The Late Jo Cox MP

   I am deeply saddened by the murder of Jo Cox MP. She was Co-Chair of the 'Friends of Syria' All Party Parliamentary Group and I was the Secretary. Jo was a wonderful person and her death is utterly tragic. No words can describe how her husband, two children and family must be feeling at the moment and my heart goes out to them. Claire, my wife, also knew Jo because both of them had a shared interest in what is happening in the Middle East.   Jo will be remembered at a special session of the House of Commons on Monday 20 June and I will attend it although I will leave speaking about her to others. Afterwards there will be a memorial service to Jo in the MP's church, St Margaret's Westminster. Claire and I will attend that together,

Visit to British War Cemetery in Tirana, Albania

  On Saturday 28 May Bob was in Tirana, Albania attending a session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly of which he is a member.  He discovered there was a British War Cemetery from 1939 - 45 in the City and decided to visit it together with his friend Brigadier Geoffrey Van Orden MEP.  They discovered there were 34 graves of our servicemen there and one of them had been awarded the George Cross.  The photograph show Geoffrey Van Orden and Bob standing either side of the main memorial in the cemetery.

Steven Harris; Business in Beckenham for 40 Years

  Steven Harris has been a top-notch optician in Beckenham for 40 years and to celebrate he decided to throw a street party outside his shop on Village Way from Noon on Saturday 18th June.  Steven called it a joint birthday celebration; Her Majesty the Queen was also celebrating her official birthday.  He organised a traditional tea with outstanding Pimms and a singer who was also excellent.  Bob was photographed with Robert Straker and Steven Harris in between them.

TfL taking over Southeastern Railways Franchise

Transport for London (TfL) is to take over the Southeastern Railways franchise which carries so many constituents to and from work in London every day.  This is something that local Conservative MPs have advocated to the Mayor of London for some years now.  The urgency of this change has been highlighted by Southeastern’s failures over the last month or so which have caused great inconvenience to everyone – including Bob who uses Shortlands Station every day he goes to and from Parliament.It is therefore good news to learn that TfL is now scheduled to take on the franchise possibly in 2018.   In confirmation of this a parliamentary debate took place on 28 January.  Bob Stewart spoke in the debate and stressed that he hoped TfL could get that Southeastern Railways franchise as soon as possible.  But he also warned that failures were not always down to Southeastern and that Network Rail often caused considerable delays too.  He suggested that TfL would …”still have the problem of Network Rail to sort out”.  Unfortunately in order to fix tracks it is inevitable that trains will be disrupted and some parts of the rail track really do need fixing.  Nonetheless, all round, Bob believes the proposed change in franchise should make our main railway routes into and from London better. It will get even better soon when London Bridge Station improvements are finished.  All this is good news for so many constituents who, like Bob himself, rely on trains to get to and from work in London. 

Visit of Zac Goldsmith to Beckenham

On Thursday 7th January Zac Goldsmith MP, the Conservative Mayoral Candidate for London, visited Beckenham High Street.  He was met and escorted around by Stephen Wells, Chairman of the Beckenham Conservative Association.  Bob Stewart, MP for Beckenham, was also present.

The Autumn Statement

   I welcome the Chancellor’s Spending Review and Autumn Statement. It delivers on the promise the Conservative Party made to the British people that we would put their security first by:  Protecting our economic security – taking the difficult decisions to live within our means and bring our debts down. The public spending plans set out in the Spending Review mean Britain will reach a surplus of £10.1 billion in 2019/20 – that’s higher than was forecast at the Budget and means Britain will be out of the red and into the black. Protecting our national security by defending our country’s interests abroad and keeping our citizens safe at home. The Spending Review announced there will be no cuts in the police budget with real terms protection for police funding and delivers on the Government’s commitment to spend 2 per cent of our national income on defence.   In total, the Spending Review commits £4 trillion pounds over the next five years. A huge commitment of the hard-earned cash of British taxpayers, and the Conservative Party knows we have an obligation to make sure it is well spent. Our approach is not simply retrenchment, it is to reform and rebuild, with: Full funding of the Five Year Forward View put forward by the NHS itself as the plan for its future with the first £6 billion delivered up-front next year. The biggest real terms rise in the basic State Pension in 15 years. Thanks to our commitment to the triple lock, next year the basic state pension will rise by £3.35 to £119.30 a week. The biggest house building programme by any government since the 1970s with a doubling of the housing budget to over £2 billion a year. Our bold plan to back families who aspire to buy their own home will deliver 400,000 affordable new homes by the end of the decade. The phasing out entirely of the local government grant. By the end of the parliament local government will keep all of the revenue from business rates. We will abolish the uniform business rate so councils will be able to cut rates to attract new businesses, but because the amount government raises in business rates is much greater than the amount we give to local councils through the local government grant we will phase that grant out entirely and devolve additional responsibilities. New apprenticeship levy to deliver 3 million apprenticeships. This will ensure large businesses share the cost of training, but businesses with a wage bill below £3 million won’t have to pay. We will also increase funding for apprenticeships to make sure they are high quality apprenticeships. Real terms protection of the schools budget. We will maintain funding for free infant school meals, protect rates for the pupil premium, and increase the cash in the dedicated schools grant. We’re also going to open 500 new free schools and University Technical Colleges, and invest £23 billion in school buildings and 600,000 new school places. The largest ever investment in free childcare so working families get the help they need. From 2017, we will fund 30 hours of free childcare for working families with three and four year olds. We’ll support £10,000 of childcare costs tax-free and, to support nurseries delivering more free places for parents, we’ll increase funding for the sector by £300 million.  The improvement in the nation’s finances used to help on tax credits.  Because of the improvement in the public finances, the simplest thing to do is not to phase these changes in, but to avoid them altogether. Tax credits are being phased out anyway as we introduce universal credit.  Average saving of £30 from the projected energy bills of 24 million households by introducing a cheaper domestic energy efficiency scheme. 
This Autumn Statement delivers on the promise we Conservatives made to people in Beckenham that we would put their security first. It protects our economic security by taking the difficult decisions to live within our means and bring our debts down. Moreover it protects our national security by defending our country’s interests abroad and keeping our citizens safe at home. 

