MPs See Need to Change Voting for Blind

Michael has led calls for a change in the voting system for blind people at the launch of the Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC) Youth Forum’s 2018 Youth Manifesto in Parliament.

The RSBC Youth Forum was set up to act as a voice for blind and vision-impaired young people in London and the South East and to unearth potential solutions to challenges they face, such as employment, transport, accessible technology and mental health support.

As the charity’s President, Michael was keen to educate parliamentary colleagues about RSBC’s forward-looking initiatives.

“Not enough people know that people who lose their sight in youth have huge hurdles to overcome”, he said.

“As a Member of Parliament, I am particularly interested in improving access to democracy for the vision-impaired: using technology to reduce barriers to voter-turnout, considering the location of polling stations and making local candidate information more available.

These are basic human rights that some young people are being denied: this is something we cannot ignore.”

MPs from all parties then listened to presentations by the Chief Executive of the charity, Dr Tom Pey, members of the RSBC Youth Forum, Ruksana Khanum, Cory Sharp and Charlotte McMillan, and Areeq Chowdrey of Webroots Democracy.

With RSBC officers and Nusrat Ghani MP
With RSBC officers and Nusrat Ghani MP.

The four key areas of focus in the manifesto are:

  1. Raising awareness about what it looks like to be blind or vision-impaired;
  2. Working with national transport providers in order to improve services for independent travel;
  3. Campaigning for better mental health support for young people who are blind and vision-impaired; and
  4. Making our current voting system accessible to blind and vision-impaired people.

New Direction on Train Delays Needed

Michael has today (10) called for Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to rethink the scheduled phasing of its new Thameslink fast service.

Writing to Chief Executive, Charles Horton, the Sevenoaks MP urged GTR to consider starting the postponed fast service as originally promised, but with one train per hour rather than the twice-hourly service originally planned.  The alternative proposal aims to ensure that families and businesses in the northern parts of his constituency still benefit from services that would help local regeneration.

Michael indicated it was possible to meet the capacity problem by protecting existing services and pursuing a more balanced phasing in of new services.

He said: “It is vital that the result of this delay avoids punishing businesses and commuters in my constituency who have anticipated the introduction of this new service now for over four years.”

Michael at Royal Opening in Swanley

Michael helped officially open the new Swanley Citizens Advice in Swanley Shopping Centre with HRH The Princess Royal this month.

Citizens Advice is an independent charity that provides free, confidential and impartial advice and information for those who need it.  Its trained volunteers help with drafting letters, advocacy and preparation for tribunals.

As Patron of Citizens Advice since 1990, HRH The Princess Royal greeted volunteers and spoke to Michael about the importance of developing strong working relationships between MPs and Citizens Advice.

Welcoming HRH The Princess Royal’s comments, the local MP said: “Citizens Advice is essential to my work.  Its advisers are experts who are trained to deal with very difficult cases, so I am pleased that locally we have such a good relationship and look forward to our continued collaboration.”

Full Steam Ahead for Station Regeneration

Michael has welcomed the news that Sevenoaks Town Council has secured a £755,600 Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant towards the refurbishment of the Bat & Ball Station Building.

The Bat & Ball Station Building is a Victorian property constructed in 1862.  It was the first station in Sevenoaks and used by Queen Victoria when visiting Knole. It has been boarded up since 1991 and gradually deteriorated.

Having helped the Town Council secure the funding, Michael offered his congratulations.

He said:  “Regeneration projects require huge community effort just to get off the ground.  So I congratulate the Town Council for securing the funding it needs for the project to go ahead and I look forward to visiting the station in the New Year.”

The restored building will provide public toilets, two community rooms, and a café selling Kent produce and heritage information.  It will also have the ability to sell train tickets.  Currently there is only a ticket machine.  All of these facilities should encourage more people to use the station.

The project is on track to be completed in September 2018.

Fallon Cross at “Betrayal of Kent Commuters”

Michael has expressed his “severe disappointment” at the “betrayal of Kent commuters” in a letter to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling today.

The letter was sent in response to a letter Michael received from the Transport Secretary, explaining why the new Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East, Otford and Swanley to London had been postponed until at least December 2019.

Having earlier contacted Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and the Rail Minister about the matter, Michael had wanted a comprehensive explanation from the Transport Secretary.  Instead, the reply failed to address two of his key concerns: why a consultation had not been launched and why a similar fast service will be delivered on-time in Sussex.

“Govia’s decision is a betrayal of Kent commuters and my constituents”, the MP said.

“This news means that there will have been a delay of over a year and a half from the originally-planned completion date.”

The Sevenoaks MP has called for an urgent meeting with the Transport Secretary and GTR to consider “an alternative schedule that avoids punishing Kent’s commuters.”

Calls for End to Camelot Complacency

Michael has called for Government to help end national lottery provider Camelot’s complacency in a Westminster Hall debate on the future of society lotteries on Tuesday (12).

Intervening early in the debate, Michael said: “Whether one admires Camelot or not, is not the real difficulty Camelot’s length of tenure as an operator?  It becomes more and more difficult to know whether it is performing as well as possible.  The metrics simply are not there due to the monopoly that it has enjoyed.”

Society lotteries are different from the national lottery in many ways.  The main difference is the prize cap: society lotteries are limited to 10 per cent of the value of any one draw.  Most high street charities run society lotteries, raising money for good causes such as cancer research, military charities, disability support charities and animal welfare charities.

Lotteries Debate 12th December 2017Michael made the point that society lotteries are not in competition with the national lottery and that what they do complements it.  Because the causes for which society charities support are often locally based on peoples’ doorsteps, the case was made for the regulations and caps on society lotteries to be lifted and raised for the benefit of charities in constituencies across the country.

