The BBC is a great British institution which is held in high esteem by many people, and consequently the renewal of the BBC Charter has caused much interest and speculation over the preceding months.

The White paper on the future of the BBC was published last week, but prior to this there was a thorough period of consultation, two independent reviews, a public opinion study and several round table meetings between Ministers and industry representatives. There was also a public consultation which brought thousands of representations from the public. At the time there was concern that because many of these were ‘template’ responses which came via a campaigning organisation that they would not be counted, but these fears were unfounded as they were all logged as responses for consideration.

There were various rumours circulating before last week’s announcement over what the contents would be, but many of these have been proved to be false as the contents of the White Paper have been broadly welcomed by people across the industry.

There are those who feel it could have gone further and those who don’t, but it appears a well-judged and thought-out document. The media world is changing very rapidly as advances in technology make different ways of accessing BBC content more and more available. This has created a loophole whereby people can watch BBC content on catch-up without a TV Licence, and this is one of many things the White Paper addresses by closing this loophole.

There are changes to the way the BBC is to be governed, replacing the BBC Trust with a new unitary board. To avoid accusations of this board being a Government-appointed body - which in turn could lead to accusations of too much Government control of the BBC - at least half of the Board members will be appointed by the BBC.

The licence fee will rise in line with inflation to 2021-22 and there will be pilots of a more flexible payment system to help those on low incomes. The BBC receives £3.7 billion pounds from the licence fee and it is essential to ensure that such a huge amount of money is spent wisely, so to ensure that this is the case the National Audit Office will become the BBC’s financial auditor and all those working for the BBC receiving remuneration packages of over £450,000 per year will see that made public.

There are lots of technical details within the White Paper, but in essence it creates the right framework to strengthen the BBC to enable it to thrive and deliver the best possible service for licence payers in the years ahead.

Readers may remember from my column of April 21st that I wrote about the changing of schools into Academies. As I said at the time, I was and remain supportive of Academy status for schools, but I stated my concern over the potential compulsory academisation of schools as I thought it seemed illogical to force schools that were good or excellent down a road that they may not wish or need to go.

Since April there has been much discussion in Westminster about this proposal. I and other colleagues have expressed our reservations, and at the time of my April column I had written to the Secretary of State outlining my concerns. Since then I have also met with her to reinforce these thoughts. Consequently last week Nicky Morgan announced that the Government were now no longer intending to force all schools to become Academies. I am pleased that the Government have listened to myself and other colleagues on this. I am still supportive of any school that wishes to become an Academy, but if a school is doing well then they no longer face this compulsion. If they take a decision themselves to become an Academy then that is fine, but the key is that now the decision is theirs and not one that could be foisted upon them.

In a similar way the Government also decided that it would not oppose a reworded amendment to the Immigration Bill regarding child refugees. The previous amendment, tabled by Lord Dubs in the Lords, called on the Government to take 3000 child refugees from within Europe. The reasons against accepting this - outlined in my column last week - were that the Government were focusing on child refugees still in the war zone camps who were in greater danger than those already within Europe. There was also a concern that to take children from within Europe could create a ‘pull factor’ giving people traffickers reason to encourage more children to make hazardous journeys.

Again, after much discussion in Westminster between colleagues and Ministers, the Government have indicated that they will accept a new ‘Dubs’ amendment that will bring a number of child refugees from within Europe. These will be children who are already within Europe and have been there prior to the agreement with Turkey over refugees. This allays the Government’s fears over the previous amendment potentially creating an incentive for people traffickers.

Some see the Government changing its mind on things as a weakness, but personally I disagree.  When faced with concerns from backbenchers, who in turn are expressing concerns of constituents, I think it is the democratic process working as it should. With any issue there is never 100% on either side of the argument but I always listen to constituents of all views, try to take those views to Ministers and tell them what the strength of feeling is. When they change the Government position in response I think they should be commended for it.

As the Immigration Bill progresses through the House, there was an amendment tabled in the Lords by Lord Dubs asking that the Government admit into the country 3000 child refugees from across Europe.

When it was voted on, I didn’t support the amendment for a variety of reasons. The Government is taking 3000 children into the UK as part of a resettlement scheme, but this scheme is focusing on children who are at risk in the Middle East and North Africa, these children are sometimes in extreme danger. The children in Europe that the Dubs amendment referred to are in Europe and in safe countries. There is also the risk that the wrong action could have the inadvertent consequence of encouraging people traffickers to encourage more children to risk their lives making sometimes dangerous sea crossing to reach Europe.

