Blogs > Danny Kruger Devizes MP Diary

Danny Kruger Devizes MP Diary

Houses of Parliament

26th May 2020

26th May 2020

One of the consolations of lockdown for me has been the opportunity to watch a whole season pass. For you long-term Wiltshiremen and women this will seem perfectly normal, but I don’t think I have spent two uninterrupted months in the countryside since I was a child.

On our daily walks we have watched the bare fields sprout their first leaves, the spreading green quickly cover the brown earth, and then the barley grow to knee height in a few short weeks. 

I wanted to speak for Wiltshire farmers in the Agriculture Bill last week. I was on the Bill Committee - hours and hours of line-by-line discussion of the proposed law - which usually guarantees you a speaking slot in the debate which follows.

But this time, because of the restrictions on time imposed by the new virtual arrangements, no Bill Committee members were called to speak. I also didn’t get called for this week’s debate on the Trade Bill, which has a major implication for agriculture too. 

This was a shame. The point I wanted to make is that while we need free trade (not least because our farmers will benefit from the export opportunities) we also need to protect our farmers from competition from imported food whose price is artificially deflated by harmful practices we don't use here.

Rather than simply banning such imports, as Labour and the NFU argued, we should use tariffs to remove the advantage of low environmental and animal welfare standards. I think this debate, between farming and free trade, or ‘beef and liberty’ as the old saying has it, is crucial to the country we want to be after Brexit.

WE OWE IT TO CARE HOME RESIDENTS TO KEEP THEM SAFE

The lockdown is slowly easing, but we still need to be careful. I spoke on Friday to the head of the NHS for our region who advised that while Wiltshire and the South West still have lower infection and death rates than the national average, there are indications that our R number (the rate of transmission) is now higher than elsewhere in England (as much as 0.9, compared to 0.4 in London).

This is partly because, being rural, we are behind the curve. But, having an older population than most places, we are also more vulnerable: 28% of the Wiltshire population is at risk of complications if they catch Covid-19. 

The national spotlight is now on our care homes; we owe it to our older residents to keep them as safe as we can. I am assured that all care homes are getting the PPE they need. But we still need to make sure the R number in the county stays under 1.

This is why we simply have to hold fast to the ‘Stay Alert’ guidance, which basically means ‘Stay-At-Home-Except-For-Clearly-Defined-Activities-Which-Are-Spelt-Out-On-Government-Wesbites-But-Are-Too-Varied-For-A-Two-Word-Slogan.’

I appreciate the eccentricity of the guidance (cleaners and estate agents can visit your home but not your own family members, for instance) but the reason is simply to allow some limited social contact for commercial activities while limiting the activity that would really let the flood-gates open on virus transmission: social mixing of friends and family. 

Schools are another matter. I support the plan to get children back into school next month but I wonder how on earth we can do it if we stick to the social distancing rules. I had a ‘robust’ zoom call with a group of head teachers last week (they were robust, I was timid) and I have written to the Education Secretary with my concerns. 

I’ve also been pushing the Government on support for small business owners who are paid through dividends rather than salary. This is a group, often not well paid, who fall between the (very wide and generous) safety nets laid out by the Chancellor so far. 

As you can tell from my frustration about the Agriculture and Trade Bill debates, I don’t think Parliament is working properly at the moment. There isn’t enough time for debates; without the opportunity for interventions or the intimacy of the chamber, they aren’t debates anyway, just a series of speeches to camera; we can’t do the essential business of scrutiny and accountability like this.

I hope Parliament will meet properly after this week’s recess, even if we have to change the arrangements to eliminate crowding in the chamber and voting lobbies.

Posted by Danny Kruger MP at 2:41pm

28th April 2020

28th April 2020

The weather is turning this week, with rain forecast. Farmers will be pleased. But the glorious spring weather has been the great consolation of this strange and worrying time. 