The local MP joined the cross-party calls for Government to give society lotteries the freedom to succeed and consumers the choice of causes to support.

Intervening on the Minister’s response to the debate, he said: “No one doubts the success of the national lottery.  It is an enormous achievement and we should be very proud of it.  But how do we know whether a quarter of a century further on it will continue to be as successful as it could be?”

The Minister replied that the Government and Gambling Commission are constantly reviewing the national lottery, but recognised that there needs to be a healthy mixture of lotteries, signalling that the government will take action on the points raised in the debate.

Column: Speaking Up for the Silent

In positions of responsibility, it is important that those with a platform use it well.  As the Sevenoaks MP, I speak up for thousands of people in Parliament; I knock heads together when people can’t cut through bureaucratic systems; and I stand up for causes I believe in.  I do this because I can, whilst most people cannot.

I’m not alone – most MPs worth their salt do this.  But speaking up for those without a voice goes beyond representing only people.  In many ways, I represent our environment, too: from streets to boundaries – even the air we breathe.

IMG_7468Recently, I have received hundreds of letters asking me to ‘stand up for the Green Belt’, for example.  My position on the matter should be clear, not only because I committed to doing just that at recent General Election – but also because I’m a conservative.

The clue is in the name: conservative.  I generally want to conserve things.

Where I think things work well, I think they should be conserved.  Where I think things should be learned from, I think they should be preserved.

But conservatism extends to protecting all things that are vulnerable.  This can include areas of land, and the wildlife they contain, as well as buildings, and the traditions they maintain.

Vellum – on which Acts of Parliament are printed – is a vital part of our national heritage and something I successfully campaigned to protect last year. MF with vellum

Heritage sites – remains from the Reformation or historic pubs – are windows into our local history and a key part of the district’s attractiveness to tourists.

And our Green Belt – about which I recently wrote to the Communities Secretary, urging him to maintain protections – is the jewel to which the rest of the country look.  Having successfully convinced the Chancellor to ring-fence Green Belt land, our beautiful area is safe for now.

But our work to maintain and enhance protections for the environment is not yet done, because the environment always needs looking after to meet our golden standards.

Over the last few months, the Government has raised those standards even further.

Now, we’re tackling the plastics that are damaging our marine environment, cracking down on the ivory trade and increasing jail time for animal abusers.

We have a duty to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better shape than when we inherited it.  And I will continue to help the Government work towards ensuring that this is the case.

Outstanding Achievement of Local Police

Michael has praised the achievements of local police following today’s news that Kent Police has once again been graded as ‘Outstanding’ for legitimacy.  The rating means that Kent Police is now the only police force in England and Wales to achieve the grade three years in a row.

The rating comes just weeks after Michael visited Kent Police Headquarters to inspect the new Police Constables in their Passing Out Parade.  Reacting to the announcement, the local MP said: “This is a significant achievement that reflects the police’s ability to maintain law and order in the constituency.”

According to the PEEL (police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy) annual assessment of police forces by Her Majesty’s Inspectors, Kent Police is efficient and effective and is policing the county ‘by consent’.

Inspectors found that officers and staff have a clear understanding of the importance of treating everyone with respect and making fair decisions, as well as being friendly and approachable.  It recognises that Kent Police has a clearly defined vision and set of values and has invested in extensive training to ensure the workforce know what is expected of them.

The report concluded that the leadership of Kent Police demonstrates a very positive ethical approach to policing which is reflected throughout the force.

Seeking Stronger Ties with Swanley

Michael has recommended that the town of Swanley be formally recognised in the name of his constituency in his response to the Revised Boundary Proposals 2018.  Should his request be granted, the official name of the Sevenoaks constituency would become Sevenoaks & Swanley.

Revised proposals for all the parliamentary seats were published in October by the Boundary Commission for England.  Under the new proposals, the Sevenoaks constituency remains largely the same, but would gain the Wrotham, Ightham and Stansted ward from Tonbridge, increasing the size of the Sevenoaks electorate to 72,561.

The review aims to make constituencies more equal in size.  Parliament has also approved the principle of reducing the size of the House of Commons.  If the majority of MPs support the detailed plans, the proposed changes will take effect at the next election.

Happy with the boundary proposals, the local MP took the opportunity to recognise Swanley as a key part of his constituency.

He said: “My constituency is special because it is diverse.  The town of Swanley is very different from the town of Sevenoaks, and each contributes equally to the character of the constituency.  I refer to my constituency as Sevenoaks & Swanley, and I believe that now is the time that Swanley be recognised in its formal name.”

Fast-Service Delay ‘Not Good Enough’

Michael has pressed the government for answers following news that the new Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East, Otford and Swanley to London due to start from December 2018 has now been postponed until at least December 2019.

The local MP submitted a series of Parliamentary Questions to the Rail Minister about the matter.  The Rail Minister answered the questions last week, writing:

“Learning lessons from previous major changes and to enable the industry to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from too much change on the network at any one time, the Secretary of State for Transport asked Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to propose options to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from the introduction of the Thameslink timetable and operational changes. GTR’s proposal increases the number of services through central London more gradually than had been planned, beginning in May 2018 and ending in December 2019.

The changes have been selected as the best option to benefit the most passengers across the wider south east network. The new Thameslink services from Maidstone East will now be delivered in December 2019.”

Michael has also written to the Transport Secretary for an explanation, demanding he provide reasons for not having consulted on proposals before having taken the decision.

Before writing to the Transport Secretary, Michael was informed by GTR that the decision had been taken by the Department for Transport.

Michael said: “This is not good enough.  We need confirmation that operators will still achieve full capacity on this route, as planned, in 2018.  I await the Transport Secretary’s explanation for not having consulted with stakeholders before taking this decision.”