The Return of Shaker Aamer

At lunchtime yesterday, Friday 30th October, Mr Shakar Aamer flew back into local airport, Biggin Hill.  He is now a free man who has suffered over 13 years in American custody.  Mr Aamer might have been tortured - allegedly with MI6 officers present - and most certainly he was not charged with any crime.  That is appalling and answers must be given as to why this happened. Huge taxpayer funded compensation looks inevitable. Yet nobody has said definitively what Mr Aamer was doing in Afghanistan when he was caught.  There are some suggestions that he was involved in a humanitarian aid charity but, as yet, no charity has declared he worked for them.  So there are some niggling questions Shaker Aamer himself should answer.  For instance, what were his motives for being in Afghanistan?  Why too did the Americans continue to hold on to him after he was apparently cleared for release in 2007? Does he know why he was the last British detainee t be released?   On various radio and television programmes Bob has raised such matters as they seem to have been overlooked in the general media and public euphoria over Mr Aamer's release.  So we should know the answers to these questions too!

Visit to the Beckenham and West Wickham Model Railway Club

   Bob Stewart opened the Beckenham and West Wickham Model Railway Club one day model railshow at 10am on Saturday 24th October at St John's Church in Beckenham.  He was hosted by irs President, David Moore, who by chance went to the same school as Bob (Chigwell in Essex).  In addition Bob had the honour of planting a tree in the Beckenham and West Wickham Model Railway Club layout.  The accompanying photograph shows him doing that watched by David Moore. 

100th Anniversary of Death of Dr W G Grace

   Probably the most legendary cricketer in the history of the game, Dr W G Grace, died on 23rd October 1915.  On the 100th anniversary of his death Bob Stewart attended a commemoration service at his graveside in Beckenham Cemetery and also visited the exhibition illustrating the life of the great man in St George's Church, Beckenham.  Bob Stewart is photographed by Dr Grace's grave..

Interview on Radio 4 about Syria

On Thursday 8th October Bob Stewart was interviewed by presenter James Coomarasamy on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’.  The subject was the dire situation in Syria.  This is what he said during that interview:James Coomarasamy:   The Conservative MP Bob Stewart is a member of the Defence Committee and he heard that evidence today.  I asked  him whether Russia’s intervention in Syria today would make any difference to the Government’s policy. Bob Stewart:  I think what Russia’s intervention does is to concentrate the political mind that we’ve got to find a solution.  Clearly President Asad now backed fully by Russia is going to stay in post and despite our efforts to try and move him and get a more amenable kind of regime that’s not going to happen.  And I think Russsia’s intervention will confirm that he won’t be leaving in the short term or perhaps in the long term and we’ve got to adjust our policy in consequence. James Coomarasamy:    In what way? Bob Stewart:  Well I think we have probably got to decide what is the greater evil that is emanating out of Syria?  Is it ISIL with all its foul deeds or is it President Asad with less foul deeds but nonetheless pretty foul deeds as well?  And we’ve got two satans there and I suspect our policy in the end will come round to saying the aim of British Foreign Policy in Syria is to get rid of ISIL.  I mean I have never seen the Middle East so mucked up in my lifetime as it is at the moment. But somehow or other someone has got to find a solution.  And I think Russia’s intervention will somehow give politics some impetus to get a move on as well as, I’m afraid, we will continue to have military operations and I suspect we will be sending our aircraft into Syria within a few weeks.   James Coomarasamy:    What’s your sense of the mood in Parliament?  Are there many who share your view? Bob Stewart:   I think so.  A lot of people on the Labour side feel like I do but some on the Conservative side disagree with me.  I mean the fact of the matter is that it is not an easy fix in Syria.  It is so Kafkaesque as to be unbelievable.  But one thing is clear, unless it is sorted we are going to continue to have people flooding out of that country in fear of their lives and coming towards Europe.  So there is some sort of national interest in sorting it.   James Coomarasamy:    Is there a danger though of getting what could become a proxy war with Russia? Bob Stewart:   Yes there is always that danger.  Russia considers ISIL to be a huge enemy.  You have got to remember that there are a heck of a lot of Russians too fighting with ISIL.  We think of British nationals working with ISIL but there are a lot of Russians there as well.  So they see ISIL as being a big threat and that’s where our interests coincide.  And I just wonder whether that might help us sort out the problem in the longer term if not the shorter term. James Coomarasamy:    The Conservative MP Bob Stewart …