Life in Westminster has been busy for me in recent weeks.
The Finance Bill completed its progress through the House of Commons last week, which meant a six-hour session on the Government frontbench on both Tuesday and Wednesday, with four or five speeches delivered on each day.
The Bill enacts many of the tax announcements from the last Budget (and some from the Budget before that) and the Parliamentary process began back in April. There are lots of good measures in the Bill to reduce income taxes, help businesses and reduce avoidance but the main emotion on completing the process is one of relief!
There has also been a lot of work behind the scenes on pensions. I was heavily involved in the Budget announcement on pension flexibility but we have since been consulting on the details and will be making an announcement about this later this month.
It is also the case that, wearing my Ministerial hat, I have been travelling round the country with visits to Liverpool, Cardiff and Edinburgh.
The latter two trips were to meet with committees to discuss devolution. More powers than many appreciate have been devolved to the Scottish and Welsh Governments. I favour that – power should be held at a more local level whenever possible. But it is perfectly possible for there to be more local accountability without ending the Union. I hope the people of Scotland agree on September 18.
Despite the various Ministerial and Westminster demands, there has still been time to get round the constituency. It was a great pleasure to attend the recent Connect Dacorum event in Berkhamsted Town Hall. Connect Dacorum does an excellent job bringing together the businesses and voluntary organisations in the area. We have a very strong voluntary sector in Dacorum but it was very pleasing to hear how much local businesses are doing to support this sector.
It was also pleasing to hear the upbeat mood amongst businesses. That is not to say that all our economic problems have gone away – for many people money remains tight – but existing businesses are expanding and taking on more staff. In support of this, I was pleased to see that the number of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance in South West Hertfordshire has fallen by 27% in the last 12 months.
It is also great to learn more about new businesses. Whilst at the Connect Dacorum event, I met Nick Heath who, along with others, has established the Haresfoot Brewery in Berkhamsted. I am always keen to visit local businesses but I was particularly pleased to be invited to see the brewery and sample the product! I hope to take up the opportunity in the near future. With the excellent Tring Brewery up the road, Dacorum is becoming a prime location for micro-breweries.
From beer to rugby clubs (not an enormous leap). I also got a chance recently to spend a Saturday morning at Tring Rugby Club where volunteers were sprucing up the clubhouse. I also got to learn about their ambitious plans for the future, improving the facilities to reflect the ever-increasing status of the club. Tring Rugby Club punches above its weight – achieving success disproportionate to population it serves. Part of the reason it does that is because of its excellent youth policy – providing opportunities to hundreds of youngsters and bringing them the ranks.
So a busy month. Tax, pensions, Scotland, Wales, rugby and beer. There’s plenty of variety in the life of an MP!