Lasting Issues in the Last Week of this Parliament
Let us hope that the new Parliament lasts longer, though I fear that we may take a time to settle into a degree of stability and agreement.
During the last day in the Commons, I heard the statement on the dilemmas faced by some customers of Thomas Cook. I sympathise with the staff too. We were told that the directors of the firm had failed to insure or to put money safe for compensation for people who had proper claims for life-changing injuries or loss-of-life.
Before many MPs made their valedictory speeches, the House came together to pass all stages of the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Bill. See the website hiainquiry.org for the background. For 73 years, a succession of vulnerable children suffered abuse, sexual and in other ways.
Most seven-day periods could fill a small book; many days might merit more than a chapter. Last Thursday I hosted the UK Air Cargo annual gathering. These freight professionals cope with the changing rules of international trade. Half their work is with international consignments outside the EU. They will cope, whether politicians make a mess of the UK separating from the EU 27 or whether we manage to use common sense in reducing the possible costs of a no-deal exit. I refrain from comment now on parliamentary steps towards a possible December election; it makes sense to apply for a postal vote in case the weather turns bad.
At the St Margaret’s church, Parliament Square, memorial service for Baroness Warnock, we heard about the life of the mother of five who was one of the great and the good. She was head teacher of an Oxford high school before heading a Cambridge college.
Mary Warnock chaired the inquiry that led to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Her report on special education led to improved teaching for learning-disabled children and for the helpful ‘statementing’ system to gain special educational support. She provided advice on animal experimentation and on the questions of what Nazi loot should be returned to the families of original owners.
Monday’s Queen’s Speech was a glorious display in the House of Lords. I contributed to the debate in the Commons. Before coming to my topics, I want to share sentences by my colleague Vicky Ford, MP for Chelmsford for two years, four months and six days. She believes rightly that the vast majority of people go into politics because they want to make a difference. ‘When we see good things happen in our constituencies, we want to replicate them. When we see bad things happen, we want to eradicate them. We want to move forward and yet, for the past two years, four months and six days, I have often felt the we are going round and round in circles...
During the noise of the discussions and negotiations over our withdrawal from the EU, much is happening closer to home.
On Monday, escaping the disruption of the self-appointed ’Extinction rebels’ I attended the consultation on the proposed development of 465 new homes by Persimmon on the Chatsmore Farm site. This would wreck the Goring Gap and it would make Ferring appear to be part of Worthing.
Persimmon have sprung this as a surprise to me and many residents. As MP, they should have informed me directly. I knew thanks to Ed Miller of the Ferring Conservation Group.
Elections for the Arun District Council in May this year led to change of control. The councillors elected James Walsh (Liberal Democrat) to lead the council in succession to Gill Brown (Conservative).
Four of the 32 parish and town councils are within the Worthing West constituency; the others are represented by my colleague MPs Nick Gibb and Nick Herbert.
The problems that might have followed from a hung council were avoided. Terence Chapman leads the Conservatives. He and all the councillors can be trusted to use the changing political situation to maintain the quiet provision of local services. Residents can expect civility in place of civil war.
The fine East Preston food festival came before the Bank Holiday Monday, when I joined the crowds as the Rotary carnival procession turned into Worthing’s Steyne. Everyone enjoyed the stalls and exhibitions. Many of the participants were young. Even after the waiting in Grand Avenue and the lengthy walk, they were still dancing, singing and playing. That perseverance matches the final thoughts in the lovely memoirs, An English Spring, of the great Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. In 2000, having served as Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, he moved from his home in Storrington to Westminster Cathedral to be one of the five Roman Catholic archbishops.
Jerome K Jerome wrote the popular novels Three Men in a Boat and Three Men on the Bummel (a.k.a. Three Men on Wheels): these titles inspired three south coast journalists to collect experiences from 150 years of local news and scandal. They claim rightly that their stories are revealing, funny and sad, but never dull. Careers that ranged from the 1950s to the recession in 2009 included a great number of memorable events, involving the eccentricities of editors, the historic printers’ strikes and the introduction of terrifying new newspaper technology. There is also the quotation: ‘A good journalist, on retirement, has few friends: if the job has been done properly, just about all of them will have been upset at some time.’
The offshore Rampion wind farm produces electricity that can power half the homes in Sussex. It is an example of conception, planning, financing and carrying through to successful operation a major public benefit project over nine years by a responsible private company.
