Why don’t our school children learn about our Armed Forces? They now can.

I’ve often wondered what, if anything, children learn about our Armed Forces at school. If they’re not from a Services family, what does it all mean? For a long time there was simply a vacuum – there was nothing in History or Citizenship that spelt out what our Forces do and why they exist. That’s about to change.

A great new resource has just been announced by Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary. The British Armed Forces Learning Resource is now available to schools and it really brings to life the story of our Armed Forces and the people who make them.

As well as exploring their history, students can see what it is like to work as part of the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force, both in Britain and abroad. There are many different views and perspectives from longstanding members of the Armed Forces, from Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach to Imam Asim Hafiz.

It is crammed full of information and even includes lesson ideas, so teachers can show the vital role that the Armed Forces have played in shaping the world we live in and why they still matter now and in the future.

I will be sending this fantastic resource to all schools in Gloucester and if you want to have a look yourself, just click the link below.

http://www.armedforceslearningresources.co.uk/

A still, small voice of calm – a different approach to counter-terrorism

I have read a huge amount of nonsense about the threat to the UK from the so called new caliphate Islamic State, and how to combat it.

The article by counter terrorism think tank Quilliam rightly summarises the main proposals so far as a combination of law and war: and notes they haven’t been very successful so far. We may need more tools in place to deal with committed terrorists returning to Britain – but we also need, as they suggest, much more grass roots community cohesion.

This can sound waffly unless we bring it alive with specific initiatives, and that’s our challenge in every constituency. The multi-faith chaplaincy we introduced at the Gloucester Academy (an Anglican and a Muslim working together) is one good example: the education programmes run by the madressa at Widden School, introducing young non-Muslims to the mosques, is another. Mixed club sports like the Gloucester City Winget CC teams are incredibly important too. But there is more at a community leadership level we can do too.

Do read this article as a welcome alternative to increasingly strident voices that get most media attention.

Quilliam Opposes Knee-Jerk Reactions to ISIS by Pushing for More Draconian Laws

Quilliam has long opposed knee-jerk reactions to terrorism, and continues to oppose the temptation to combine law and war as a means to tackling the issue of domestic Islamist and Far-Right extremism.

Law and war each have their respective time and place and we have already seen implementations of arbitrary rendition, detention without trial, profiling, losing the right to silence at ports of entry and exit, and occupation of certain countries. Britain has had no shortage of these measures during war times, yet our terrorism problem globally seems to have gotten worse.

Until now, what has really been missing is the inverse of using law and war: a whole-of-society approach, tying up government, media and civil institutions that work with, between and among communities to strengthen grassroots resilience against extremism and build allegiance to our core democratic values.

Approaching the issue in this manner would be the only long term solution to what is our number one domestic security challenge.

Such a civil-society led approach would require:

1) Standing strong, loud and firm, for our core democratic values and universal human rights, as the best antidote to the terror, rigidity and dogma of Islamist extremism. Watering down our values, employing short term measures, such as the stripping of citizenship or the presumption of guilt before innocence only bolsters Islamist propaganda.

2) We want clarity and cohesion in counter-extremism policy across government departments. To implement this we need a centrally appointed, counter-extremism Czar, accountable to the Prime Minister, to deliver counter-extremism Task Force recommendations and uphold the vision delivered in the Prime Minister’s 2011 Munich Speech.

3) A civil society-led push back against all forms of extremism that unites communities and utilises schools, universities, places of worship, youth clubs, music, arts and culture in order to popularise counter-narratives that discredit extremist ideology.

4) A positive national campaign focusing on what unites us, rather than what divides us, utilising leading role models who promote our democratic values and proudly declare their support for a United Kingdom that is united against extremism and united in support of democratic values. Furthermore, just as government should not disengage from disaffected communities by adopting more draconian laws, communities should not disengage by seeking forms of redress that bypass our political values. We need to encourage more interaction between those vulnerable to extremist narratives and the political mainstream, this should include encouraging a voter registration drive among vulnerable communities.

What chance of peace in Gaza?

I understand and share frustrations about the speed with which both Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire but the government was right to focus on this, recognising that the humanitarian situation in Gaza was intolerable. We’ve urged both sides to agree to an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and now have a 72 hour ceasefire. Our objective now is to make that permanent so the killing stops.

