruitment needs, and to work with them to make the reasonable adjustments that some customers may need.
  • They provide a successful and free-of-charge recruitment solution. Using a variety of creative techniques, they focus on matching the right person, with the right skills, into the right job.
  • And then, when a customer starts work, the support moves into the workplace with them. From smoothing any concerns, offering day-to-day advice, job coaching and training to helping the person take on a wider role or new responsibilities.

The teams here in Torbay and South Devonare used to working in a challenging jobs market. But they continue to work determinedly; engaging with employers and business groups, promoting the business case and building employer confidence.

The aim is always the same – to ensure that the person can achieve their full potential in work.

*   *   *

Today you will hear from many different employers about their approach.

I am sure you will find them both interesting and helpful.

But perhaps the most important message to take away today is this: Employing a diverse workforce can give you a competitive edge, it can help you stand out from the crowd.

My message is simple – celebrate diversity. Employ people with a different outlook and approach. Dare to think differently, and let your business grow!

Herald Express Article Thursday 25th September 2014

Hardly surprising that less than a year from a General Election the parties will be reviewing their policies and announcing new ideas for their manifestos.

At the same time the peculiarities of Coalition Government mean the two partners signed up to an agreement not due to end until after the election will start to set out very different stalls in order to differentiate themselves from one another.

The Liberal Democrats are already broadening their criticisms of the Coalition’s welfare policies by admitting that benefit sanctions are hitting those most in need of support, and the Government’s universal credit and employment support allowance programmes have led to backlogs and implementation problems.

My casework load is confirmation of this and it is not as if Parliament wasn’t warned that such situations could occur.  Sadly, the influence of ideology, think-tanks and perceptions rather than facts got in the way of objective decision making.

I claim no credit for having voted against these changes before they were brought in.  The so-called bedroom tax for example was something I was suspicious of in the last Parliament when Labour introduced the idea.

But the Conservative version many of my colleagues supported, because of the support promised to local authorities to mitigate its impact in areas with housing shortages, was much worse.

Rather than being restricted to new tenancies it applies to existing ones.  I argued at the time that this was a crazy idea that people on welfare would be able to find properties that in many areas with affordable housing shortages, such as Torbay, simply don’t exist, or that they can afford to make up the cut in housing benefit from their subsistence level benefits.

In Torbay the number of people affected by the bedroom tax added to the numbers of people already on the waiting list.  For example, it added over 800 people onto the waiting list that was already just under 2,000 for one-bedroomed properties alone.

This was and remains the reality for thousands of our neighbours trapped in housing they can no longer afford because of the cut to their housing subsidy and unable to find a smaller property in their locality because of Council failures to secure affordable housing that meets local need.

The first step towards changing this policy was taken the other Friday in a Private Member’s Bill my colleague Andrew George proposed.  As a fellow Lib Dem who rebelled against the original bedroom tax legislation he asked me to sponsor his Bill and I agreed, only to later discover I had an advice surgery on the day the 2nd Reading was timetabled.

Fortunately, and mostly thanks to Tory abstentions, the 2nd reading was never in any doubt and it sailed through with a majority of over 60.  The crucial votes will come at 3rdReading when the Whips will have the power to compel Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to attend and defend Coalition policy.  I don’t think very many of my non-ministerial colleagues will be backing the policy this time.

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Hopefully the new infant school term passed without too many problems as the Coalition’s policy to guarantee every child in infant school in England a free school meal.

I took up the case of couple of Torbay schools concerned about the introduction of the policy and the changes they would have to make to their kitchens and staffing arrangements and hopefully any difficulties have been resolved.

It has been estimated that the policy will save families over £400 a year per child, but it is much more than simply help to hard pressed parents.

This is one of the most important changes in our education system for a generation.

A healthy meal at lunchtime for all children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 will raise school standards and help families save money.

It would never have happened without the Liberal Democrats in Government, fighting to cut the cost of living and give every child a fair start in life.

School lunches for all infants will improve children’s education, and make sure more children eat a healthy and nutritious meal at least once a day.