The short recent national grid failure had unacceptable and unexpected consequences. Hospitals and the train services are supposed to keep going. It does not matter whether the faults were at regional, local or national level; it does matter that lessons are identified and that the problems are fixed.
The fall in the value of the £ pound sterling has consequences. When the Worthing twinned towns’ representatives visit, they will find their euros go further. When we go to them, our exchange rate has moved against us. Twinning documents were signed and exchanged by Worthing with the Black Forest towns of Elzach, Gutach, Simonswald, Waldkirch in 1997 and the Twinning Charter with Chateau d'Olonne, Olonne Sur Mer, Les Sables d'Olonne - Le Pays des Olonnes on the French Atlantic coast - was signed at Worthing Town Hall in 1998. Mayor Herbie Golds was involved. Rustington twinned in 2002 with Kunzell, Germany.
Our sympathies go to those caught in travel horrors. A day of delay in a week of holiday can be a long time, especially if there are children or elderly friends to care for in a crowded terminal or on a train stuck because overhead lines sagged. I also feel for the staff trying to cope with a multiplied set of tasks.
Often I think that the clever management consultants who devise schemes of service and of staffing structures assume everything goes smoothly. Would that they could hold my hand as I try to wend a way through a set of options that do not fit the problem I need to resolve.
The Supreme Court judgment on Tuesday was admirably clear and limited. The President Brenda Hale overlapped with me at university. The now-decided cases raised four issues: Is the question of whether the Prime Minister’s advice to the Queen was lawfully justiciable in a court of law? If it is, by what standard is its lawfulness to be judged? By that standard, was it lawful? If it was not, what remedy should the court grant? Reading the 24 pages will increase respect for the way the eleven justices limited what could have been thought and said. The government were dished because there was no convincing justification for losing several parliamentary weeks before the EU and UK formally separate, expected on 31st October.
We had a jolly good time during the glorious weekend in Kingston, Ferring, Rustington, East Preston and around Worthing. The thought in the Worthing shield EX TERRA COPIAM E MARE SALUTEM - From The Land Plenty, From The Sea Health – could be expanded to cover the land between the coast and the South Downs.
Enjoyment is the important extra. In my parliament activities, especially in the constituency. On Friday, my team and I joined Tim Loughton MP to recognise the welcome further progress and the remarkable achievements of students and staff at Worthing College.
‘MPs For A Deal’ is a cross party group making clear that, if Prime Minister Johnson reaches a practical agreement with the EU27, there will be enough Labour and other MPs to outweigh the predictable opposition by the zealots for whom no deal would be supportable. At a meeting, I said that describing simply the agreed objective would be clear and popular. Constituents have a range of views. I understand them. They know that I am part of the majority who accepted the result of the referendum, with the ambition to be part of the parliamentary majority needed to end the impasse, allowing businesses and individuals to make progress.
One of my local heroes is Ed Miller, best known as a leading member of the Ferring History Group and the Ferring Conservation group. By good fortune we had been colleagues in the Department of Employment in the mid-1980s when I took over responsibility for equal opportunities and the youth career services from Alan Clark MP who is remembered more for his diaries than for his ministerial achievements.
Another minister, Peter Morrison, said he could brief me on the personal politics of each senior civil servant. I declined to listen. If it showed in their work I would know; if it did not, I would not need to know.
The Six O’clock news studio on 23rd May 1988 was invaded by demonstrators. Here is part of one report:
‘Demonstrating an impressive level of sang-froid, Lawley continued to announce the headlines as the activists could be heard crying out “stop Section 28!” She commented, ″we have rather been invaded″ - while her co-presenter Nicholas Witchell found himself forced to take action to keep one of the protestors quiet.
″I found she had handcuffed herself to Sue’s desk, so I sat on her and put my hand over her mouth,″ said Witchell, now BBC News' royal correspondent.
Girls and boys from Summerlea Community primary school in Rustington came to Westminster. We had a lovely time together, exploring the purposes of politics, remembering the importance of avoiding unnecessary civil war or international conflict, helping people to be self-reliant when possible and giving full help when it is needed. We also played a few maths games; it is impressive when a bright child sees through a conundrum with clarity. Also, this week I walked a group of American friends around the Palace of Westminster. The art in Portcullis House, the new building, includes a grotesque caricature by Gerald Scarfe of the Commons chamber...