It’s an important first step to ending the suffering of the people of Gaza and creating the space for discussions on how to resolve the underlying issues on both sides. We urge both sides to respect it. I support the talks in Egypt as a way forward to a lasting end to the violence, although the necessary trust between both sides will have been brutally damaged by the events of the last month. Avoiding future conflict and improving life for ordinary Palestinians, as well as addressing Israel’s legitimate security needs, is critical but I’m not confident of the commitment by either the Israeli government or Hamas to making the necessary compromises to achieve that.

At the same time we’re also pressing for urgent measures to relieve the humanitarian suffering of those in Gaza.  The UK is already providing more than £15m in emergency assistance to help tens of thousands of Palestinians affected.

Lastly a cross-Government review of export licences to Israel is underway. No new licenses have been issued for use by the Israeli military since the invasion of Gaza.

I warned the Israeli Ambassador that while his government could win a military clash over Iranian rockets fired by Hamas, and against the tunnels built for military incursions into Israel, the collateral damage done to civilians – given Hamas’ cynical use of schools and hospitals for storage and military bases – would risk a humanitarian disaster and arouse western anger. That is what has happened and it disturbs us all very much.

As I said in my speech in the House of Commons almost a month ago, few of us emerge with any credit from this conflict in which peaceful people in Gaza have suffered the most, and peace lovers in Israel have been appalled too. You don’t have to be a supporter of Hamas to raise real questions about some of Israel’s actions: and I will continue to do so.

You’re Welcome Grants

Individual well being and volunteering funds, the Small Sparks Fund for community groups and organisation grants for bigger ones: the Barnwood Trust does all these, primarily to help residents of our county.

Please help me to ensure that the best causes in our city benefit from this leading mental health charity.

News from Barnwood Trust   

 Help us to help more people across Gloucestershire

Barnwood Trust gives four different types of grants. Read on to find out more about each of them and help us to give more grants to people across Gloucestershire by sharing this email far and wide!

Grants for individuals

We provide grants to people with disabilities and mental health challenges living in Gloucestershire.

The Wellbeing Fund enables people to live more independently, by helping with the purchase of domestic appliances, holidays, personal items, adaptions, disability-related equipment or things that might otherwise be beyond someone’s reach. The Opportunities Award opens the way for people to try something new which may lead to employment, volunteering or give someone the ability to help others. It can also be used to fund training or equipment that will enhance the ability to pursue a hobby or interest. For more information and application forms for both grants click here.

 

 Small Sparks grants

Small Sparks grants are for people across the county who want to get together with friends and neighbours to do things that they enjoy, benefiting the community where they live. It could be for gardening equipment to grow vegetables together, books to get a club going or maybe some wool and knitting needles for a group you are already part of.

Grants of up to £250 are available and there are no formal application forms to complete. You just need to make sure that at least one of you wanting to enjoy the activity has a disability or mental health challenge or is an older person who would like to make more friends. Click here to join our group on the You’re Welcome which has lots of handy information and stories of what people have already done with a Small Sparks grant.

 Grants for organisations

Small grants of up to £750 are available to organisations in Gloucestershire who work directly to benefit the quality of life of people with disabilities and mental health challenges. Grants could be for new projects, pilot schemes or specific equipment. Grants for holidays and play schemes are also available to organisations with a proven track record of providing either for people in Gloucestershire with a disability or mental health challenge. For more information and application forms click here.

 Our Annual Review

Our latest Annual Review ‘What we’ve been up to 2013 – 2014′ is now available. Have a read to find out more about the impact of our grants over the last year as well as all of the other things we have been up to at Barnwood. Click here to download a copy.

 Thank you for helping us to spread the word and give more grants to people, organisations and groups across Gloucestershire.

 From all of us at Barnwood Trust

 

 

 

 

Debate on the Middle East (17th July)

Many people will know that I visited Gaza in 2010, not long after Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, and wrote extensively on that and on a later visit to the West Bank (Hebron and East Jerusalem in particular) and the military detention courts.

As a result of our visits we did help get access for UNRWA reconstruction materials via the Gaza border with Israel and the regulations at the detention courts improved. There has been no improvement on key issues like the illegal settlements, the wall and the destruction of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

And the core problem of Hamas’ determination to destroy Israel and Israel’s ruthless response remain.

