Newsletter Edition 37
President Bush came to Brussels last month - whilst Parliament was sitting in Strasbourg, thereby avoiding the predictable snubs and walkouts that would have accompanied a Presidential visit to Parliament. Inevitably, Brussels ground to a halt as motorcades and "Air Force One" dominated the city but Mr Bush's presence and the message he sought to convey was well-received, even by France! The nub of it was that friends argue but remain friends and that there was more that should unite than divide us. Simplistic but true.
MEPs may have missed one President but we met another in Strasbourg - the newly-elected President Yushchenko of the Ukraine - who addressed the Parliament recently. Arguably one of the bravest men in international politics at present, by taking a firm stance against corruption and Russian duplicity and for a genuinely democratic election, he was greeted rapturously by MEPs. He spoke movingly and proudly about the changes in the Ukraine and concluded by asking - no, demanding - that his country be allowed to join the European Union.
President Yushchenko of Ukraine
There was a quite extraordinary By Election result last week in my former Parliamentary Constituency of South Ribble. Tarleton Ward, actually in West Lancashire District, had an election because of the sad death of former Council Leader, Robert Hodge. Although the seat was previously Tory-held of course, the votes cast changed radically, in that the Labour vote halved and the Conservative vote doubled. The winner, Jim Kay, achieved 87% of the poll - striking evidence indeed of a Conservative resurgence ahead of both the General and County Council Elections.
The winning Tarleton By Election Team
Cheshire County Council invited all the North West MEPs to a briefing meeting recently, which was professionally organised and presented by Council officers. Although rather heavy on "New Labour Speak", which had the Tories eyeing each other resignedly, the content was very informative and the representations to us about various local issues important and valuable. In our differing ways and on our different committees, we will do what we can to ensure that Cheshire's voice is heard. This is a first-rate Council and deserves excellent service from its elected representatives, whether MEPs or Councillors.
I joined the Cumbria Conservative Group meeting earlier in the week whereat a similar series of issues came up. As with Cheshire, I promised to do whatever necessary to assist the County in its objectives. Indeed, subsequently, I travelled to Workington to receive a detailed briefing on the town's port and its future. Unique in the North West for being owned by the County Council, it has some financial problems which could be exacerbated by the proposed closure of the local steel mills, announced the previous day. West Cumbria believes, with considerable justification, that it gets a rough deal from Government etc. and the Port of Workington is but one example of the need to focus particular attention on infrastructure, grant aid packages, transport links and anything else that could jump-start a declining economy.
En route to Workington, I paid a brief visit to the Knox Wood Wildlife Rescue Trust near Wigton. This is a quite remarkable place, as the many regular visitors will confirm. Run by a dedicated team of wild-animal lovers, the objective is to save injured and/or threatened wildlife, restore them to health and, if possible, return them to their natural habitat. I was given a short guided tour and was hugely impressed by what I was shown, especially the new animal hospital which is under construction. The Team Leader and owner of the erstwhile farm, George Scott, was enthusiastic about this new project and hopes to get a "Royal" to open it later in the year.
With George Scott at Knoxwood
I hosted a visit in Brussels last month of a number of Councillors and residents of Wyre, who are deeply concerned about a large planning application to store gas in the former salt mines under and adjacent to the River Wyre in Preesall. This is very similar to a scheme in Cheshire which was rejected by local people and politicians but forced through by that vindictive bulldozer posing as the Deputy Prime Minister. The visitors to Brussels, ably led by Ben Wallace, the Tory PPC for Lancaster and Wyre, wanted to seek specialist advice about the detrimental effects on wildlife and the environment from the highly professional experts in the Environment Commissioner's Directorate. Enough was learnt to reassure the delegation that the developer and Mr Prescott would have some high hurdles to climb and, as a Member of the Petitions Committee, I too was able to tell them of the powerful effects of that option in due course.
Examining the Canatxx plans in Brussels
I got very cross the other day about a wholly unnecessary proposal by the Commission, endorsed by the Transport Committee, to introduce extra medical checks for certain drivers. As the parent of a diabetic daughter and, indeed, the Roads Minister who confirmed the efficiency of the British system of "required notification to the DVLA" some fifteen years ago, I see no need whatsoever for this bureaucratic duplication of time, effort and medical expertise and voted against it.
Last Saturday I was privileged to be elected as a Vice-President of Lancashire County Cricket Club. Those of you who know my obsession with cricket in all its forms may not be surprised but I was. The titular role is for life and I am looking forward to serving the club and its substantial membership in any way possible.
Money for Lancashire CCC
I serve on the European Parliament Delegation to China and in Strasbourg last week colleagues and I had a chance to meet and question the Chinese Ambassador to the EU. We put him through his paces on issues like Taiwan, Human Rights and the exponential growth of the Chinese economy and its effects on world commodity prices. As you might expect from a Chinese diplomat, he was totally inscrutable, spoke perfect English (when he chose), admitted nothing and denied nothing. But his aides were scribbling furiously so we have to hope that something got through and that action might follow!
The Chinese Ambassador to the EU
This could just be the last newsletter before a General Election and, if so, I want to wish all our PPCs the very best of good fortune. And those good wishes especially to every Tory County Council Candidate in Cheshire, Cumbria and Lancashire. We need all three in the blue column on May 6th! As in 2001, I want to try to visit every Constituency during the campaign(s) and to lend a hand wherever and whenever appropriate. Let's give it all we've got - to get rid of Tony and his County Hall cronies!
In the thick of it in 2001!