The Department for International Development has committed £46 million to help support refugees and this includes £10 million specifically focused on the needs of the children in Europe. It will help identify children in need, provide safe places for them and help trace children to their families. The UK has sent 75 experts to Greece to assist with the arrival of migrants and help identify children ensuring that they get proper support and care as soon as possible. The 3000 children that the Government have agreed to take is on top of the 20,000 refugees that the Government have already committed to take.

This is a dreadful situation and whilst the UK has doubled the aid to the Syrian crisis to £2.3 billion, making it our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis, there is still work to be done. I know some people think that rejecting the Dubs amendment was wrong and I understand that view entirely. I also understand that despite the relative safety of being in Europe compared to the conflict zones that there are still dangers being faced by these children, so we cannot be complacent over it.

I have spoken to several constituents since the vote, and I have promised I will speak to Ministers and colleagues about the Dubs amendment. I am told there will be a new amendment coming before the House next week and I have promised people that I will look carefully at it and fully consider all the representations made to me, on both sides of the argument, before casting my vote. Whatever the outcome, whatever the discussions before and during the debate, it is a terrible situation. The UK is the largest contributor to the crisis in Europe but we must make sure that these contributions go to the places where they are needed most and will make the biggest difference.

The visit of the President of the United States last week was dominated by his views on Britain’s membership of the European Union, and it seems that this debate is going to occupy much of the media from now until June 23rd. I have already been clear over my own view that I believe the country can survive and prosper outside the European Union. That is a position I have arrived at after much consideration and following the Prime Minister’s negotiations on a new deal for Britain inside the EU. 

Politicians - far more senior than I - seem to be trading statistics and speculation over the possible consequences of the result. Whilst I am sure that the President has his view, I’m not sure it was for him to try and intervene in the debate. It would be interesting to see what the American reaction would be if David Cameron were to travel to America and then recommend to the American people who to vote for in the forthcoming US presidential elections.

The press are trying to portray the situation as being war within the Conservative Party, however I can say that is not the case. I concede that some of the comments made recently may have been unhelpful, but among Parliamentary colleagues that I speak to, we acknowledge that we have differing views but we agree to differ. Many of us are taking the position that we have our views, we will articulate them to constituents but we feel that people should be given the opportunity to reach their own conclusions.

I am happy to discuss this matter with people, but whilst it may dominate the national news media, I don’t intend to let it dominate this column over the coming weeks, as there are many other issues that I believe are of equal or greater interest to people across the High Peak.

Over the Easter recess, despite the House of Commons not sitting, there have been various issues concerning politics that have emerged.

Firstly during his Budget speech, the Chancellor referred to the academisation of schools and stated that all schools would either be Academies or in the process of conversion to an Academy by 2020. The Academy programme was something started under the Labour Government and accelerated under the Coalition Government and now the present one. I am supportive of Academies and the principle of them, and I would encourage any school that was considering the move to do so. I do, however, have reservations over compelling schools to go down that route. I know these concerns are shared by others, both in the High Peak and Westminster. There will be those who are opposed to Academies purely on the principle of education being taken out of the control of the Local Education Authority, but others will be worried about the imposition of change on already good or excellent schools that they neither need nor wish for. I would prefer decisions to be made out of practical reasons and not through political or ideological beliefs – on both sides of the argument. I have written to the Secretary of State on this expressing my concern and I am awaiting a reply, but I hope that any future academisation would be through encouragement rather than compulsion.

There has been much made of the tax affairs of Members of Parliament - and indeed other public figures - following the leaking of the ‘Panama Papers’. The Prime Minister has released his own tax returns for preceding years and it is clear that he has not broken the law in any way. He has received criticism from some quarters but there has been very little acknowledgment that since he became Prime Minister he has clamped down on more so-called ‘tax loopholes’ than any previous Government of any persuasion, and the successive Governments he has led have not received proper recognition for this. I won’t join the clamour over the tax affairs of other people, providing they stay within the law. If they break the law then they should be held to account, and if the law is wrong then Governments can change it. The successive changes made under David Cameron have reduced the options for minimising tax liabilities, and he has made clear that the Government will continue to look at further measures along these lines.

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