Bob opens RBL Hayes' Bar

On the evening of Tuesday 18th February Bob visited the Royal British Legion Club in Hayes.  He was welcomed by David Jukes, Vice Chairman of the Club and John Rayment, the Club's Chairman.  After some time talking to the many members present Bob formally opened the new £40,000 facilities - including a fabulous bar.  Bob has been a member of the Royal British Legion for over 40 years but he was was especially thrilled to be made a Lifetime Member of the Hayes Branch.  Immediately he put on the Club Tie which he is wearing in the attached photograph. Club Chairman, John Rayment, is also standing behind Bob in the photograph. 

Keston Village Shops

On 2nd February Bob spent the morning in Keston Village.  In particular he visited the excellent parade of shops which were built 106 years ago.  He spent some time talking to Mr Don Ward of Keston Village Stores.  Mrs Helen Ward purchased the shop in 1981 and together Don and her have run it ever since.  It is a magnificent example of the very best of village shops.  Bob took a photograph of Don Ward at the entrance to the shop and it is attached.  Afterwards Bob spent a while talking with the staff of Fiona's Pantry which is next door.

Visit to Bromley College

On Friday 31 January Bob visited Bromley College.  There are now 10,000 people of all ages studying at Bromley College; 3,000 young people, 5,000 adults, 1,000 apprentices, 750 people in higher education and 100 students aged 14-15 from local schools.  There are also 650 staff running its two major campuses.  Bob met with the Principal, Sam Parrett, to discuss some rather exciting future plans for the College,  He also spent 45 minutes talking to and taking questions from young people on the Public Service Course with whom he was photographed.

Hayes Parks

On Saturday 1st February Bob Stewart joined Doug Veal representing the Friends of Hayes Parks for a walk round the village's parks. Starting in the Library Car Park, Doug, together with a Council officer, showed Bob how the Friends were trying to maintain the three small central parks in Hayes. He is pictured standing in The Knoll.  Afterwards Bob visited and shared a coffee with the Reverend Napo John, Vicar of St Mary's who is celebrating his first year in Hayes. 

Terrorist Prevention and Investigation Measures

Bob raised his concerns about six terrorist suspects being released from so-called Terrorist Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) during a debate in the Chamber of the House of Commons on 21 January.  He warned of what he thought to be the dangers of releasing suspected terrorists from close supervision.  “I have seen people locked up for a long time and when they come out their resentment and aggression can grow,” he told the House of Commons.  He went on to say, “What worries me is our assumption that the aggression and resentment of these six people, after two years on TPIMs, will have lessened. I am worried about them just being released.”  However the Home Office Minister assured him that effective measures were being put in place to ensure that the six people being released from TPIMs in the next few weeks would be monitored closely by the Security Services.

Holocaust Memorial Day

On Thursday 23 January Bob took part in the annual debate to remember the horror of the Holocaust.  He reminded the House of Commons that one purpose of remembering is to try and ensure that such events as the Holocaust don't happen again.  Sadly he recalled his own experiences in Bosnia during 1992 - 93 and in particular the Massacre of Ahmici in April 1993.  The attached photograph shows him at Ahmici condemning the murderers at a news conference.  He reminded everyone present that genocide and crimes against humanity continue to this day although everyone has to do all they can to stop them.

The Duggan Inquest

On Sunday 12 January 2014 Bob appeared on BBC 1's Sunday Politics programme.  He was asked about his view of the Mark Duggan Inquest and particularly the jury's verdict that it was 'lawful killing' by the Police.  Bob agreed with that verdict and made a couple of other points in support of the police.. He pointed out that Mark Duggan had a gun in his car and he shouldn't have done.  He asked people to put themselves in the position of a police officer faced by a man who comes out of a car with a gun in his hand which might or might not be fired.  Bob pointed out that the police officer had seconds to decide whether to fire himself - not the three months that the inquest has taken to examine the matter in minute detail.  He asked again 'What the heck was he (Mark Duggan) doing with a gun in his car?'.

