Bill to prevent sex selective abortion clears first hurdle

This month a new Bill to clarify the law on abortion to prevent gender based abortions being carried out passed its first stage in the House of Commons with a huge majority.

In a number of countries babies are very sadly routinely aborted simply because of their gender, so this new bill is to clear up an ambiguity in the law and to make clear that sex-selective abortion is NOT permitted in the UK.

Department of Health guidance states that gender is not itself a lawful ground under the Abortion Act but liberal interpretations of a mental health risk to the mother has meant that some believe it is permissible.

With a majority of 181 votes to one I, along with many others, agreed that a debate about more legislation is needed to silence those claiming that sex-selective abortion can be legal. That means the issue will now have a slot to be debated in the House of Commons by all MPs. I believe a small change would ensure no unintentional ex bias.

Response to Facebook campaign on Hollie Gazzard’s murderer Asher Maslin’s appeal

Thank you for your message by Facebook or email asking me to ask Home Secretary Theresa May to intervene and prevent Asher Maslin’s appeal against his sentence for murdering Hollie Gazzard.

I totally understand and sympathise with the strength of your feelings about this horrific murder, and I’m sure her family hugely appreciate your emotional support.

Since you ask me to do something specific, let me give a simple summary of the legal situation as I understand it.  Anyone convicted in a Crown Court has an absolute right to try and appeal against conviction and/or the sentence. Because Asher Maslin entered a plea of guilty, and there were no exceptional circumstances, he could only appeal against the sentence. So there is no question of his conviction being overturned: the only issue is about whether his sentence (a MINIMUM of 24 years) is appropriate.

A High Court judge has granted leave his request to an appeal and will be heard by the Court of Appeal with a Lord Justice presiding. I have asked for a date but the case won’t be listed now until sometime in mid-December, so we can probably expect not to see a date for the hearing until 2015.

No politician, whether MP, Justice Secretary, Home Secretary or PM has any say in the matter at all. It’s an entirely judicial process. And although it’s occasionally tempting to wish I could wave a magic wand at certain court cases, I can’t.

While I might have strong views on what the result of the appeal should be, it wouldn’t be helpful for me to go public on this – and might even be counterproductive. We shouldn’t have long to wait and whatever happens the facts can never be changed: the murderer has to live with the ghastly truth and we can never bring Hollie back again.

But what we can do is to support the work Nick Gazzard has started with the Hollie Gazzard Trust – preventing and stopping domestic abuse before it’s too late.

We can all in different ways support the events, raise the funds, spread the word, encourage the cards of hairdressers to have the helpline number for Domestic Abuse Services, and above all make everyone feel they can, and must, talk about abuse.

That way, out of shocking evil can come something hugely positive that honours Hollie.

I hope this both answers your question and shows a way forward.

Best regards

Richard

 

Control of Horses Bill progresses to next stage

I’m delighted that the Bill on the Control of Horses has now passed through to the next stage of the legislative process and hope it progresses further.

The Bill will grant local authorities more powers to detain and re-home fly-grazed horses, and make those responsible for abandoning the horses liable for any costs incurred, and so will go a long way towards tackling the serious problem of abandonment of horses. There was a particularly sad case in Sandhurst Lane at the beginning of this year during the flooding and I have raised this issue with Ministers and spoke out in a debate in Parliament on it so it’s great news  that the Government has listened to landowners and welfare charities, and is supporting this new Bill fully.   In the meantime it is illegal to be cruel to an animal, so the Animal Welfare Act can already be used to prosecute someone for abandoning a horse and the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act will provide enforcers with new, more flexible powers to tackle all antisocial behaviour, including fly-grazing. For example, community protection notices could be used to require the owner of a fly-grazed horse to remove or sell it so with this new Bill hopefully becoming law and the existing laws we have already in place we should be able to tackle fly grazing much more effectively.

More vocational apprenticeships

Under this government Britain has seen 2 million more apprentices since 2010. The Prime Minister has pledged to create an additional million apprenticeships (so 3 million in total) in the next Parliament and so abolish youth unemployment.

In Gloucestershire, to make sure we achieve that, we will need to create apprenticeships in areas that don’t yet exist. Vocational courses and training to help bridge skills gaps that already exist are the way forward.

For example the Uni of Glos and Emma Willis have already teamed up to proves a shirt sewing element of their fashion course, which will be relevant to Gloucester’s other shirt maker Turnbull & Asser and I hope will lure other shirt makers to Gloucester.

Now we need a specialist course for electroplaters in the coatings sector, which require a strong knowledge of chemistry: and the same for HGV drivers in the haulage sector. There are ideas coming forward for both these and I hope the new Growth Hub and the LEP will look closely at such specialist courses.