Parliamentary visitors and watchers are often keen to experience PMQs, oral questions to the Prime Minister that are now heard on sitting Wednesdays. Years ago there were PMQs for fifteen minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays; on balance I prefer that though prime ministers may not.
Other things happen too on Wednesdays. This week we elect the new chair of the Northern Ireland Select Committee. I hope and expect that Maria Caulfield MP for Lewes to be chosen. By pleasant chance, on Wednesday morning I took Communion at the rail of St. Margaret’s church, Parliament Square.
They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old
‘Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.’
These words from the fourth verse of Laurence Binyon’s poem FOR THE FALLEN came to him first as he looked out to sea in September 1914, after the start of the Great War and the British Expeditionary Force had suffered casualties at the Battle of Mons and the days of fighting at the Marne.
This verse has rightly been adopted as a proper exhortation by the Royal British Legion at ceremonies of Remembrance. I commend the full poem.
On Wednesday Virginia and I shall have helped launch Lord Popat’s book A British Subject: How to Make It as an Immigrant in the Best Country in the World. He left Uganda aged 17 a year before Idi Amin expelled tens of thousands of Ugandan Asians with little more than the clothes on their backs. In the debate that celebrated the contributions made in this country by those who came to settle in the United Kingdom, Lord Parekh kindly mentioned that we had been amongst the 2,000 families who first offered to share our home with the refugees. It was not to the credit of Enoch Powell that he supported a critical motion at the Conservative Conference; it is to the credit of the Young Conservatives...
‘Many things are worth doing; few are worth doing perfectly.’ My father-in-law John Garnett did more than most in many fields of life. I hope I realise most of my own mistakes and errors of omission and of commission. The most frequent are when I sail a dinghy or play my flute. I admire the younger more proficient sailors off the shore between Worthing and Ferring. Admirable too are the skills of the young musicians who play and sing together in the Assembly Hall, given to the town in 1934 by Alderman James Denton, mayor of Worthing. The data base of the Theatres Trust gives a fine description. It is doubtful whether a modern mayor could be so generous.
Tuesday evening included the ITV questions to Jeremy Hunt and to Boris Johnson. I decided not to offer guidance to anyone who asked my advice about for whom to vote. I have said that if I thought Boris Johnson were the obvious answer, I should have said so. Each viewer can decide who won the debate; each can also decide who could be the better prime minister. During each of the parliaments in which I have served, I have tried to work constructively with successive prime ministers, no matter which their party. Harold Wilson was the first to offer a kind word after I succeeded his parliamentary private secretary Bill Hamling MP.
There has not been a dull week during my life serving as Member of Parliament. The past days remind me of the shared joys and the shared sorrows in the lives of our shared communities and families.
On Friday during the public advice session in the Guildbourne Centre, a long-married couple cheered me. Over the years we have tackled a series of serious problems successfully. My feeling that day must be what nurses and doctors feel when a patient is restored to health.
Dame Sarah Mullally was the NHS chief nurse. Now Bishop of London, she addressed Tuesday’s National Prayer breakfast in the Great Hall at Westminster. I hope her words will be on the Diocesan website.
Do try to try visit the Palace of Westminster before the expected programme of restoration and renewal. Assuming there is neither devastating fire nor swamping flood, there are a few years as decisions are made about temporary homes for the two Houses.
When guiding constituents or visitors, I try to show three wall plaques that matter to me. One lists the trades of all those who built the place together with the occupations of those who work to make parliament effective. Next is Tony Benn’s list of those who challenged the system to achieve liberty, knowledge and the opportunities to organise.
Hazel Thorpe’s Mayor’s Service on Sunday was led by the Reverend Hazel Sherman at the West Worthing Baptist Church. The congregation was impressed by the confident reading of the Lesson by the new Youth Mayor.
On Monday at Westminster I was invited to meet young pupils from School 21 in Stratford, east London. They were showing off their oracy skills. Yes, I know: it was a new word to me too. The term oracy was coined about fifty years ago by Andrew Wilkinson, the educational researcher. He wanted to have a way to match literacy and numeracy, describing oral skills in education.
The Times leading article, headed Putting Asunder, argues that no-fault divorce is a sensible, humane and overdue legislative move. This would change the 1973 Matrimonial Causes Act that included three fault grounds: adultery, desertion and unreasonable behaviour.
Sometimes those who are married to an MP might class us as less athletic than James Cracknell though as dedicated to public and political service as he has been to endurance tests. Last week I received a message from home asking why I was late: I resisted the temptation to suggest watching the Parliament Channel: it could show I was not out on the town; it could also be a sedative?