Universal free school meals have been shown to work in the pilot schemes run by the Department for Education and Department of Health in 2009.

Schools have had longer to prepare for the introduction of universal free school meals this September than schools in those pilot areas had in 2009.

Schools are receiving a huge amount of support to provide free school meals. £150m has been made available to improve kitchens and dining facilities, as well as an additional £22.5m specifically to help smaller schools.

According to the Children’s Society’s  analysis about 160,000 more children in poverty will be getting this vital support.

Providing children with nutritious and delicious meals gives them the fuel they need to excel both inside and outside the classroom, while making them more likely to opt for fruit and vegetables at lunchtime rather than junk food such as crisps.

The State We Are In

It’s not as if the question of where powers should be exercised hasn’t been asked before, it’s who is asking it this time that’s different.

For decades Liberal Assemblies and later Liberal Democrat Conferences grappled with ways to make decision making more democratic and to bring government closer to the people.

Endless reports and policy papers, enquiries and announcements, yet few people outside of academia or the policy wonk community took much notice.

Liberals can trace their views on constitutional reform and devolution back to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that laid the foundations for the development of the modern liberal state by limiting the powers of the Monarch, confirming parliamentary supremacy, and establishing the principle of ‘consent of the governed’.

Later Liberals were advocating Home Rule for Ireland and one can but wonder how much less blood might have been spilled and what the United Kingdom would look like today had the Home Rule Bill gone through.

More recently Liberal Democrats have argued that you have to reform the way we govern ourselves if we want to change the things that Governments do.

The Scottish Referendum has galvanised the people of these isles into thinking about these issues and questioning the way we govern ourselves.

I watched the Scottish referendum from afar with a growing sense of frustration at the ‘No’ campaign and its complete failure to recognise the most powerful reason for voting yes, and that’s the basic desire to be in control of one’s own affairs.

No amount of rational argument over costs and living standards can compete with the seductive promise to be rid of remote institutions influencing the rules and regulations that govern your life.

UKIP knows this and has traded on the incorrect assumption that the UK is governed from Brussels. The SNP argument was that Scotland needs to break free from being governed from Westminster. UKIP and the SNP can’t both be right and of course they are not, but the ‘No’ campaign missed this and the result of the referendum was far closer than polls said it would be when the referendum was first announced.

The Westminster Village’s failure to understand the seductive message of being in control of one’s own affairs was very nearly the undoing of the United Kingdom.

A different campaign would have used the same appeal as the separatists by arguing that being in the UK gives you the strength financially and militarily to control your own destiny in a world of threats and uncertainties.

It would have demonstrated that the Westminster Village, from politics to the media; law to business; Whitehall to the Town Hall; is full of people from Scotland, and that the UK is a coalition of peoples from across the nations and regions working together for their mutual, even enlightened, self-interest.

It would have argued that together we retain our separate identities but gain in strength and influence around the world and where it matters in trade and security.

What the referendum has left us with is the big question of where power should be exercised and by whom.

Already the Westminster Village is making mistakes in how to address this. By focusing on the issue of Scottish MPs voting on English matters the point is completely missed that where power is exercised determines who exercises it. Whether it’s 650 MPs, or 590 without the Scots, the decisions are still being taken in Westminster.

Where decisions are made determines who takes them and addressing the so called West Lothian question fails to address the desire of people to have decisions about their lives taken closer to where they live.

This leads to the second fundamental error the Westminster Village is making when talking about what powers it might be willing to devolve. As the Scots understood, devolution only makes sense if you view the process from where you live, not from where power currently resides.

In other words the question isn’t what powers should Westminster give to say Manchester or Cornwall but what powers the people of Manchester or Cornwall want to exercise themselves.

For devolution to work it has to be from the grassroots up, not from Westminster down so early on people need to be involved in ascertaining the communities they identify with and which powers they think should be exercised where.

There won’t be a uniform answer, and why should there be. If the people of Brixham think they can run waste disposal better than Torbay Unitary while the people of Newton Abbot are happy to leave these things to Devon County Council, so what.