At least bad weather will keep people from thronging the parks and beaches. I fully understand how irksome the restrictions must be for families living in small homes with no outside space; for children and young people with energy to burn; for anyone who just needs some different company but their housemates, or themselves. 

But even more, I sympathise with older people who have been required to self-isolate, without even a trip to the shops to liven up the day, and prevented from seeing their children and grandchildren.

As we begin to look beyond the catastrophic scenario - thankfully averted so far - of the disease overwhelming the NHS, we urgently need to think about how to make life better for this group.

I talked this week to the boss of Age UK Wiltshire and we agreed to work together and with others to develop proposals to improve support for isolated elderly people in our area.

I thought the Prime Minister’s speech in Downing Street on Monday was helpful - not just because it’s wonderful to have him back, but because he clearly explained where we are in the story of this crisis.

‘We are coming to the end of the first phase’, he said, meaning the battle to contain the spread of infection. This is a great achievement in which the whole country can take pride. Things didn’t look so positive a month or two ago.

Attention can now turn to the second phase, which is the task of reopening the economy in a way that doesn’t cause a second peak in infections.  

My main job during the lockdown remains constituent casework (in which I am assisted by a brilliant team, all working remotely of course but we meet each morning by Zoom and stay in touch all day).

We spent much of the last week trying to help local businesses access the Government’s loan scheme. I have been in regular touch with Treasury ministers on this and I’m glad to say the situation has improved somewhat.

One important example: the owners of the iconic Polly’s Tea Rooms, in Marlborough, spent weeks trying to get help from their bank; this week, finally, they got it. 

I am also busy discussing with other MPs and different experts what future policies we need to make a better Britain. My particular interest is in communities and civil society.

We are seeing an outpouring of neighbourliness right now; how can this be maintained and used to transform our society on the other side of the lockdown?

I hope we might emerge with a better economic and social settlement than we had before the virus struck.

Posted by Danny Kruger MP at 3:03pm

24th March 2020

24th March 2020

On Monday evening (23rd March), the Prime Minister announced the closure of all places where people can gather. This is a deep blow but a necessary one.

We are now required to do what, until today, was simply advised: stay home, except to fetch the essentials, to exercise, or to go to work if you can't work from home. It's very simple and stark and no-one can misunderstand. 

If we succeed, by minimising the transmission of the disease from one household to another, we can avoid the fate of Italy, where the disease leapt upon them before they had sufficient capacity in their health service to withstand it.

The reason for the restrictions is simply to slow the spread so we can build up our stocks of ventilators, protective personal equipment, and testing kits. 

In general, I don't inflict my private life on you but on this occasion I thought I'd share what my family and I are doing. We came down to Wiltshire at the weekend. I expected to return on Monday to go to Parliament.

But on Sunday, my wife and I both developed very mild symptoms which might, or might not, be Covid-19 - so far we think not, or that we've had the weakest dose possible.

Anyway, we are self-isolating in our cottage near Great Bedwyn. This means I am trying to do my job as an MP while also helping my wife manage three children age 10, 8 and 6 - all of whom seem convinced they are on holiday!

I mention this because I have every sympathy with every family suddenly thrown into the dual challenge of home-working and home-schooling. There are upsides, of course - spring is here, and at lunchtime we had a game of football among the daffodils, which is not what I normally do on Mondays. But this isn't going to be easy for anyone, particularly the elderly. 

Our village is like so many others across the constituency. There is a huge store of goodwill, built up over the years, on which neighbours can draw in time of need.

We have an elderly couple down the lane who are being supported by everyone else. My family and I have also been offered massive support for our 14 day isolation, which I hope to repay some day.

I also want to praise the work of the parish and town councils, and the brilliant volunteers, often organised through churches, who have sprung up to organise the practical and social support that so many elderly people are going to need. And above it all, Wiltshire Council, whose staff and leadership have been exceptional. 

I won't go on. It's been a strange week since I last wrote, with Parliament effectively closed, except for the few MPs allowed into the chamber at any time. I've spent a lot of time on the phone to businesses, councils, hospitals, and other community leaders, to understand the pressures they're under and how Government can help.