Rightly, many news stories inform us of what is wrong, bad or sad. We should not assume that generally everything is getting worse just because some things do. Where there are challenges, past progress should inspire us, drive us to achieve more.
At the weekend when travelling from the Arun parts of my constituency towards Worthing, I reflected on an A259 road casualty initiative that I campaigned for. It was introduced after two pensioners were tragically killed when an unqualified driver smashed into them as they crossed the road. I wish my efforts had had earlier implementation.
Most MPs give most to the local area. On Tuesday I joined Salvationists, socialists and assorted peers in the House of Lords for the memorial meeting celebrating the life of Lord Foster. As Derek Foster MP for Bishop Auckland, he was the longest serving Labour chief whip with four Labour leaders.
A Russian general was told that Derek’s army motto was Blood and Fire – he relaxed a little when told it inspired the Salvation Army. Commissioner William Cochrane, territorial commander of Norway spoke. Another said that age and experience defeat youth and enthusiasm. My experience of the Salvation Army is that they combine each of those merits.
Emily Wilding Davison was a teacher in Worthing. She is known for her activities as a suffragette. She died at the Epsom Derby.
The online encyclopaedia and other sources record that she worked briefly at a church school in Edgbaston between 1895 and 1896, but found it difficult and moved to Seabury, a private school in (West) Worthing, where she was more settled. She left the town in 1898 and became a private tutor and governess to a family in Northamptonshire. Returning to university education, she graduated from the University of London with a first class honours degree in English Language and Literature. Famously, she objected to being recorded in the 1911 Census.
At the end of last week, I was honoured to be received by Imam Idris before Friday prayers at our district Islamic Society. On behalf of Tim Loughton MP and myself (Tim was guiding his bill through the House of Commons at the time), sorrow and solidarity was offered following the attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand. Earlier, by kind agreement of Waitrose, I had held a drop-in surgery and met a range of constituents. Some talked of individual problems.
Some said they hoped the Prime Minister would get through the EU withdrawal process. Other views were also expressed. I was glad to see local councillors in different parties discussing issues that matter to everyone. I attended ward meetings in Arun and in Worthing.
There can be joy in reading a well-written memoir. This week Virginia and I enjoyed the launch in the House of Lords of Robin Renwick’s Not Quite A Diplomat, 35 short chapters in fewer than 300 pages. The title came from Margaret Thatcher when she sent him to South Africa where he was trusted by Nelson Mandela and by F W de Klerk. In the Foreign Office he contributed to the successful agreement that returned back to Britain two thirds of our contribution to the European budget. As Ambassador in Washington DC, he became a confidant of President George Bush Sr. and then of Bill Clinton: he was an exceptionally influential diplomat.
The organisation Our Bright Future brought young people to Parliament on Tuesday. They gave presentations on some of the 31 projects that are funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. More than 80,000 young people have taken part. The activities include practical conservation and wildlife, campaigning with planning and decision-making, sustainable construction, homelessness, work experience and apprenticeships, social entrepreneurships, mental health – and coasts. The Our Bright Future website – ourbrightfuture.co.uk – gives more information and the full project list. It is impressive. Dara from Northern Ireland is autistic, not that anyone would guess from his forceful compelling address.
The BBC radio 4 programmes on Wednesday morning explored the origin of our moon before giving a chronology of our awakening to the depletion of ozone over the Antarctic and to the urgent international measures that would moderate and reverse the damage. In those years Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev with the near unanimous support of the US Senate also joined the world campaigns to reduce our dangerous increase in human actions that boosted the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere.
Leaving aside the catastrophic possibility of an earth shattering solar system collision like the one that put our moon into orbit, we can consider what can be done in the waste hierarchy to reduce, to re-use and to recycle.
Holy Week this year has become fuller than usual, more crowded than expected. The religious significance means much to me; this article is not a pulpit so please forgive me for concentrating mainly on secular issues.
On Saturday, Col. Mark Turner and I walked in Rustington to the Mosquito Memorial in Chaucer Avenue.
The crew of two and three residents sadly died when in February 1945 the aircraft MM550 from Ford suffered from a control problem or engine failure before crashing on bungalows. After Easter, we could nominate the memorial for listing and for protection on the National List?