I raised this directly with the Chancellor last week:

“This Government’s support for apprenticeships has hugely helped the 40% drop in youth unemployment in Gloucester. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will continue to look constructively at new and innovative vocational schemes in sectors where there are jobs available—such as HGV drivers, haulage companies, and electroplaters for the Poeton company—but a shortage of skills at the moment?”

The Chancellor remembered immediately his visit with me to Gloucestershire Engineering Training (GET) and gave an encouraging response:

Mr Osborne: I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) has worked with local employers to improve skills, and I visited a successful apprenticeship and training scheme with him. We want to ensure that local employers are involved in shaping those apprenticeships and further education courses, and that is precisely what we are now setting up.

I hope this encourages both coatings and haulage companies to take their ideas forwards and I will support them. Other companies with similar skills gaps can follow suit.

Katie Alleyne of Prompt Transport said, ‘I believe it’s time the haulage sector got together in the Bristol/Glos region to create a vocational course that delivers good HGV drivers with a strong understanding of European laws on the road etc so that we don’t have this current shortage of British drivers and end up recruiting from Continental Europe’

Nick Day of Downton Group, Gloucestershire’s largest haulage operator said ‘it is quite true that there is a shortage of drivers with an HGV qualification and we are going to have to train them; if the industry comes up with a good course we all like and the government pays for the training – like GET for engineering – this has for to be the right way forward’

David Owen GFirst and LEP: ‘skills is at the heart of the LEP and our Growth Hub agenda,mans we will looks closely at all good ideas for supporting projects that develop skills across the county’

Tidal Lagoon is a game changer for our City

Tidal energy is a probable game changer for Britain and Tidal Lagoons relocation is a game changer for our city. With EDF Energy and Horizon Nuclear Power also based in the city, Gloucester is fast becoming an energy hub.

Tidal Lagoon Power’s plans to build a six-mile lagoon as part of a £1billion investment at Swansea Bay, capturing energy from the tide’s movements coming in and out of the bay. The development would be the first of its kind in the UK and hopes to make use of local producers for 65 per cent of the build, all orchestrated from the Gloucester office. And with apparent support in Swansea for the plans, all that is needed is the green light from Government and the firm is then likely to increase staff numbers, and therefore footfall in Gloucester’s other businesses.

Tidal Lagoon bring with them a team of forty full time employees who will be joined by up to ninety-five colleagues from Atkins and Costain, two of the delivery partners helping to prepare the world’s first tidal lagoon power plant. Tidal Lagoon Power’s workforce will inevitably grow fast and the redevelopment of Blackfriars and Bakers Quay should provide great accommodation very close for new employees.

Once they get the go ahead for Swansea that will also attract the re-location sub-contractors nearby. We now have the potential to become a city of marine as well as nuclear energy. The government will have to make sure the figures stack up and I am excited about the prospects for an innovative sustainable, long lasting source of green energy – much better than onshore wind farms.

UK ASEAN Business Council Seminar on Investing in Indonesia – 29/10/14

I’m delighted to make a key note contribution to this timely event. Since first living there in 1980 I’ve been convinced that Indonesia is one if the most fascinating countries in the world and one whose size means that if political stability is secure then anything is possible.

That includes using foreign technology, investment and skills to develop new firms if energy and reduce the amount if subsidised fuel: to expand safely a huge demand in aviation and other public transport and infrastructure and exploit sustainably great natural resources.

There also the consumer demands of a fast increasing middle class for the world’s best cars, electronics, fashion and creative media – not to mention savings and other financial services’ products – and a great deal of young Indonesian talent to partner with. So forward looking British companies should be investing time and money in working out how best to work with Indonesia.

The event is also an opportunity to hear directly from the Indonesian Government its latest plans and initiatives and support for foreign investment.

To find out more about this event please contact arnaud.delaeter@ocoglobal.com

Gloucester can be a City of Sport

This week Parliament reconvenes, but first I had the chance to show Sports Minister Helen Grant why Sport in Gloucester is on the UP. It’s partly the coming of the Rugby World Cup to Kingsholm next year, but much more besides. There’s the planning approval for Gloucester City Football Club to return to Gloucester after 7 years in the wilderness following the floods of 2007. There’s the renovated Jubilee Athletics Track, which is now leading to a much wider partnership with The Crypt school, Gloucester Rugby & Football and the Podsmead Big Local community fund for an exciting new Sports Hub at Blackbridge. And then there’s the new Gloucester Rowing Club clubhouse, which will be completed in 2015 on the Gloucester canal, arguably the best rowing water in the land.

The Rugby World Cup: a new football stadium: a new Sports Hub and a new Rowing & Canoeing clubhouse. Not to mention our revamped and improved Ski Centre and our much expanded Warehouse Climbing Centre, which is looking terrific. The Sports Minister saw our city excited about the Rugby World Cup Games, taking pride in developing other sports and saw that we can be a great City of Sport. Sport lifts communities and builds skills for life – which is as crucial to our young as the sports results themselves: and why I want to help make Gloucester, our City of Sport, a reality.