Against that background the events of the last few weeks are deeply depressing – a further cycle of violence that benefits no-one.

Here is Yesterdays (17 July) ‘s debate in Parliament:

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): It is a pleasure to join today’s debate. The plaudits heaped on my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) have been considerable. I will not add to those, because he already knows of my respect for him. May I also warmly welcome my former colleague at the Foreign Office to his new place as Minister with responsibility for the middle east? He comes to the fray at a difficult and sensitive time, and we should all wish him good luck in his difficult task.

Today we debate a region that is large; its overall situation is dire and the scale of its humanitarian disaster is enormous. Britain’s contribution to dealing with some of the regional humanitarian crises is considerable. Let me focus, in the brief minutes available, on the situation in Gaza and Israel. My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who I think has just left, referred earlier to an Israeli policy of “muscular enlightenment”. I have huge respect for my hon. Friend, who has led the way on several enlightened policies adopted by the Government, but I do not think that that phrase is his happiest one. Nor do I think that it is a good description of current Israeli policy.

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The truth is that those who make play of the cynicism of Hamas in putting military assets beside, or even inside, schools and hospitals, to explain civilian deaths, need to provide a compelling explanation of how four children on a beach represent a threat, let alone a target. Those who make play of being a democracy answerable to the people need to be able to explain how immediate military action is taken, without charges, against those suspected of murdering three Jewish teenagers, when progress in resolving the murder and burning of a Palestinian teenager so soon afterwards looks very slow. Those who make play of the rule of law must explain what is legal about the entirely illegal settlements, the continued appropriation of traditional Palestinian grazing lands in the west bank, and the destruction of Palestinian homes, particularly in East Jerusalem. Those who make play of shared values cannot be surprised when British citizens, including Jews, who see the level of apartheid on the ground in cities such as Hebron say that that does not reflect our values.

Before anyone leaps to conclusions, my remarks so far are not the opening salvo in a pro-Hamas speech—far from it. Hamas’s continued commitment to the complete destruction of Israel, and its importation of military hardware from Iran, whose leaders share similar views, is intolerable. None of us who live in this country has to deal with the concept of a neighbour whose approach to us starts with the idea of our complete destruction. However, the violence and deaths on each side will achieve little. As the Israeli ambassador recognised the other day, there is no real victory to be had. When a truce is struck, as surely it will be—we must pray for it to happen as soon as possible—Hamas’s military capacity will have been significantly damaged; but its recruitment of enraged young teenagers in Gaza will probably expand, and the emotional support for it, from British Muslims and others, is likely to increase. We will have to see what the impact will be on international support, such as further Palestinian efforts to involve the International Criminal Court.

That will leave us all frustrated, though not, I believe, half as frustrated as the many peaceful citizens whom I have met both in Israel and in Gaza. I therefore think that the Minister is likely to face more pressure, first to support sanctions as described by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) against Israeli businesses based in illegal settlements; and secondly to support with intensity all efforts to get the peace talks started again. Thirdly, perhaps, there will be a question of pressure in some of the international areas that I alluded to. The months ahead, dealing with his new brief, will be difficult for the Minister. We can only hope that we will all try to stand back from being pro-Palestine, pro-Gaza, pro-Hamas or pro-Israel, and look at the issue as a monumental humanitarian disaster, from which few of us emerge with great credit.

Mr Ellwood (Middle East Minister):

I have limited time to respond to what was an amazing debate. Hon. Members can imagine my delight, given the expertise of my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire, that on day two of my appointment I am called to reply to a three-hour debate on the middle east. He paid tribute to the expertise of the House, and I echo that. It has been reflected in today’s debate. I will not be able to cover the 21 countries under my brief, or the details. I have already made a commitment to myself—given the short amount of time and to give time for my right hon. Friend to respond—that I will write to Members in response to the details they brought up. There are, however, a couple of issues that I would like to get on the record.

The Government’s long-term commitment remains as supporting a more secure, prosperous region, with political stability based on open, inclusive political systems and economies, but as my right hon. Friend has outlined so articulately, countries in the region continue to face serious challenges. Over recent weeks, we have seen the escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel, and the growing threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which I saw first hand on a visit to northern Iraq only a month ago.