The Times leading article, headed Putting Asunder, argues that no-fault divorce is a sensible, humane and overdue legislative move. This would change the 1973 Matrimonial Causes Act that included three fault grounds: adultery, desertion and unreasonable behaviour. Sometimes those who are married to an MP might class us as less athletic than James Cracknell though as dedicated to public and political service as he has been to endurance tests. Last week I received a message from home asking why I was late: I resisted the temptation to suggest watching the Parliament Channel: it could show I was not out on the town; it could also be a sedative?
Sixteen years have passed since the campaign coalition was created in 2003. At the debate hosted at County Hall by West Sussex County Council, it was plain that there are few good reasons to delay extending the opportunity. It is the right thing to do.
For fun, look at the reasons given against the reduction to 18, against the reduction to 21 for women, against older property-owning females, against men who happened not to have assets above a limit – and so on.
I do not buy the argument that all age restrictions should be the same. The age to buy fireworks or to be a customer in a tanning booth can be decided separately.
During my years as the parliamentary representative for Worthing West, I have been impressed by political cooperation as well as political contest in the Arun and the Worthing sections of the constituency. There is respect across the political spectrum and there has been movement too, not just one way. It is a matter of record that much that needs doing is done best when people who vote in different ways are capable of accepting results of elections and of the rare referendum. Between votes, we achieve better results when together we accept the responsibility of making things work, work better and work best in the interests of local residents and local businesses,
People interested in the benefits of professional journalism and who care about public-interest journalism should read chapter six of the review by Dame Frances Cairncross.
On Tuesday I spoke, mentioning the BBC support scheme for local journalism. The underlying problem is caused by the incredible share of advertising now taken by two modern media giants. One way or another, it is vital that trained journalists can print edited reports on what happens in our council rooms and our law courts, in addition to reporting on protests, campaigns and desired initiatives.
Last week, I took the evening to contribute to a debate at the Cambridge Union Society on whether Margaret Thatcher could be remembered as a feminist.
I put the case for her, starting with the question: “What did David Blunkett do for the blind? He showed that there were few things they could not do.”
I made the obvious point that a person could rattle on about modern feminism or they could make clear that women and men could be bold, opinionated, independent, effective, successful and able to us their talents in every way, regardless of their gender.
This Sunday at 11am the Worthing and District Holocaust Memorial gathering will be in Beach House Park, between Worthing Hospital and the sea.
One question I offer to students of history and of politics is this: "Which was the year when Adolf Hitler should have faced military challenge when it was clear he would be an aggressor against most countries in Europe and would decide to kill every Jew in Europe? Ever? Never?"
I do not know the answer. I do think the question needs discussion in every generation just as our children and grandchildren and their successors must know the history and the horrors of the Holocaust he caused.
At the end are my words in the parliamentary debate on the progress, or lack of it, as the Commons and the government try to implement the referendum decision that the UK will leave the European Union. We have the responsibility to end the deadlock.
Those who want to Remain united with Labour, SNP and the Lib Dems on Tuesday evening with those who have no interest in a negotiated withdrawal agreement, nor in transition arrangements that matter to business, nor in the future trade arrangements with the EU 27 and with the rest of the world.
I will continue to try to implement the referendum decision with the least possible damage to our interests.
Every week there are contrasts in the life and experiences of most MPs. My working assumption is that I am average. Like other average people, I can be most effective by asking others to help and by being available to help others. Most leaders, in the private sector and also in public services, want to guide their colleagues to work together ethically and successfully.
Some leaders do not know what their first line supervisors need to know. With fellow officers of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sex Equality, I heard on Tuesday of the problems staff can experience in forms of sexual harassment in offices and factories by colleagues, and in shops additionally by customers.
One of the first messages received this new year was from a constituent who voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, having voted in 1975 to stay in the Common Market. He also mentioned Nicholas Ridley, a member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet: Virginia and I had each served under him as junior ministers. He died at 64 of lung cancer after much smoking.
He was a delight to work with and to work for. When there was fun to be had or praise to be received, he pushed us forward. When storm clouds approached and if blame, merited or undeserved, was coming he would be the umbrella or the whipping boy.
The Queen and many of our religious leaders have helpfully given Christmas messages, reminding us together of eternal values and failings they reviewed the passing year, looking with hope to the year that starts next week.