Can we not though a constitutional convention arrive at a constitutional settlement that allows for different answers reflecting the factors that exist in any given community from its geography and demography through to the confidence of its residents and the powers they wish to take on or pass upwards?

Left to the Westminster Village the Tories will simply change which MPs take the decisions in London and re-centralise power in the hands of more elected mayors. Labour will argue for city states, devolving powers to our big cities but ignoring the majority of the population who live in smaller urban and rural communities.

This is why we need a constitutional settlement involving all communities and civic society, not just politicians.

The relationship between Westminster and the regions is being questioned as it has been down the years only this time it is the public pressing for answers. One answer has been resisted by the vested interests in the Westminster Village for centuries. A system that gives people in the nations of the UK maximum control over their own lives. The kind of system taken for granted by Canada, Australia, Germany and the USA among many successful states. It’s called Federalism and a Federal Union is the answer for those who want more control over their own affairs without breaking up our 300 year old United Kingdom.

But for those beyond Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh solutions need to be found for the communities and regions within England. It is here that a constitutional convention will have its work cut out and where a uniform answer will fail to address the different needs and aspirations of the diverse communities that make up the State of England, the State most of us are in.

 

Herald Express Article 11th September 2014

I wasn’t that surprised when a second Conservative MP defected to UKIP the other day, although there are several Tory MPs I’ve observed who I thought would have jumped ship before Douglas Carswell.

 

He has followed the route taken by Bob Spink the MP for Castle Point in the last Parliament in joining what has become a familiar home for Thatcherite Conservatives unhappy with Cameron’s metropolitan Conservatism.

 

What marks Douglas Carswell out from the very small number of MPs who have switched sides down the years is his decision to resign and test it in a by-election. Good on him for that I say and I suspect he will do better than the last defecting MP to do this.

 

In 1983 Bruce Douglas-Mann the MP for the South London seat of Mitcham & Morden left the Labour Party to join the SDP only when he put this to his electors they didn’t agree with him.  He came third in the by-election fought against the back drop of the Falklands War. Conservative Angela Rumbold was elected in his place whose House of Commons office I was allocated in 1997 when she lost her seat. Sadly neither are still alive to give Douglas Carswell by-election advice.

 

 

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I am sure everyone was shocked at the findings exposed in the recent inquiry into child abuse in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

 

The failings exposed by this inquiry are appalling and the Government says it is absolutely clear that the lessons of past failures must be learned.

That is why it is right to establish an independent inquiry panel of experts in law and child protection to consider whether public bodies – and other non-state institutions – have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.

The government has set up a Home Office led National Group, through which agencies are working together to better identify those at risk and create a more victim-focused culture within the police, health and children’s services.

This is all good but what has saddened me has been the failure to focus on those who carried out the appalling crimes against children.

The concentration has mostly been on those who had responsibilities during this period.  Sure they failed the children in their care and they should be held accountable, but they are easy to identify and expose.  The difficult job is tracking down those who carried out these crimes and bringing them to justice.

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The brutal murder of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff  is shocking and depraved and at the time of writing there is a British citizen being held hostage by the same captors who look like they include Britons among them.

The creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and extending into Syria is not a problem miles away from home.  If Britain does not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain.  But as the Prime Minister has made clear, we are not going to put boots on the ground in Iraq in a combat role.

The Government is already taking action to address the threat that British nationals in extremist organisations pose to national security, including policies aimed at deterring people at risk of radicalisation.

Far too many British citizens have travelled to Iraq and travelled to Syria to take part in extremism and violence.  We should redouble our efforts to stop people from going.

The police and security services are actively working to detect and disrupt terrorist threats. People seeking to travel to engage in terrorist activity in Syria or Iraq should be in no doubt we will take the strongest possible action to protect our national security, including prosecuting those who break the law.

The Government also have a wide range of powers at their disposal to disrupt travel and manage the risk posed by returnees.

What we mustn’t do is react in a knee jerk fashion and implement legislation without evidence that it is likely to have the desired effect its proponents claim and without any unintended consequences.  Legislate in haste, repent at leisure.