The situation in Syria is particularly bleak, with tens of thousands of civilian deaths and more than 10 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Elsewhere, many countries that witnessed uprisings in 2011 continue to take steps towards reform, but their successes are fragile, as we have heard, and need continued support. Recent elections in Libya may be an important step in the country’s transition to a more democratic future, but serious security challenges remain. In Egypt, as has been mentioned, we continue to urge President al-Sisi to uphold fundamental freedoms and rights and to open up the political space.

We have seen progress in Yemen’s political transition, but instability and economic challenges threaten to undermine those efforts. On a more positive note, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire has articulated, Tunisia’s drive for an inclusive transition has produced marked progress on the development of political systems needed to bring long-term stability, although the economic situation remains critical.

In the limited time available, I turn to Gaza, which has been the focus of many Members’ attention. As the Foreign Secretary made clear to the House on 14 July, we remain deeply concerned by the escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel. Israel has the right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks, but

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it is vital that Gaza’s civilian population is protected. The UK has three objectives: to secure a long-term ceasefire agreed by both sides, to alleviate humanitarian suffering, and to keep alive the prospects for future peace negotiations. The UK remains in close contact with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and continues to work with international partners, including the US, Egypt and Arab partners, to support those objectives.

I spoke to our embassy in Tel Aviv today and our consulate general in Jerusalem, which represents British interests in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Implementation of any ceasefire agreement must only be part of a wider effort to improve conditions in Gaza. Without that, we are likely to see further such cycles of violence. We continue to judge that a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to resolve the conflict once and for all. The UK will continue to do all it can to support and advance US efforts to that end. I am sad to report that there are unofficial reports that, while the temporary ceasefire has closed, rockets have been moving from both sides, which is not good news, if that is the case.

To conclude, the region is facing numerous serious challenges and change will continue to be led by the region, not external actors. The UK has an important role to play with the international community in supporting those working to tackle conflict and to build a more stable, prosperous middle east and north Africa, based on strengthened consent and popular participation.

To meet the challenges of this volatile and ever-changing part of the world, we have continued to develop our approach since the uprisings of 2011. Through our Arab Partnership reform—I pay tribute to the work that my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire has done, and we have seen £65 million put into that project this year—we are supporting those who are tackling conflict and implementing reform. We are striking a balance between addressing short-term insecurity and laying the foundations for long-term stability, based on open, inclusive political systems and economies. We must accept, however, that that is the work of a generation, and we should not be deterred by setbacks along the way because, as the Prime Minister has made clear, the success of the middle east and north Africa is not only in the interests of the region, but of the UK and the world.

Work and Pensions Debate

Spoke in Opposition Work and Pensions debate on Monday. It was a curious debate.

No-one wd have guessed that total employment and employment of women are at record highs: or that youth unemployment is down strongly since the last General Election. Nor would the average listener have heard anything about pensions – for the opposition didn’t raise anything on pensions at all. Not surprising, given what this government has done for pensioners – the restoration of the link with earnings, the introduction of the Triple Lock, the new Auto Enrolment scheme that will attract up up to 10m new savers: and the new end to the means tested pension, to be replaced by a single pension.

Instead was an emotive and over the top attack on welfare spend by the Shadow Secretary of state, with words like chaos and shamble liberally scattered around like confetti. That from the party whose welfare spending exploded, where work DIDN’T PAY and who opposed EVERY welfare reform proposed by this government.

Which is not to say there aren’t and haven’t been problems: nothing is perfect.

So I focused on those challenges and how Ministers and government can help MPs resolve those challenges. My speech can be read HERE

Department for Transport consults on the future of the Great Western railway

My submission to the re-tender of the Great Western franchise on behalf of my constituents, and as a frequent traveller on the franchise routes for over 45 years, focuses on the following key points:

  1. The opportunity for enhanced services to be a catalyst for growth both around Gloucester and in the wider region
  2. The combination of track modernisation, an increase of carriages and services and a reduction of journey time as the key ingredients
  3. Better infrastructure at Gloucester Station to support passenger growth together with greater clarity and simplicity of fares

On the first point, the previous government’s reluctance to make any improvements in infrastructure (eg no facilities for those with disabilities to cross the track or new platform waiting rooms), combined with the huge reduction of direct services in 2006 by Arriva Cross Country services, effectively meant that Gloucester’s rail services were not what they were and the passenger experience was not upgraded to keep pace with similar city stations.