There are many new years. Cheerfully, in a country like Sri Lanka, followers of other religions are as happy as Christians to say merry Christmas although the day that celebrates the birth of Jesus, the Christ, is only recognised as a day like each full moon, a day when alcohol cannot be sold or consumed in public. To mark our lucky lengthy years of marriage, our children have joined us with their spouses and the grandchildren for a holiday in the beautiful home of Ceylon tea...
The poem A Christmas Carol became Christina Rossetti’s famous hymn In the bleak midwinter with its moving conclusion: “Yet what I can I give you: Give my heart.” I remember those words whenever I turn to the purpose of prosperity and the value of sharing it.
The word chaplain may come from the original word for the priest who cared for the half cloak of St Martin of Tours who famously gave the other half to a scantily clad beggar. There are many lessons in Jesus’s story of the Jericho road. One is of trust: the Samaritan trusted the innkeeper to care for the victim of muggers and the innkeeper trusted the Samaritan to pay the extra dues if necessary.
Terence Higgins is about 16 years senior to me. He became Lord Higgins when the Worthing constituency he served well for 32 years was shared between Worthing West and Tim Loughton MP’s East Worthing and Shoreham. The words ‘Sir Terence’ inspired respect and admiration at Westminster when he was in the Commons.
As Lord Higgins he has given 21 years of respected contributions in the House of Lords. His valedictory speech is anticipated this Thursday.
He will have given 53 years to public service. Dame Rosalyn and he merit panels on Worthing’s Pier. She presided over the International Court in The Hague.
Were the letters and messages I receive on the European Union and the United Kingdom to be divided into bundles, they would appear nearly equal.
One would be ‘Don’t leave’ with the requests for a so-called People’s Vote (the title of a campaign group) which I take to be aimed at reversing the result of the national referendum two years ago.
That would be balanced by those asking to walk out of the EU without a withdrawal agreement and no agreed transition and without the assurances in the political declaration that would guide our future relationships with the EU 27. In between are those who write or email about my position. It is to recognise the result of the referendum: we need to leave.
We debated the unfair impact of changes to the state pension age, particularly for a cohort of women born in six months in the 1950s. In 1908 the state pension age was 70 for women and men. It was reduced to 65 in 1925. The inequality of the earlier retirement age for women was introduced I think in 1940. Few doubt it is right to have an equal age and it makes sense to recognise that age of entitlement should rise gradually. It was wrong to create the anomaly for 150,000 women of a double delay. I blame the Treasury for asking for it and the social security department of Work and Pensions for agreeing. Parliament and government should help to ensure predictability and to help people to feel secure.
Walking from Worthing station home to my flat by Christ Church, I pass the Centre for English Studies which is now led by Nick Clark. Twenty years ago I was introduced to students by Bruce Noble.
On Wednesday I spoke with Dr Liam Fox MP, Secretary of State for International Trade, about the common sense approach that EU students should be able to attend short English language courses with their national identity cards rather than being required to apply for a passport.
The assumption is that the arrangements from April next year will allow that. Worthing can be counted as a significant exporter of services as much as of manufactured goods.
On Thursday, Care for Veterans in Boundary Road, Worthing (previously named the Queen Alexandra Hospital Home, Giffard House) hosted the bright children of Heene Primary School when they planted one of the trees that will become part of The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy. Led by the Royal Commonwealth Society, there are initiatives in 53 Commonwealth countries. As we give attention to the developing consequences of the proposed separation of the UK from the EU, moving on to agree future arrangements on our myriad links across the Channel and the North Sea, it is comforting to think that, in the decades and centuries to come, these trees will be growing and contributing to the environment we share across the world.
During the analysis of the United States mid-term elections, one comment struck me deeply. The United Kingdom and the United States are each capable of becoming disunited.
I prefer people in politics who try to bring people together after, and preferably during and before decision times in election or referendum. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was twice decorated for his soldiering on the eastern front against the Nazis before being stripped of his rank, charged with dissemination of anti-Soviet propaganda,and locked up in the Lubyanka prison before years on the Gulag.
Soon after its publication in 1962 I read his personal memoir of a single day in the labour camps One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
November brings fireworks and the Armistice memorial
As November brings late autumn, we will pass through fireworks to the memorial of the Armistice that ended the four years of Great War.
The gunpowder plot was intended for the State Opening of Parliament in 1604. A plague and various delays brought the plan and the discovery of 36 barrels of gunpowder under coal and firewood.
King James made clear that he did not condemn most English Catholics.