Obviously a huge number of people have been in touch with problems, offers of help, or suggestions for national policy, and my brilliant team and I have been busy responding as fast as we can, reassuring or helping where we can and passing requests and offers up the Whitehall chain as fast as possible. 

The Prime Minister said this week 'each of us is now enlisted.'

This is a war, and we must all act to stop the virus spreading. For some that will be a greater sacrifice than for others, but we are all called to carry the burden that is placed upon us, and to put others ahead of ourselves. 

Posted by Danny Kruger MP at 11:31am

25th February 2020

25th February 2020

Two weeks ago the Government introduced a Bill to give compensation to victims of the Windrush scandal.

This was when thousands of British residents with every right to live here, many of whom had come to this country from the Commonwealth decades ago, were falsely treated as illegal immigrants by a bureaucracy that couldn’t do simple common sense.

I spoke in the debate to support the compensation and to argue for more human and flexible public services across the board. 

I spent most of the week sitting in the Agriculture Bill committee, taking evidence from experts and advocates of different interests in the farming industry.

There was overwhelming support for replacing the Common Agriculture Policy with a system which pays farmers for the public goods they deliver, but no consensus on what those public goods are, or whether farming itself - the production of food - is one of them. I had an exchange with the Guardian’s George Monbiot:

He disagreed with my suggestion that grass-fed cattle herds enable effective carbon sequestration.

Mr Monbiot thinks the countryside is harmed by ‘agricultural sprawl’ and that we should let the majority of the English landscape revert to nature, and grow our food in vertical factories. I don’t!
 
Last week was recess, which meant I could spend more time in the constituency. I spent an instructive afternoon at HMP Erlestoke, near Devizes.

The brilliant Friends of Erlestoke Prison are fundraising for an all-weather football pitch for prisoners, which I strongly support - fitness and teamwork skills are not luxuries but necessities for life, and sport has been proven to reduce violence in prison and reoffending on release. Let me know if you’d like to help.

I also had the chance to visit another secure establishment - the new technical accommodation for the Royal Signals - being built by Aspire, the contractors responsible for the rebasing of our troops coming back from Germany. It was tremendous to see this new base and all the glorious kit the Engineers boast.

Highlight of the week was the visit to the Urchfont Community Shop’s 15th birthday party.

The shop was launched and is run by local people, with 55 residents on a volunteer rota to man it, 7 days a week.

There is a lot of independent energy in Urchfont. Someone has worked out that the place has had 111 different spellings of its name, with ten different initial letters. Anticipating its effort on the shop some years later, in 1929 the village built a hall for itself, which still bears the name ‘Erchfont’, spelt thus. I was delighted to cut the birthday cake for the shop and congratulate the brilliant team who run it. 

Just north of Urchfont is the spot we hope to see a new train station to serve Devizes and the district. I’ve had a great response to my appeal for support and suggestions, for this and other railway schemes - please do let me know if you’d like me to represent your wishes to the Government when we submit proposals early next month. 
 
If Urchfont was joyful, Julia’s House was moving beyond words. This is the hospice in Devizes for sick children, including those who do not expect to live long, and who spend time in a lovely room with stars on the ceiling and a painting on the wall of a winged white horse.

Julia’s House works with over 50 families across Wiltshire, (and 100 at the sister hospice in Dorset) providing the warmest, friendliest care both for children and for their parents and siblings. They need our support. Please get in touch at www.juliashouse.org if you’d like to help. 

This week Parliament meets again and we start going through the Agriculture Bill line by line.  And, I’ll be at Larkhill on Friday to meet the team planning the new Royal Artillery Museum on Salisbury Plain, and will also meet residents who are opposed to the current plans for the scheme.

I haven’t yet decided whether to support the plans or not, so I look forward to hearing from all interested parties.