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I think the Prime Minister has so far handled this very difficult situation well but I do not support his view that British military assets could be deployed without reference to Parliament.

Whether or not one is convinced of the case for action it is only right and proper that the nation’s forum – the House of Commons – gets to debate such matters and passes its opinion on behalf of the people.

I kept a straight face at a recent Transport Select Committee when representatives from the north of England complained that they get hand-me-down rolling stock.  And who gets their old trains?  The South West of course.

Herald Express Article Thursday 9th October

I voted against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 because a) it wasn’t legal; b) the evidence of weapons of mass destruction was unconvincing (and proved later to be false); and c) there was no exit strategy.

The Government’s case for air strikes this time was that it would be legal and there is a real threat to UK citizen’s and to the stability of the Middle East.

Unlike 2003, instead of invading Iraq we were being asked by the Iraqi Government to defend it.  So the legality was pretty clear.  However, I still sought the advice of the Attorney General whom I met on the morning of the vote and he assured me further that the issue was not one of legality.

As to threats to the UK and regional stability I think that case was proven well before the vote with the beheading of a British hostage and the routine murder within the territory controlled by ISIL by beheading, crucifixion and bullets of people failing to support ISIL’s aims.

That left the question of whether air strikes were the answer because my greatest concern was the so called ‘collateral damage’, or the murder by our actions of innocent men, women and children that simply create more of the hatred of the West that ISIL feeds on.

The question no one can answer in advance is whether more innocent people will die as a consequence of the UK joining in with the air strikes, or whether fewer will die if we leave the bombing up to others.  One side argues that without effective forces on the ground air strikes will lead to more deaths; others that targeted air strikes will remove the ability of ISIL to terrorise local communities and so more lives will be saved.

My view was that if air strikes were to go ahead then they should be accompanied by mitigating actions to counter the negative consequences.

Before the debate I met the Deputy Prime Minister and asked him about humanitarian aid and support to neighbouring countries having to deal with people fleeing the areas of conflict.  He said that humanitarian aid would be stepped up and in the Prime Minister’s speech on the day he confirmed that we are increasing our aid effort.

On deciding which way to vote I would say I was less than 70 per cent convinced to back the motion and did so with very real reservations and concerns, but fewer than had I voted against or abstained.

If this action can halt the advance of ISIL and create space for political solutions to emerge we can focus on the other causes of extremism such as the poverty, inequality and poor governance experienced by people throughout the Middle East on which the extremists feed.

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We often forget that before the National Health Service most of our hospitals were supported by voluntary contributions.  After the Liberal Beveridge planned and proposed, and the Socialist Bevan implemented, the NHS was brought into being in 1948.

Six years later an inaugural meeting of the Torbay Hospital (and Associated Hospitals) League of friends met to raise funds to assist the hospitals in the area.

Initially the League was able to provide £12 for fruit bowls, a modest but important gift to improve the quality of patient surroundings and their comfort.

Sixty years later at the League of Friends diamond anniversary thanksgiving service we learnt that over £15 million has been raised since that first meeting.

Today the aim is to raise £1.6 million to quip a new Intensive Care Unit – part of a £14 million investment in our main hospital.

I was honoured to be invited to celebrate the dedication of those who have run and helped the League over its first 60 years and wish them the best of fortune for the next.

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The Party conference season has been more than a little interesting this year with defections to UKIP, press entrapment of a Conservative MP and Labour’s response to the £750 billion deficit.

Can’t help thinking Labour haven’t quite grasped the enormity of the challenge facing the country.  Putting their economic plan into understandable figures they are saying that when spending £750 more than is being earned they will cut spending by £5!  That doesn’t work in anyones’ household budgeting, let alone the nations.

But contrast this with the reason Mark Reckless MP gave for joining UKIP, that the Tories (& Lib Dems) have failed to reduce the deficit, and you wonder how much more public spending UKIP would cut compared to the Coalition!

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I have been in favour of lowering the voting age to 16 for as long as I have been involved in politics.