Since 2010 the Great Western franchise has been enhanced by the almost completed £45m programme to redouble he Swindon-Kemble line, something never considered by the previous government, allows for more and slightly faster non-stop services from Gloucester to London. We should aim to increase the number of services to a direct train every 30 mins, ALL of which should call at Gloucester the Shire Capital. There is particular gap in direct evening services after 7.45pm from London which needs to be improved significantly.

I welcome this government’s  commitment to increase rail growth through this franchise and look forward to seeing other ways of achieving this: including reducing the number of First Class carriages to increase the number of Standard Class carriages: more space for bicycles where demand is shown to be strong and greater coherence of ticket tariffs (why is the Cotswold line so much cheaper on a mile per pound basis?)

It is also worth noting that rail traffic from Gloucester has exceeded the national average in 2013. There were an estimated total of 651,875 entries and 651,875 exits from Gloucester station between 1 April 2012- 31 March 2013. The total number of both entries and exits amounts to 1,303,750, in 2012-13 compared to 1,251,678 in 2011-12, showing an 4.2% increase, whereas the national increase was 3.3%. I believe this reflects Gloucester’s strong business growth : both a record number of start-up businesses (source: Duport) and a sharp expansion of output and jobs, predominantly from our manufacturing (3/64 cities for our rate of expansion) and services base. This makes us ranked 2/64 cities for our employment rate (source: Centre for Cities Research). Combined with our growth of population and an increase in spending power more recently, there is an opportunity for the Great Western franchise both to benefit from and to encourage further rail travel to and from Gloucester.

The most important development on the line (other than the re-doubling) should be the electrification of the entire Gloucester – London line (and on to Cheltenham). But it should be matched by an increase of carriages with a focus on sensible numbers of standard class carriages with adequate foot room to cater for the long distance working travellers who use this service.

I note significant, although erratic, progress has been made to improve punctuality on the current service since 2005. The recent decline in punctuality levels does, however, need to be examined and lessons learnt about whether these are the fault of the weather (flooding in particular), the operator or Network Rail to ensure that a more reliable service is offered in the future.  Electrification and the re-doubled line should make a significant difference to some of these issues.

All First Great Western services currently stop at Gloucester’s city centre station and that must continue after the redoubling of the Swindon-Kemble line. The service needs to be sped up to increase its usefulness to the West region. It is currently slower to get the train between Swindon and Gloucester than in a car, except at peak traffic times and this must be addressed. The number of stops at minor stations on the Cotswold part of the journey needs to be looked at and possibly reduced.  There may also be scope for considering which services stop at smaller stations like Stonehouse, very close to Stroud. These intercity trains were not built for frequent small town stops and their running costs, especially on the steep Cotswold slopes, are exponentially higher from doing so. I wonder if every train needs to stop at all the small stations.

On the third point, the buildings along Bruton Way (Carriage House and its neighbour) have been handsomely restored, the funding for the bus station has been secured and Grosvenor House and other past their sell by date buildings are to be knocked down and replaced by newer and better  buildings in a Stanhope/City Council development. We need similar upgrade at the station.   development looks set to improve the area north of the station including the bus station and the Railway Station needs a similar upgrade.

Internally the time has come to create a new and separate main waiting room from the refurbished ticket office and thoroughfare to the platforms at Gloucester Station. This is windy, noisy and makes waiting a much less attractive experience than it should be, although I note the new waiting rooms on Platforms 1 and 4. There should be a requirement to open up access to Platform 4, using (the currently unused) car park there (owned by the Ministry of Justice). The car park should become the long term car park, enabling the main station forecourt to be redesigned and used for drop off only, improving the way for pedestrians and bicycles, especially the links to the city centre. A new exit/entrance for cars in the short term car park directly onto Metz Way would improve traffic flows and make the station entrance more attractive. The county council’s Highways team’s views and I believe the advantages would outweigh the concerns.

These improvements could be further enhanced by a re-cladding of the very plain station façade, with an overhanging roof under which passengers waiting to be collected without getting wet, beside slim pillars (perhaps recycled from those that were on Platform 4) and hanging baskets. Let’s make the arrival at Gloucester a good experience for tourists and residents alike.