Thoughts on Syria

It is Christmas 2013, the weather is foul and I have been thinking about how appallingly freezing it must be for the people of Syria who are stuck in tented camps at the moment. The conditions cannot be too dissimiliar to those of late December 1992 when in the freezing cold and snow my soldiers in Bosnia escorted over 2,000 civilians to safety across the front lines.  I recall the temperature was about minus 15 degrees Centigrade and I remember carrying a child over the lines and a sniper taking a shot at the two of us as I did so!  Those two thousand people in Bosnia only had what they could carry and were very wretched. So twenty one years later I cannot help but remember those poor people and, of course, that turns my mind again to what is happening in and around Syria this Christmas. My view remains that we should not, indeed cannot, take effective military action in Syria.  But, one way or other, we cannot just walk away either.  To say a blanket ‘no military action' under any circumstances would be wrong.  All options to help the people of Syria should remain on the table - at least so as not to tie the hands of negotiators who are doing their best to sort out the situation there.In my view it is also high time that Arab League and the Arab World more generally took more responsibility for sorting out their own region.  They cannot continue to blame us because of our historic involvement in the area.  In truth we have trained and armed many of the Arab World's professional uniformed services and perhaps they should start to put that training into effect by helping their neighbouring states more.    For our part, since 2001, we have intervened in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya - albeit with good intentions - but our efforts on behalf of people who live there have either gone wrong or simply not been appreciated. Most importantly, of course, we have played a high blood price in military lives in two of those operations.  As an ex-soldier who has been committed into almost impossible situations myself I am reluctant in the extreme to send our armed forces into action unless there is a very good reason.I really believe that no outside state can do anything effective in Syria without a mandate to do so from the Security Council of the United Nations. As the highest authority in the World the Security Council must be involved and give any such operations legitimacy.  Having been a UN Commander myself I frequently cited my Security Council Mandate as my authority for action in Bosnia and it often worked or at least I liked to think it did. But right now two Permananent Members of the Secufrity Council;, with veto rights, have refused to consider establishing even a limited mandate to help Syria. As I have previously mentioned my mind is not totally closed to some limited form of military involvement.  I believe that sometimes we have a Christian or moral duty to help human beings who are less fortunate than ourselves  - even when it may not be a vital national interest. That is how I felt when I commanded the British in Bosnia and my view remains unchanged.Right now public opinion may not want us to take any form of military action but, in my experience, that could change rapidly if circumstances on the ground in Syria compel it.   Exactly that happened in Bosnia after July 1995 when over 7,000 boys and men were massacred at Srebrenica. The Public suddenly demanded effective action.  In 1995 I was a Colonel and Chief of Policy in NATO's European Military Headquarters.  I had handed over command in Bosnia some 2 years before by then.  But in March 1993 I personally had organised the digging of a mass grave for over a hundred men, women and children  and I remember being terribly bitter about the fact that the UK was simply sitting on its hands and saying we should not get further involved.  I can tell you that was not what my soldiers were saying as they picked up the broken bodies of children!  I say this to demonstrate that sometimes I believe we should be a force for good - where and when we can.  It might, just might, be required in Syria at some stage, who knows?  Syria is a very difficult problem and  I have thought long and hard about it. At the moment I remain very much against the deployment of British combat forces there.  But I suppose I might contemplate our military involvement in some lesser way - maybe escorting humanitarian aid as I did myself in Bosnia durting 1992-93.  I would much prefer our involvement to remain humanitarian in nature rather than any form of fighting role but, as I stated earlier, we should rule nothing out.  The spectre of international inaction and then lots of dead innocents still haunts me from from my time in Bosnia.

The Spare Room Subsidy

The new policy of removing the spare room subsidy is aimed at those of working age (but not pensioners) who live in social housing and have their rent paid through Housing Benefit.  People with special needs, such as the requirement for life enhancing machinery in that spare room or for a carer to stay overnight in it, will be unaffected.  There is strong public support for reducing under-occupation and overcrowding in social housing according to an Ipsos MORI opinion poll produced on 8 November 2013.  Seventy-eight per cent of people interviewed said they thought it important to sort out the problem which has led to one-third of social housing tenants who receive Housing Benefit, living in homes that are too big for their needs.  Only 14 per cent of people disagreed with a further 9 per cent undecided.  The poll also found that 54 per cent also agreed that it is fair for people of working age, who live in social housing to receive less Housing Benefit if they possess more bedrooms than they need.  Despite what some say, reducing Housing Benefit is not a ‘bedroom tax’ because their accommodation is paid for by the State.There are nearly one million spare bedrooms being paid for by Housing Benefits, yet at the same time hundreds of thousands of families are living in overcrowded social housing.  Frequently I have people come to my surgery asking me to help them get another bedroom because their whole family has to sleep in one room.  I know too that in the London Borough of Bromley there are 6,000 people waiting for social housing, many wanting more bedrooms, yet there are many instances of one person living in a three bedroomed social housing on their own.  In the UK the Housing Benefit bill now exceeds £24 billion a year – an increase of 50 per cent over the last 10 years.  Iain Duncan-Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has told me in person that his Department now pays over 40 per cent of the housing rents in the County.  Of course we have to get this spiralling cost under control.Some suggest cutting the Spare Room Subsidy is a new matter.  But in fact all the Coalition Government has done is extend the measure from private to social housing.  The last Government actually introduced the Spare Room Subsidy in 2008 but only for people renting from the Private Sector.  This fact is not widely known.Of course, if there are special circumstances involved, Bromley Council has the discretion to take these into account and the Government has allocated money to them for this to happen.Finally I don't particularly like the idea of people being forced to downsize their homes but neither do I like the idea that the thought of the taxpayer having to subsidise spare bedrooms for those on Housing Benefits when so many others, often on Housing Benefits themselves, are living in grossly overcrowded conditions because of it.  That is grossly unfair.  

Hunting with Hounds

A small number of constituents have written to me on the subject of hunting with hounds.  They are very much against any suggestion of there being a repeal of the current law which forbids, particularly foxhunting using packs of dogs. To be straight the matter is not a big issue in Beckenham; the last foxhunt with hounds started from Beckenham Junction Station in 1901 which is 112 years ago. Personally I have never hunted myself and feel no great urge to do so either.  That having been said I would dearly like to see reductions in the Beckenham fox population; they are everywhere!In South East London are little affected by whether there is a ban or not but friends of mine who live in the countryside argue passionately that hunting with hounds should be allowed once more.  I have some sympathy with their view that it is rightly a matter for those who do not live in towns.  But for my part and the moment I am content with the law as it stands.  Nonetheless, should the whole matter return to the House of Commons for another decision, of course, I will be forced to think again about the whole subject.