If 16 and 17 year olds are too young to understand the issues then shouldn’t we test people over the age of 18 to check whether they do before issuing them with a ballot paper?

One of the outcomes of the Scottish referenda was the number of 16 and 17 year olds engaging with the political process and exercising their democratic right to make a decision on their future.  Isn’t it time we allowed the United Kingdom’s other young people the same opportunity?

Herald Express Article Thursday 28th August 2014

Twitter is a device for your computer or mobile phone that enables users to send and read short text messages, called “tweets”, of no more than 140 characters – which is around 25 words.

A ‘tweetchat’ is a pre-arranged chat that happens on Twitter using a predefined hashtag – a title – that links those tweets together in a virtual conversation for the reader to follow and join in.

It gives people an opportunity to answer questions posed by the host from anywhere in the world and I hosted my first ‘tweetchat’ last week that reached a potential audience of nearly 200,000 people.

The purpose was to seek input from people with diabetes about the current provision of diabetes education and support and seek views on what other types and forms of training and support would enable them – and their families – to live healthier and happier lives.

It was part of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes year-long enquiry into education and diabetes.

I asked 4 key questions to help the conversation along and encourage answers that could be shared more widely beyond Twitter.

I watched reactions to the questions and the conversations that flowed sometimes answering further questions that were raised or commenting on interesting responses.

It was a great way of obtaining views and ideas and it struck me that such an exercise would lend itself to Council consultations if the Mayor was serious about listening to what local people want.

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Surveys can throw up very interesting results and a recent one of 1,000 people for an ice lolly brand revealed that a quarter of Britons have never visited the British coast!

Apparently the Scots showed the least enthusiasm for a day at the beach while nearly two in ten UK citizens routinely shunned British tourist attractions, with one in eight of those blaming the cost.

More ammunition I think for reducing the UK VAT rate on accommodation and attraction prices, and perhaps another argument for retaining a tourism company that can target marketing messages at groups such as the Scots to encourage them to dip their toes in Torbay’s waters and enjoy all that a holiday at a British seaside resort has to offer, including ice lollies.

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No sooner are we getting into the new routine of the recess and Parliament is about to go into session again.  Not through a recall but the now regular return for two weeks before breaking up again for the three week Party conference season.

I’m tempted to start a sweepstake each summer on who will be the first to go to the press and argue for a recall of Parliament.  Alternatively one could bet on what the likely cause behind the recall is likely to be.

Foreign affairs are always the firm favourite not least I suspect because Parliament is very good at debating subjects over which it has very little influence.  In my experience the less influence we have over an issue the more calls for debating time.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t discuss events on faraway places over which we have no jurisdiction, after all we are senior members of a number of international bodies that do have some influence.

As usual the recess has been a wonderful opportunity to get out and about and visit all those groups and organisations I can’t fit in on Fridays or meet during the week when I’m in Westminster.

It is also an opportunity for less pressurised time for meetings with the heads of organisations that serve my constituents.

In the past few weeks I’ve had meetings with the Chairman and acting CEO of the Torbay & South Devon Health Care Trust, the CEO of the Clinical Commissioning Group, senior managers of the two largest social landlords in the bay, the South Devon Coroner, council officers and many others.

Recess also affords time to meet constituents and most rewarding has been the warmth of reception I’ve received knocking on doors across the constituency and chatting to people.

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Congratulations to all those A level and GCSE students who have mostly been put out of their agony with the publication of their results.

Congratulations to those who got the A level grades to get them into university in a year where more students are going to start degrees than in 2010.  Yet the majority of school leavers don’t go to university, they go to college and their achievements deserve just as much credit.

Without mechanics and builders, engineers and laboratory technicians, chefs and electricians where would we be.  The academic/vocation divide is an unhelpful one made worse by the media’s focus on students going to university rather than college.

So well done equally to all.

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A great first home game of the season at Plainmoor had me cheering for Cameron – Courtney Cameron of course, who scored Torquay’s third with a wonderful chip over Welling United’s keeper.

I think we can expect a few more wins this season than last. Hopefully enough to challenge for a place back in the football league.