And finally how about a new pedestrian/cycleway over the top of the station direct to the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital? This would remove the need to use the ugly underpass which is a hazard for prams, cycles and buggies and impassable for disability scooters. It could be a stylish bit of infrastructure in its own right but the key attraction would be a direct route from city centre to the Hospital.

Improved infrastructure means a better travelling experience, with a more flexible station making better use of its exits and entrances, more parking and more user friendly for those walking and cycling. I wish we had these changes in time for the 2015 Rugby World Cup – but as most won’t be, with the exception of the overdue canopy on the bridge to Platform 4 which I have persuaded Network rail to fund, let’s find creative ways to finance them as soon as possible.

Lastly fare pricing needs to be rationalised. Currently there are too many different fares, without great logic, and these should be simplified for passengers. The current price differential between an off-peak and a full-fare single journey between Gloucester and Paddington, for example, is £25 and £85— an enormous multiple of over three times. It is cheaper (not counting all costs admittedly) to fly from Bristol Airport to many European destinations on discounted fares than a full fare standard class Gloucester-Paddington journey and this cannot be quite right.

Electrification of the line all the way to the Gloucester and Cheltenham stations should be considered within the lifetime of the franchise.

I  believe that the franchise may need to be for a significant length of time (i.e. fifteen years) so that the operator has the certainty of length of tenure to make these ambitious growth plans with certainty of revenue to make the significant investment required.

In summary: we need progress on the track, the trains themselves, on the numbers and frequency of services, the punctuality of service and our station’s infrastructure. All of these additions would have a positive impact on the travel experiences of customers at Gloucester station using the current FGW franchise. This is not because things are dire on these services at the moment: they are not, and we have much to be pleased with in recent infrastructure developments and customer service at the station (apart from the long delay to the new ticket office). But over the next fifteen years we should be much more ambitious again, and make going to the station and travelling by train more attractive to many more people in this big catchment area.

Richard Graham

MP for Gloucester

My role as an MP

The role of any MP is above all one of Community Leadership. Five years ago I set three key priorities that I would campaign on for Gloucester. They were – Jobs, especially for the young, Regeneration Across the City and Protecting Front line health services. They were areas where I felt that my predecessor hadn’t done nearly enough and have focused on relentlessly since.

Almost 6,000 business jobs had been lost in the Great Recession, youth unemployment had rocketed and nothing had been done by the MP to engage with manufacturers who were on their back, or promote apprenticeships – Gloucestershire Engineering Training (then GTG) was close to bankruptcy . As our city’s MP my first words in the House of Commons was to support a major government initiative on apprenticeships and to urge more – which subsequently happened. I was the first or second MP to hire an apprentice and continue to champion them every time I call on businesses in and around our city. Over 4,500 new apprentices have started work in Gloucester since 2010 – well over double the Labour run rate. Youth unemployment has come down by more than 25% and overall unemployment is down more than 20%.

Businesses, community organisations and the city council will all confirm I’ve spent a huge amount of time on regeneration issues – whether people or physical development. One visible result is the regeneration of the Railway Triangle – where importantly about 60 long term unemployed residents have found jobs among 300 new jobs in a supermarket, many more in construction companies with work starting soon on a new mechanical business and a manufacturer in serious discussions to relocate here. 20 years of mess in the Railway Triangle has been cleared for this light industrial park. And this summer Gloucester City Homes’ tenants will vote on proposals to ensure the financial stability of an important maintenance programme of our social housing AND build the first new social houses on the current city council estate for 30 years. Two successive Labour MPs in thirteen years achieved nothing at all on either issue: I persuaded the Chancellor to cancel £53 million of housing debt.

The most important area I’m currently working on is the future of the Greater Blackfriars area, and I outlined a vision for this which both councils and I, with other partners, are now pursuing for wider consultation. Today I asked the Prime Minister to consider creating a Smaller Cities Deal, which would benefit cities like Gloucester, and am seeing the Cities Minister to follow up on this. More ideas will be made public shortly.

Protecting front line health services is equally important, and I am delighted that the Glos Royal Hospital (GRH) continues to expand its range of specialist services eg new maternity wards, the stroke ward and Edward Jenner unit. I have campaigned for almost seven years to see the Holly House site back into NHS use and believe this should, and will, happen. And there is more to be done in our city on ‘re-enabling’ of patients before or after being in the GRH.  Discussions continue on this too. Meanwhile I have strongly supported the new Cancer Fund and urged the government for its greater commitment to my special interest – research on and care for dementia.

