WELCOME to this new weekly column in the Darlington & Stockton Times – its aim is to tell you about what I’m doing in Westminster and the constituency.
I was immensely privileged to be elected to represent this beautiful part of the world in May and I have a tough act to follow. William Hague was an outstanding local MP and I will have to work incredibly hard to match what he did for the Richmond constituency over so many years. I was delighted to learn last month that he is to take a well-deserved place in the House of Lords.
What I will try to do in this space is to explain what I am up to in the House of Commons and how it affects you. Many people perceive that the Commons is where people shout and jeer at each other. While there is some of that, it is also place where vital decisions are taken about issues which are important to you.
My last week was very busy. The highlights were attending the shows at Reeth and Muker which are great traditional Dales events. At Muker, it was Ernest Whitehead’s 38th year as chairman – a tremendous achievement.
I also met local GPs in Northallerton, talked to young cadets in Catterick, attended an open-air church service at the Jonas Centre in Redmire and spent a day with dairy farmers in Wensleydale finding out about how depressed milk prices are affecting their livelihoods. Among them were the Bells, Matthew junior and senior, at their farm overlooking Semerwater. Mr Bell senior, now in his eighties, is still milking – that’s real dedication. The tour of the dale made me very aware of how difficult it is at present for dairy farmers.
On arriving in Parliament, I knew I wanted to get involved in policy that directly affects rural areas like ours. I was fortunate to be elected a member of a Select Committee which scutinises the work of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Earlier this week, I questioned the farming minister George Eustice and leading dairy industry figures about the current crisis.
It’s clear nobody can wave a magic wand and resolve a situation caused by a global glut of milk but there are measures which can help farmers. After a meeting of agricultural ministers in Brussels, the EU has announced a €500 million crisis fund that will support the most vulnerable farmers.
I pushed our minister on Government procurement policy. He accepted there is scope for local governments, schools and hospitals to all buy more British produce. We all need to do our bit too by looking out for British food labels when we do our weekly shopping.
Lastly, we need to keep up the pressure on the supermarkets. Many do have good agreements with their farmer suppliers. Others do not.
I’ll be doing my bit to keep the subject in the public eye.