Making buses more accessible for blind people

I recently had a chance to experience for myself why people with sight loss need audio-visual announcements (AV) on buses, through playing a memory game, at a meeting with Guide Dogs.

All disabled people should have the same access to transport services and opportunities to travel as other members of society but without AV bus passengers with sight loss have to ask the driver to remember to tell them when they have reached their stop – something that isn’t always practical and doesn’t necessarily always work: figures show that 7 in 10 bus passengers with sight loss have been forgotten by a bus driver.

All Stagecoach buses operating in Gloucester comply with the disability discrimination act – they have low floors, have side and rear numerical or destination information and the interior is fitted with special seats, accommodation for a wheelchair and plenty of hand rails. But there’s no current requirement to install AV on buses.

I’ve been in contact with Stagecoach to raise this with them and encourage them to consider it on certain routes where it would be particularly helpful eg serving Milestone School. I know that the technology is very costly but it would make a huge difference to people so I’m delighted that they are now investing in other technology, in conjunction with the RNIB, that could give people without full sight some assistance in using our buses, I’ll be checking on how progress goes with this.

Reshore UK

In January I suggested to Ministers that “there is more we can do to help reshoring, for example by making cash contributions to regional growth funds, cutting business rates locally for manufacturers bringing back jobs and adding reshoring to the UK Trade & Investment job description.” So, nine months on I’m delighted that the government has acted and that the Manufacturing Advisory Service has now joined forces with UKTI to launch Reshore UK, a new one-stop-shop service to help companies bring production back to the UK, meanwhile the Manufacturing Advisory Service are now actively working with a number of manufacturers in the South West that are looking to bring production back instead of outsourcing overseas.

Reshore UK will provide a matching and location service, access to advice and support and a named individual to help each company. The MAS’ role is to help support SMEs to be globally competitive while UKTI will use its global networks to identify and attract foreign companies to invest.

Research has shown that the UK is now the cheapest place to manufacture in Western Europe and when dealing with suppliers who are based in the same country or even county it’s easier to build stronger working relations. This combined with competitive corporate tax rates, skilled workers and strong legal protections is encouraging more and more companies to bring work back here. The trend is already happening on our doorstep with Gloucestershire-based ADEY Professional Heating Solutions recently giving a £1.5 million contract to Future Advanced Manufacture, business that was previously being done in China and this great new initiative should encourage more and more of this.

Update on train services Gloucester – London

I have heard concerns from a number of people about reduced direct rail services between London and Gloucester and whether this is an impact of the work to redouble the track between Swindon and Kemble, so I asked First Great Western to clarify the situation. This is their reply, which is broadly reassuring. The key thing is that investment in eg new trains is inevitably dependant on what happens to their franchise soon:

There has been no reduction in the number of direct services between Gloucester/Cheltenham and London Paddington at any time of the day. Some services have however been affected by temporary changes to facilitate improvement works. Many of the delays that currently occur on this route are caused by more than one train needing access to a single line. Following redoubling this will be significantly reduced.

The business case Network Rail made for the redoubling of track between Swindon and Kemble was about facilitating service changes when the InterCity Express Programme (IEP) high speed trains are introduced from 2017 onwards. The additional track improves the reliability of the railway both locally and across the network, prepares the route for meeting customer growth forecasts for the next 30 years, and opens up an important diversionary route.

As well as providing a more reliable existing train service under the current timetable the doubling creates a high capacity diversionary route between London and South Wales that doesn’t require the local Swindon – Gloucester services to be suspended and replaced by buses when running South Wales diversionary services. The enhanced diversionary capability of the route will be used extensively during 2016-2018 to support the wider Great Western route upgrade programme. We were always clear that the doubling would not mean an immediate improvement in the timetable. It is however the first stage in providing additional services. This is because while the dualling provides additional track capacity between Cheltenham and Swindon there is no change in capacity between Swindon and London; this only changes once electrification is complete. The dualling works, were sequenced for delivery now to enable the improved diversionary capacity, so that we could avoid South Cotswolds customers having to use buses. Once electrification is complete it will enable an additional train each hour to run directly between Cheltenham and London. This is the intention once the additional super express trains (already procured by the Government and now being built) are delivered from 2017 onwards. This is therefore a work in progress, with an immediate improvement in reliability, and the ability to maintain rail services throughout the remainder of the electrification works. There is absolutely no worsening of service and as you know if we can we will make some small timetable improvements next year. This is currently waiting Department for Transport approval and we will be happy to keep you informed on progress.

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Richard in Parliament

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