One of the plotters defended himself by saying that the king had not delivered on his promise to have a greater tolerance of Catholicism. It is said that although some Catholics held office, Catholic emancipation was delayed by two centuries.
When hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons threatened coastline population across the world, we knew it is good fortune or good judgment to live in West Sussex.
There are other devastations we could do more to prevent. I recommend that we all get our flu vaccinations - free for the young, the old and the vulnerable. It is worthwhile too at low cost for healthy adults. Older generations knew the devastation of polio, measles, mumps and rubella.
Smallpox would not have been eliminated worldwide forty years ago if the ill-informed questioning of the value and safety of vaccination had been current when I and my children were growing up.
Imagine if all decision making were inspired by a belief system championing the rights of humans. Can this be the ideal we should aim at?
The Zulu/Bantu word ubuntu comes in the epilogue of the 1993 Interim Constitution of South Africa: “There is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for Ubuntu but not for victimisation.”
There are varied interpretations: I take it to mean that we are ourselves, part of each other rather than atomised individuals. These thoughts have been brought back to me by a talk on Wednesday by a leader from the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights UK charity.
Books old and new: as the party conference concludes, I have been reading two particular books. Philip Guedalla’s Portrait of Mr Churchill was published in November 1941. It describes the new Prime Minister’s life as a Victorian and an Edwardian before the nation and empire became the realm of the Georges, separated by the abdication of Edward. The final chapters are entitled Mr Chamberlain’s War and Mr Churchill’s War. The book is clear about the cooperation between President Roosevelt and the half American Winston Churchill. The August 1941 Atlantic Charter made clear the seven principles and hopes for a better future for the world. The sixth was about life after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny.
Church House in Westminster is where the preliminary hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry have taken place this week. Sir Brian Langstaff is the retired judge who agreed to head the inquiry. Since 1989 I have been active in collaboration with the Haemophilia Society and more recently with Diana Johnson MP. We co-chair the All Party Group on Contaminated Blood and Haemophilia. My interest came from three events: my mother and my wife had significant blood transfusions; a friend’s husband was one of the first haemophiliacs to die from HIV/AIDS after being given contaminated blood; also, my team and I have represented the interests of constituents who have hepatitis C from infected blood.
Links can lead in unexpected directions. A news report on a rather artificial row about maths testing and assessment in Scotland has brought me to a clearer understanding of how I believe we can think about achievement and distinction. There was a curious gap in the report which centred on Professor Jo Boaler, renowned maths teaching expert who was brought to Scotland to share her expertise with the country’s teachers. Where did she come from? The obvious answer has to be England, though she is professor of mathematics education at California’s Stanford Graduate School of Education. She promotes mathematics education reform and equitable mathematics classrooms.
It is good to work with colleagues, fellow MPs and councillors in my party and in other parties too. As this newspaper came out last week, I joined the leader and chairman of West Sussex County Council in Chichester’s County Hall for the youth engagement event organised by Helen Kenny, who is head of democratic services. Councillors across the political spectrum heard powerful speeches by school and college students in a debate on voting at 16 and 17. Gillian Keegan, the local MP, summed up the good points made by each side.
It was not a surprise that the vote went in favour of engaging and trusting younger people to take part in voting. My brief contribution was simple: it will do some good; it can do no harm.
This Wednesday I shall have attended the memorial service for Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde at the newspaper church St Bride’s in Fleet Street. Brenda Dean was the first woman elected to head a major industrial trade union, the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT), having joined the National Union of Printing, Book-binding and Paper Workers. Her autobiography, Hot Mettle, is worth reading.
That day, I join David Lammy MP for the meeting of the All Party Parliamentary group on Race and Community. I long for the day when we can anticipate living in a country and in a world when the colour of every reader’s skin will be as important but no more than height or the colour of eyes or of hair: noticeable but not a significant characteristic.
The Pope’s visit to Ireland was centred on the World Meeting of Families, a gathering every three years of the Roman Catholic Church. It is organised by the new department for the laity, family and life. The purposes are to promote the pastoral care of families, to protect their rights and dignity and to help them fulfil their duties.
Decades back, I turned the British Committee of the International Union of Family Organisations, quite a mouthful, into Family Forum. A group of charities considered together how to build the confidence and competence of people who care for each other by family or household links of chance (family) and choice (marriage, partnership and in other ways).
Visitors to this country are intrigued and impressed by the range of British radio broadcasting. In addition to the glorious range of commercial stations, the BBC range from Radio 1 to Radio 6 is unsurpassed.
