Newsletter Edition 45
I was back after the Summer Recess on September 4th, having spent a good part of my holiday watching cricket. Going away can be a bit fraught in August, what with school holidays and general congestion, so a seat on the boundary – whether watching England, Lancashire, Garstang or my son, James, seemed a more relaxing alternative.
With Andrew Cornish, MD of Manchester Airport.
And then the real problems appeared, with chaos attending every airport, every flight and every journey. Security levels were raised, you will recall, investigations started and arrests made. I decided to see for myself how Manchester Airport was coping with the new and somewhat frightening situation and spent one morning “behind the scenes” with the Chief Executive and some of his colleagues. I inspected all the various processes and talked to the staff involved, as well as the queuing passengers – who were in surprisingly good humour! The conclusions that I was able to draw were put in a detailed letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, to which I have yet to receive a reply. As a former Transport Minister, I had a number of points to make but, as an MEP, the most salient and critical relate to the inconsistencies between EU airports, as to security clearance and baggage handling, and also the difficulties in obtaining background information about EU nationals who wish to work in British aviation. I have tabled a number of Parliamentary Questions about these concerns, although the process in the European Parliament is much lengthier than at Westminster. These issues must all be resolved soon and I have called for a major review of British airport operations, preferably on an all-party basis, but if not, then led by Conservatives. The British public is astonishingly long-suffering about its transport system but patience is wearing thin.
FISHING & FINS
With Bill Wiggin MP and representatives of the NW Sea Fishing Organisation.
Bill Wiggin MP, Shadow Fisheries Minister, visited Fleetwood last week and I had the chance to discuss local fishing matters with him and other Tory activists. I was able to report to him that Tory MEPs are fighting with all their might against a Spanish proposal, not only to condone, but to extend the horrible practice of de-finning sharks and then throwing them back into the sea. This is a barbarous practice and it must be stopped immediately.
There was quite a spat last month, both in Parliament and outside, about the progress of Turkey’s application to join the EU. Things have not been going very well over the last few months because of Section 301 of the Turkish Constitution, which provides for the arrest and prosecution of anyone, including foreigners, who writes or publishes anything which can be construed as an attack on “Turkishness”. Recent arrests and trials have provoked MEPs more than somewhat and a critical report was passed through the Foreign Affairs Committee which annoyed the Turks. Then, add to that, the recent controversy – if that is the word – about the Pope’s speech in Germany just prior to his proposed visit to Turkey and you will understand the fractious relationship between the EU and its aspiring new member.
I am broadly in favour of Turkey’s accession – as is the Conservative Party – but, along with many of my colleagues, I do have considerable worries about the implications. It is at least ten years away, if it happens, but there is a great deal to resolve before then.
Tory MEPs have been fighting a rearguard action against those in the Parliament who wish to purchase all the Parliamentary buildings in Strasbourg rather than, as is the case at the moment, renting them from the City Authorities. You will know that all of us are totally opposed to the ridiculous and wasteful monthly trips that we make to that otherwise delightful French city. Buying the place would seem to confirm that this costly charade will go on until some Government puts its foot down.
(Another item for Prime Minister Cameron’s Agenda?) We will keep up the fight.
Add your voice to the One Seat campaign: http://www.oneseat.eu/
The Equitable Life Investigation Committee plods on. The more we hear from the various Regulators, the more we learn about the failures in communication, one with the other, the lack of responsibility for administrative actions and the desire to pass the buck at every opportunity. The Committee aims to report early next year but clear strands of blame and reform are already becoming apparent.
CONSERVATIVES IN EUROPE
I was greatly heartened by the decision of David Cameron to set a target for Tory MEPs to create a new centre-right group in the European Parliament. He understood the importance of our Election Manifesto commitment to remain Associate Members of the EPP-ED Parliamentary Group until the next election, as well as honouring his own sensible promise to reform the whole structure of Conservative activity in the European Union and its Parliament. Now we can put the issue behind us and concentrate on uniting to win the General Election.
With Lady Shuttleworth, Honorary Colonel of Lancashire ACF, and Colonel Jolly, Commanding Officer.
I enjoyed a fascinating and rewarding invitation recently to the Army Cadets “Skill at Arms” Day at Altcar Ranges, just north of Liverpool. There were some 800 young people present from all over the North West, together with their (unpaid, volunteer) officers. (I even bumped into the former MP for Rossendale, Colonel Sir David Trippier!) The cadets represented schools (CCF’s) or local areas (ACF’s) and all shot extremely well. The overall winner was a team from Sedbergh School CCF, comprising a single boy and three girls, one of whom was the day’s Champion Cadet.
I spoke to a number of the young soldiers, who came from varying backgrounds, and was impressed at how articulate, committed and – yes – professional these youngsters were. They compare wonderfully well with the wrong’uns, of whom we read so much, and give one real hope for the future of our country, let alone the armed forces.
I hope that many of you are receiving the press releases (just use “delete“ if of no relevance to you or your locality!) which I have been sending to demonstrate the problems that MEPs have with obtaining media coverage. We are criticised for being “remote” or “out of touch” but local editors have their own agendas. ‘Twas ever thus! I have also instituted a new site – “Tell Sir Robert” – http://www.tellsirrobert.com/ which offers an opportunity for you, or indeed any Conservative supporter, to comment and vote on an issue of the day. Do try it and let me know your views.
With Tory Leader Ken Hudson, at the Preston Tory Group Meeting
A few weeks ago I wrote to every Council Tory Group Leader offering to attend a Group Meeting in order that communication channels could be cleared and so that I might offer any assistance to Council campaigns. I have enjoyed half a dozen such discussions, which have proved to be of considerable mutual benefit, but there is always more to do to ensure that we are “singing from the same hymn sheet”.