The Need for Food Banks

There are currently no food banks in the Beckenham Constituency.  In fact the nearest food banks I can locate are in Orpington, going East, or North West to Battersea.  In principle they work as follows.  People needing emergency food supplies are normally given food bank vouchers social workers or doctors.  At the food bank they are then presented with three days’ worth of food. Of course it is tragic that food banks are necessary.  Some have argued that the situation in the UK is dire compared to other countries but that may not be borne out by facts.  I understand that one in 88 people visit food banks in France whereas one in 181 do so in this country.  According to the leading food bank charity, the Trussell Trust, out of a population of 63 million in UK, 60,000 visit food banks whereas, in Germany, with a population of 82 million, about 1,500,000 rely on them.  Across the Atlantic in Canada, with a 35 million population, some 830,000 use food banks.  I say this to explain that the food bank problem is not unique to this country.  What can be done?  Well, the best way for dependence on food banks to reduce is to get more people off benefits – whether they be working benefits or not.  It is excellent news that the Coalition Government has increased people in employment since 2010 by 1,250,000.  In addition it has taken 2,700,000 people out of tax altogether, raising the tax threshold and 25 million people in total have had their taxes cut.  I emphasise this because if people have more money the number needing food banks would drop in some form of proportion.   Some suggest cutting the Spare Room Subsidy (incorrectly dubbed the Bedroom Tax) has forced more people to go to food banks.  But all the Coalition Government has done is extend the measure from private to social housing.  In fact the last Government introduced the Spare Room Subsidy in 2008 but only for private housing!  If it is necessary, which it seems it is, then fairness should prevail.  Others suggest that Zero Hours Contracts have increased since 2010 and are another reason for people going to food banks.  But there were as many people on Zero Hours Contracts in 2000 as in 2013. Like everyone I dislike the idea and need for food banks which are largely run by charities; such as the Trussell Trust and churches.  But, in fairness, the Government also gives money to food banks.  For instance 81 Trussell Trust run food bank franchises have received Government funding. Finally I dearly wish there was no need for food banks.  But clearly there is a requirement for them. I recognise this fact and will do all I can to reduce dependency on them both now and in future.

Referendum on EU

Bob has always been sceptical about the value to this country of the European Union.  In 1975 he remembers voting to join an economic union and just that - nothing more.  Since then he believes the organisation has far exceeded its original trading purposes and he is very unhappy about the current way the European Union operates - particularly in the political and social sphere.Since being elected Bob has consistently argued that the British people should be given a referendum on membership of the European Union.  He is thus delighted that the Government is now set to institute such a referendum on the European Union by the end of 2017.Bob's position on Europe as recorded in Hansard (the official record of parliamentary proceedings):
 13 October 2010 voted against any increase to the European Union Budget. 24 October 2011 voted with 79 other Conservative MPs to institute an immediate referendum on the European Union. 13 December 2011 suggested in the Commons that the Presidents of France and Germany wanted to use the European Union to carry out a financial raid on the City of London which raises 11 per cent of our national income. 26 January 2012 suggested in the Commons that European Union regulations should be abandoned with the comment 'Scrap them!' 22 February 2012 suggested in the Commons that the European Union Civil Service should be downsized in the same way as was happening to our Home Civil Service. 31 October 2012 suggested in the Commons that the European Union should make the same percentage portion of cuts to budgets as in the United Kingdom. 4 July 2013 made his position as clear as possible and stated in the Commons that, 'If there was a vote (on Europe) immediately, I would vote to come out, but now we are going to have an alternative plan.  It is good that we have four years to try and get it right, so the British people can say, "Actually we like the end result the Prime Minister has negotiated" - or say that they don't, and we leave.  In my opinion that makes a pretty good fist of dealing with this problem.' 29 November 2013 voted with the Government to hold a referendum on Europe before the end of 2017.  

Visit to Dance Company Studios

Bob visited the Dance Company Studios at 76 High Street, Beckenham on Saturday 21 December.  Thankfully the Company has largely recovered from the disastrous fire which occurred in 2008 and the studios now are back in first class condition.  Bob met owners Conan and Lauren Rice.  Conan and Lauren told Bob that they have recently established a charity called Create Projects Studio which they have designed to give professional dance instruction to those who may not have had the funding or opportunity to improve their techniques before.  Bob offered Conan and Lauren his full support.  

EU Immigration Views

On 19 December Bob took part in a Westminster Hall debate aimed at restricting the rights of Rumanians and Bulgarians to enter the United Kingdom with effect from 1 January 2014.  Two weeks before he had signed the Mills Amendment which suggested that no such rights should be agreed until 2018 - after the proposed European Referendum had been held.  In the debate Bob argued that as our economy improves so would the attractiveness to Rumanians and Bulgarians of coming to the United Kingdom. 

Elmers End Post Office Visit

On Friday 13th December Bob visited the Royal Mail Sorting Office at Elmers End.  He was met and escorted around by  the Manager, Tony King.  Bob then walked and talked with the staff as the dealt with the Christmas rush who were amazingly cheerful considering the very early hour they all stared work.

Culling Badger Debate

Bob has long been a fan of pop group ‘The Queen’.  He recalls how sad he was that lead singer, Freddie Mercury, died just as he was deploying to Bosnia in 1992.  Bob remembers very well how he played ‘Queen’s Greatest Hits’ at maximum volume in his Discovery land rover on 22nd April 1992 when he was cut off from his Battalion and had to cross No Man’s Land and two minefields  to get back.  Queen’s lyrics boomed out from 6 speakers in his vehicle and made it obvious that he was not trying to do something furtively.    Bob said that the music helped his courage and he believes it may well have stopped him being shot by belligerent forces who were all watching from their entrenched positions.  By chance on 11th December Bob met Brian May and told him the story.  Brian seemed very touched by it.  They were photographed together in Portcullis House, Westminster.Brian May was in Parliament to listen to a Westminster Hall debate on the Badger culling trial which is currently being carried out in the West Country.  In response to requests from constituents Bob also attended and listened to the debate.

Bob Stewart at Christmas Celebrations in West Wickham

On 7th December 2013 Bob enjoyed being at the opening of Christmas Celebrations in West Wickham.  He is pictured with members of the Park Langley Rotary Club who were selling punch for charity in the High Street.

Hayes Christmas Lights

On Saturday 23 November Bob attended the celebrations to turn on Hayes' Christmas Lights.  More people than ever seemed to be present and apparently Father Christmas saw over 230 children in his Grotto. Bob is photographed in front of the Hayes Christmas Tree with his friend, Councillor Stephen Carr, Leader of Bromley Council.

Old soldiers meet at St Margaret’s in Westminster

Annually old soldiers meet at St Margaret’s in Westminster to remember their comrades who have been killed.  This year the remembrance service, attended by the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Harry, took place on 7th November.  Bob was photographed with his parliamentary whip who also remains an officer in the Territorial Army, Major Desmond Swayne.