In the afternoon I’m holding a surgery in Durrington so do please book in to see me if there’s anything I can help with; and I’ll finish up at the Dog and Gun in Netheravon at 5ish: do join me for a pint.

Finally, I am very keen to establish an open dialogue with people across the Constituency and I am planning to hold regular Public Meetings where we can discuss local, national and international issues.

The first of these meetings is taking place at St Mary’s Church, Marlborough, SN8 1JE on Thursday 5 March at 7:30pm.  

Please do come along with your friends where I hope we will enjoy a wide-ranging and convivial topical discussion.  

My thanks go to Marlborough Churches Together for organising this event, and I am looking forward to holding further meetings in other communities over the next few months.      

Posted by Danny Kruger MP at 10:18am

26th January 2020

26th January 2020

On Monday, the House of Commons passed a motion approving the Queen’s Speech, the Government’s legislative programme which was read out by Her Majesty before Christmas and has been debated over the last 10 days.

To my mind, this vote was as significant as the passage of the Brexit Bill, because it shows this Government is determined to do much more than simply ‘getting Brexit done’.

We need to maximise the opportunities of leaving the EU, but we also need to mitigate the risks - and above all, we have to take steps to bring our country together. That means reducing the inequalities and disparities that divide us and making our communities, especially towns and rural areas far from London, stronger and more united. 
 
The Queen’s Speech set out a number of important initiatives to do this. Especially relevant for us is the Agriculture Bill, which will be the most important legislation for rural communities since the 1947 Agriculture Act.

The new Act will set out a system of land management which doesn’t simply subsidise farms, but pays farmers for the ‘public goods’ they deliver, including environmental stewardship, animal welfare and, of course, good food. I am determined to make sure the new system works for Wiltshire farmers and I would welcome any suggestions for how to improve the legislation. I am planning some local events at which I hope to hear from farmers and others interested in this Bill.
 
The Queen’s Speech also announced an immigration bill that will lay the foundation for a fair, modern and global immigration system once we end free movement from the EU; commitments to tackle climate change; further support for the NHS and a plan to address the crisis in social care; the strengthening of the Armed Forces Covenant; measures to improve prisons and reduce reoffending and domestic abuse; and plans to boost regional growth in England, with more decisions being made at a local level. 
 
I am very proud to have been part of the big majority that voted this Speech through. Now we have to deliver.

In other news, I have held a series of meetings with councillors to discuss the range of challenges and opportunities facing our communities; I have begun hiring staff for my office in Devizes and in London; and I have continued to process the backlog of correspondence coming in since the election. I’m sorry if you’re still waiting for a reply - we are doing our best!

I spent last Friday in the Tidworth area, meeting Col Andrew Dawes, Commander South West, and his colleagues to discuss the relocation of thousands of soldiers and their families from Germany to Salisbury Plain. I held a surgery at the Tidworth Leisure Centre and dropped in at St James’s Church in Ludgershall, where I was hugely impressed to hear from Rev Tim Laundon about the 30-strong army of volunteers in the village who support elderly and isolated residents. I finished the day in the Crown Inn chatting to a group of regulars and receiving a helpful download of opinions about Ludgershall, Wiltshire, the UK and the world!

Danny Kruger MP with Colonel Andrew Dawes
Danny Kruger MP with Colonel Andrew Dawes

I am concerned to hear there may be further delays to the opening of the new Devizes Health Centre. I am completely committed to ensuring the government delivers on the promise secured by my predecessor Claire Perry.

I am confident they will - the Health Secretary Matt Hancock joined me at the site late last year to make this commitment - but we need it sooner rather than later. I have written to Mr Hancock asking him to expedite the project through the NHS bureaucracy. 
 
On Friday 31st January I’ll be holding an Advice Surgery in Devizes - if you have any issues you’d like to raise with me please do make an appointment via the Constituency Office by calling 01380 729358 or email me at danny.kruger.mp@parliament.uk

Posted by Danny Kruger MP at 12:09pm

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