But an MP for Gloucester, as well as championing our great city – with a legacy that I hope my History Festival talks has helped bring alive – should also contribute to the national debate. I have done this through All Party Parliamentary Groups – chairing the Pensions Group and leading the way for the freeing up of rules on annuities, and creating a Regeneration Through Innovation Group to look at nationwide issues like the future of our High Streets. The China Group I chair is critical for a balanced relationship with China that brings huge investment to help build new power stations and railway lines, and greater exports for many Gloucestershire companies.

At the same time the government used my experience as a diplomat to appoint me first a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Foreign Office and then the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy for Indonesia. This week I’ve resigned my PPS hat, in order to have a bit more time for the other roles I have. Spending four years in William Hague’s team has been a fascinating experience and I leave full of admiration for his stamina and non-stop work on behalf of our country. He rightly reduced pages and pages of Labour foreign policy priorities to just one sentence: the security and prosperity of the nation and helping British citizens in distress. I am proud that we have re-established links with commonwealth countries long ignored – NO Labour Foreign Secretary visited Australia or New Zealand for all 13 years of their government, and that the Prime Minister recognised the mood of the House over Syria. This will be the government that got the troops back from Afghanistan and did not get them into Syria, or back into Iraq. So I have no regrets about playing a modest role for the peace and security, as well as the growth of our exports – which have doubled to China – in the last four years. But I am delighted to focus more on Gloucester during a particularly important year, especially for our Regeneration – whether the disposal of the prison, the deal with Aviva, Stanhope and the bus station, the county LEP’s strategy and improvements to roads and train station. It will be an exciting year.

Regeneration

Part of my increasing focus on regeneration I chaired a meeting this afternoon on what more can be done on city and town centre highstreets with excellent speakers Paul Swinney from Centre for Cities and Darren Briggs from Arup at the Regeneration Through Innovation All Party Group I created & also had a chance to ask a question at Prime Minister’s Question time on regenerating small cities in time for the Rugby World cup next year (see below) – I’m seeing the Cities Minister this evening to pursue this.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Although the World cup football results may not have been quite what we wanted in England, we have the 2015 rugby world cup to look forward to. As my right hon. Friend knows, four foreign teams will be playing in Kingsholm in my constituency. Does he agree that this is a great opportunity to use the Chancellor’s new brownfield site fund, plus perhaps a new city deal from the Department for Communities and Local Government, to ensure that the regeneration of our small cities is ready for the World cup 2015?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to say that after the disappointment of the football, and also of that stunning test match where we lost on the second last ball, it is perhaps time to look to rugby to provide us with something to lift our spirits.
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Richard in Parliament

  • 22 Jul: Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Birmingham Schools
    Four years ago, with great assistance from the Secretary of State’s predecessor and the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb)—it is good to see him back—the new Gloucester academy was established and a multi-faith chaplaincy created, where an Anglican and a Muslim, Chris Blockley and Rafiq Patel, successfully served the...
  • 22 Jul: Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Freedom of Religion and Belief
    Given the rise of religious intolerance, the violence in the middle east region and the ghastly widespread human suffering in Gaza, does my right hon. Friend agree that one notable exception to religious intolerance is the role of Christians and Christianity in Gaza?
  • 21 Jul: Oral Answers to Questions — Education: Ukraine (Flight MH17) and Gaza
    Some journalists have recently criticised both the concept of soft power and its application by Britain. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the right type of sanctions would not be soft and their consequences would be strongly felt in Russia? Does he think that if there was not the necessary collective resolve in the EU, a coalition of the willing might be able to achieve something important?
  • 17 Jul: [Philip Davies in the Chair] — Backbench business — Middle East and North Africa
    It is a pleasure to join today’s debate. The plaudits heaped on my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) have been considerable. I will not add to those, because he already knows of my respect for him. May I also warmly welcome my former colleague at the Foreign Office to his new place as Minister with responsibility for the middle east? He comes to...
  • 16 Jul: Written Answers — Health: General Practitioners
    To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what the targets are on waiting times for appointments within the latest GP contract; (2) what assessment he has made of the effect on overall satisfaction levels of waiting times for GP appointments; and if he will make a statement.

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