|a very happy and prosperous 2006...|
|Monday, 16 January 2006 14:15|
This will be my first full year as the Member
of Parliament for Tooting and I would like to wish all of you a very
happy and prosperous 2006.
The first main thing I did this year was to attend the annual Labour Tooting and Graveney ward dinner. This was held at local Chinese restaurant, Golden Phoenix, on Upper Tooting ward. The hospitality from the proprietor, Mr K Pang was as good as ever and this was a great way to start of the year. I am still a Councillor for Tooting ward (and have been so since 1994) and I lived for many years in the ward so there will always be an emotional pull towards anything Tooting ward does.
On Monday 9th, I had my first surgery of the year at Earlsfield Library.
On Tuesday 10th I attended a briefing on the Respect agenda. The Respect Action Plan sets out a framework of powers and approaches to promote respect positively - to crack down on anti social behaviour, as well as tackling the causes; and to offer leadership and support to local people and local services. In the Plan, there are also proposals to provide parents support to help improve their parenting skills, and tools for the community to address the problems created by the most challenging families.
On Wednesday 11th, we had the welcome news that the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had announced that Labour MPs would have a free vote on the smoking ban. I am extremely pleased at this announcement. Since the election manifesto was produced, there has been a growing amount of evidence from other countries about the efficacy of a full ban. The weight of public opinion has also shifted in support of the outright ban. Passive smoking is responsible for killing hundreds of employees within the hospitality sector each year and this should not be allowed to continue. An outright ban on smoking in public places is essential on the grounds of public health.
I also attended the All Party Parliamentary Group meeting on Smoking. There were excellent contributions from a number of colleagues. Fiona Castle (widow of the late Roy Castle) made a very moving speech. Roy died of lung cancer after years of exposure to second hand smoke in his workplace. The type of lung cancer he had could only have been caused by smoking but when he was first diagnosed 13 years ago no one believed him. Fiona welcomed all the progress made on reducing smoking in the last few years but was critical of a partial smoking ban, comparing having a smoking area in a restaurant to having a peeing area in a swimming pool!
I also attended a Standing Committee on the Climate Change Agreement (Energy Intensive Installations). This arose out of the Budget of 2004 and will enable energy intensive facilities to be identified in a climate change agreement (CCA). Supplies of electricity, gas and solid fuels to them may then carry only 20% of the Climate Change Levy (CCL) rates. It is worth remembering that the imposition of CCL on the energy used by business and the public sector is part of the UK's efforts to combat climate change and play its part in the European Community's obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.
Wednesday was also the first Prime Minister's Question Time of the year and was an opportunity for potential Liberal Democrat leaders to make their mark. Well, both Menzies Campbell and Simon Hughes made an impression but I am sure it was not what they intended or would have wanted!
On Thursday, I attended the annual Labour Furzedown ward dinner which was a chance not just to raise funds and have a great evening but to catch up with views and feedback from friends in the local party.
On Friday morning I attended the regular meeting with St George's Hospital with neighbouring MPs. We also visited the Obstetrics and Gynaecology departments and had a discussion on issues facing these important and ever busy and expanding departments. The Trust’s finances and further progress on waiting times were some of the other things we discussed.
In addition to attending Tooting Islamic Centre for Friday prayers I attended an Inset day at Gatton Primary School. I am Chair of Governors of the school. The school’s fantastic new building is finally almost finished, and staff and children can move in this week. As is often the case with building projects the school was a number of months behind schedule but staff, parents and children have shown incredible patience over this difficult period.
On Saturday I attended the conference on "The Future of Britishness" organised by the Fabian Society. I was speaking alongside Tariq Ramadan, Sarah Joseph in a session chaired by Madeleine Bunting on “Islam of the West: will the reformers win?” Gordon Brown gave a fantastic speech on Britishness. He talked about the need to promote integration and find a common purpose to unite communities. The press widely covered his speech, and picked up on the idea he floated of reclaiming the British flag as a symbol of modern patriotism and unity. The speech is on the Fabian Society website.
On Sunday morning I attended a special thanksgiving service to mark the completion of a major conservation project at St Andrews Church on Garratt Lane. £300,000 has been spent on the project with bodies such as English Heritage playing a crucial role. The Rt Revd Dr Richard Cheetham, Bishop of Kingston, gave an excellent sermon. He talked about the importance of the church to the local community and its value of being in the midst of the community to serve the community. Apparently some research shows that in 2003, 86% of all people in the UK attended a church whether it be for worship, for a youth club, community club, nursery, a jumble sale or whatever. The scaffolding is still up around the Church and will soon be coming down but you can still see the fantastic improvements from the main road. The works mean not just that an important church is restored to previous glory but that this church can go from strength to strength as a community resource.
In the afternoon, I was canvassing with Tooting Labour Party colleagues in Graveney. We had a positive response on the doorstep towards the Labour team although there were complaints about the neglect by the Tory Council of the Town centre, poor quality street cleaning and refuse collection. The Labour Graveney team and myself are taking these things up.
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