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.

Forcing someone to marry against their will became a criminal offence in England and Wales this week

Forced marriage is abhorrent and is little more than slavery. To force anyone into marriage against their will is simply wrong and that is why we have taken decisive action to make it illegal.

But we know that legislation alone is not enough and we will continue to work across government and with frontline agencies and organisations to support and protect victims.

Forced marriage is wrong, it is now illegal and it will not be tolerated.

Fund for female entrepeneurs

The Minister for Women Nicky Morgan has announced a £1 million fund to help female entrepreneurs benefit from superfast broadband.
There are thousands of women running some amazing small businesses all over the UK but they still make up just a fifth of all small businesses. 
That’s why we are setting up a £1 million challenge fund to give women the practical help needed to get their businesses on-line and take advantage of superfast broadband – including online mentors, business clubs and training courses.
Backing small and start-up businesses with better broadband infrastructure is an important part of our long-term economic plan to secure a better and brighter future for Britain. These businesses are creating jobs and opportunities for people across Britain, giving more hardworking people the security of a regular pay packet.

GLOUCESTER ACADEMY UPDATE

The sponsor of the Gloucester Academy (Prospects Academy Trust) has announced it intends to cease operations. This note answers some key questions parents and teachers may have:

What does this mean?

No change in the short term, but longer term there will be a new sponsor for the Gloucester Academy.

How long will this take?

As long as it takes for the Department of Education to find the right, really good sponsor

What happens meanwhile?

Business as usual. The PAT will continue to be responsible for the Gloucester Academy until a new sponsor has been found

Who will run the school in the transition?

The Head, Showk Badat, and the rest of the team at the Academy, will continue to run the school and the PAT will continue to be responsible for its governance and goals

What will change?

In due course a new sponsor who will no doubt review the school’s progress with the Head, including the recent Ofsted inspection results, which will be coming out soon: and see where the school has improved and where further work is needed

Who will decide on the new sponsor?

The decision rests with the Secretary of State for Education. The government is absolutely committed to finding the best sponsor and has said each school will be found an “excellent sponsor to ensure they are able to thrive.” It is important that there is a good ‘fit’ with the Gloucester Academy and am confident this will be achieved

Why is the PAT pulling out?

The Trust has said that its ability to expand was constrained. There is newspaper speculation that Ofsted raised questions about performance of the Academies within the Trust. The D of E has said: “We are aware of Prospects Academies Trust’s decision to withdraw as an academy sponsor. Two of these schools are in special measures and it is disappointing that the pupils are not getting the education they deserve. Underperformance in any school is unacceptable.”

What does that say about teaching at the Gloucester Academy?

Nothing. School results and Ofsted inspections are the best guide to the quality of teaching.

I have been impressed by the dedication of many teachers at the Gloucester Academy, and I had a good discussion with the new Head Showk Badat last week. He comes with a track record of having very successfully turned around another Academy.

What is most important now?

The key is for everyone to keep their focus. Teachers will want to ensure their pupils achieve the best possible GCSE results. Parents will want to give their children the most stable environment at home during the stress of exams. And pupils shouldn’t be distracted by anything. Clear goals and a sharp focus are critical.

The D of E has rightly said “we are working closely with the trust and the individual schools to ensure pupils’ education is not disrupted”

You said on May 6th 2010 that your top priority was sorting out a new Academy: are you disappointed with what’s happened?

Since May 2010 I have spent a lot of time working with the government, the two sponsors (the other was Glos Col) and different Heads to create a new school with greater aspiration and ultimately much greater achievements than the two predecessor schools.

The two schools were merged, then moved onto one site, and then completely new buildings built – on time and within budget. The new Gloucester Academy is probably the best equipped in Gloucester and I was proud to open it last autumn.

Many of the pupils are from quite deprived backgrounds, and the commitment that the government, sponsors, teachers and contractors have shown to create an impressive school in a great setting, is significant. ‘We shape buildings’ said Churchill, ‘and then they shape us’. That is one of the goals.

So all of that has been a remarkable success, against a backdrop of people along the way saying it couldn’t or wouldn’t be done, the budget was too small, the cultures couldn’t be integrated and so on.

At the same time new teachers have been recruited, and new lessons and activities as well as a new sixth form introduced. The learning experience has changed hugely.

So there have been lots of positives in the journey. But the academic results have not improved as fast as I and many others hoped for, and the DofE requires. This year’s exams are therefore important – everyone wants to see further progress: which is why right now keeping focused matters so much.

Immigration into Gloucester

We now know that during the last nine years of the previous Labour government and the first year of the coalition government the numbers of East Europeans in Gloucester increased from 1,500 to over 10,000.

They’re not the only ones who’ve come: I’ve met a group of Congolese, we’ve had more Pakistanis and others from around the world. All who are here legally, and working in legal activities, are welcome – but the expansion of immigration has happened very quickly and has caused tensions.

The last government underestimated what different standards of living would do to wages and jobs for our own citizens, and allowed too many East Europeans to come too fast – millions more than they expected. The impact of such large immigration on services and cultural integration issues was also much greater.

We welcome workers, but not benefit tourists, and it is right this government is therefore tightening the rules to prevent this.

At the same time we do not want immigrants who use Britain as a sort of guerilla HQ, a base from which to join radical movements, often in the Middle East. Out of touch pro Immigration lobby Liberty wrote that the government amendment (on having the right to remove citizenship from those who fight for overseas terrorist groups) ‘damage our international reputation, risk our security and expose its citizens to grave injustice’. This is almost exactly the opposite of the truth.

What we need is a policy that welcomes EU workers but recognises differences in living standards between new EU countries, allowing longer transition before allowing freedom of movement: and toughens laws on benefit availability.

The Conservatives offer that – with the certainty of a Referendum after the General Election. Labour and Lib Dems won’t and UKIP can’t hold a Referendum. Everyone should welcome that, however you feel. It is the only way to bring to a head the many differences of a view and reach a decision on what is best for our country’s best future. Let that process start in these elections on the 22nd May.

Funding for Free cycle parking stands in Gloucester

Delighted that charity ‘Life Cycle’ have obtained government funding via GCC to provide FREE secure cycle parking stands for small organisations in Gloucester. The ‘n’ shaped hoops known as Sheffield stands help secure cycle parking.

This is a great way for small businesses and charities to encourage staff to cycle to work in Gloucester and I hope lots will apply soon to avoid disappointment. For more details please see http://www.lifecycleuk.org.uk/free-cycle-parking

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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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