Thirty years ago, Radio 1 was the only national pop music station. When I was responsible for trying to reduce the awful level of road deaths associated with drivers who had clearly exceeded the unsafely high alcohol limit, the first task was to get away from the idea that the best approach was to lower the criminal threshold, to introduce mass random breath-testing and to increase penalties. My ideas were different. They worked and I believe they would work again.
Srebrenica Memorial Day is on Saturday this year. I support the More United belief in a tolerant, free, diverse society where our differences are respected and celebrated.
Inclusivity and diversity make us stronger and more resilient as a nation.
It was odd to hear from a racially intolerant telephone caller that he hated immigrants, proudly declaring that he was English and pure Anglo-Saxon, not knowing that the English had been brought in by the Romans from what is now Germany and that the Angles and the Saxons had come uninvited too.
When a constituent around retirement age approached me about unfair payments being demanded by the freeholder of his block of leasehold flats, I did not expect to be drawn into a lasting national campaign for fairness and freedom for residential leaseholders.
The local case was quickly resolved with the expertise and a day freely given by a barrister through the Pro Bono Unit.
This time, the cause of the dispute was neither malice nor greed; it was the result of innocents taking sharp advice from a commercial lawyer about how the simple system of resolution intended by parliament could be circumvented.
At the end of the summer term, students across the age range volunteer to come to help at Westminster.
This is difficult for a number of reasons: each needs a constant escort; Parliament is in recess so no debates and no committee meetings; my dedicated team have holidays. One colleague gathered students for a day course. I spoke with them about the tasks an MP can try to achieve.
To engage their thinking, I asked the deceptively easy maths question. If 15 of them took part in a singles knockout tennis tournament, like Wimbledon, how many matches would be played? The answer and explanation are at the end.
Srebrenica Memorial Week takes place every year on the week around July 11, Srebrenica Memorial Day. This year, more than 2,000 memorial events took place across the country arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations, teaching the consequences of hatred and importance of building stronger cohesive communities.
Last week, to mark the Memorial Day, I signed the Remembering Srebrenica Book of Pledges, promising to stand up to hatred and intolerance and promote a fair, equal and cohesive society for everyone.
Srebrenica Memorial Day reminds us all that a shocking genocide took place in our lifetime when more than 8,000 men and boys were killed just because of their faith.
The 1922 Committee, the autonomy of the Dominions and the Turkish war that was avoided go back 94 years to the Chanak Crisis. Look it up for the full story.
In September 1922, the neutral zone in the Dardanelles was vulnerable to attack by the Turkish forces led by Ataturk. The British Cabinet, led by Lloyd George, prime minister during the Great War, and by Winston Churchill, later to become prime minister in the Second World War, decided to fight.
They called in the Colonies. Canada refused. That led to the Dominions formally having their own decision making on foreign policy.
Constituents visiting the Great Hall in the Palace of Westminster will, until October, be able to see the Voice & Vote exhibition.
Can anyone now understand why women were for so long denied the vote?
Can anyone imagine why they were banned from the public gallery?
Now ask what are the equivalent issues where common sense might break out? During my lifetime the prejudice about sexuality has been diminished.
There is now a debate in France about whether the word racial might sensibly be retired: their President Macron says that origin may be of interest; he adds that genetically we are all so similar it is wrong to think we are significantly different from each other.
It has been a delight to meet school pupils at Westminster: the recent groups came from Goring and from Our Lady of Sion. I congratulate them for their interesting questions and I thank their teachers and parents for coming too.
They will not mind, I trust, if I record that the most touching time of the week past was calling at St Mary’s Home in Worthing to be with a Ferring friend after her discharge from care in Worthing Hospital.
She was attending Mass. I slipped into a back row seat before moving forward when exchanging the Peace to sit with her. She was a teacher. She has been an inspiration to me, showing throughout her life that individual acts of thoughtfulness and of kindness matter.
The first health minister, then the Liberal Christopher Addison, in 1919 took action that could be seen as the first public commitment to the essential elements of a National Health Service.
My father worked in his ministerial private office nearly 30 years later when as Labour’s dominions secretary, Viscount Addison had responsibility for the Commonwealth.
One of the tasks of the assistant private secretary was to respond to some correspondents: ‘I am directed to write that your unsolicited letter has been received; it has not been selected for a substantive response.’