The issue of how much power the state should have, and how far into our private lives it should be allowed to go is a thorny one, which many people feel very strongly about. How much access should we give various bodies, such as the security services? Given that power, what assurances do we have that they won’t abuse them? If we allow them too much do we forsake our liberty or give future users of such powers the ability to start to control our lives. These are all questions that I understand and indeed in some ways share. However, we also have to concede that we live in a dangerous times and with the advent of the internet and various other methods of electronic communication then the law has to respond to them.

We are facing a world where the frequency of cyber-attacks are increasing, a number of significant terrorist plots have been disrupted, and, according to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre there are 50,000 people downloading indecent images of children. Additionally, organised crime is also turning to using electronic communications. As these crimes have moved online so must some of the forms of detection and surveillance. This means that areas of legislation have to be modified or new legislation brought forward.

Such legislation was introduced into the House last week as the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill. The new Bill is not fundamentally about new powers but more about improving awareness and confidence in the scope of these powers and how they are authorised and overseen. The ability to obtain communications data, intercept communications and obtain computer data is already there but this Bill clarifies which public authorities can use them and for what purpose. It allows the identification of which communications services a person has connected to but not their full internet browsing history and it does not have any new powers with regard to encryption.

Powers will require a warrant and this warrant has to be approved by a judge and he or she will only give that approval when a strong operational case exists and the powers are necessary and indeed proportional. The content of this Draft Bill will be scrutinised by a Joint Committee of Parliament and will also be subject to public consultation prior to a revised Bill being introduced into Parliament in the Spring, but it is important as we see acts of crime and terrorism occurring both at home and abroad, that we enable the people tasked to keep us safe to do that and give them the powers to do so, but with fair and reasonable safeguards, which is the purpose of this draft piece of legislation.

Following on from last week’s column about the ongoing debate on Tax Credits, last week the Government proposals were rejected by the Lords. This throws up a constitutional question around whether an unelected body can overturn decisions made by an elected body. The Lords, traditionally do not interfere on financial issues, so what happened last week was unprecedented. Whilst there are different opinions on the actual issue of tax credits, it throws up wider, more fundamental, questions about the role of the House of Lords. The Prime Minister has set up a group to look at the consequences of this action and what, if anything, should be done.

On the specific matter of tax credits, following the Lords vote the Chancellor has said that he will go back and look at the issue again and bring proposals to the House as part of the Autumn Statement, which is due at the end of November. The need to reduce the welfare bill still remains and the Chancellor will still look to address this, but there is a concern that the original proposals were too much too quickly. Some of my Conservative colleagues expressed these concerns in a recent Opposition Day debate (although they still voted with the Government on the issue), and it is this that the Chancellor will look at. In the original proposals the point at which tax credits ceased to be receivable was reduced from £32,960 annual salary to £26,520 meaning that qualifying families could still receive credits whilst earning up to the £26,520 figure. It was also a fact that the amount being received by those who still qualified would fall as the Chancellor was reducing the taper.

The changes did reduce the amount of Working Tax Credits for many people, but as I said in last week’s column they are being offset by other measures such as the lifting of the personal allowance and the introduction of the National Living Wage. There are examples where these did not completely compensate for the loss, but all these changes should be considered as a whole. This is what the Chancellor will do leading up to the Autumn Statement at the end of the month. The size of the welfare bill has to be addressed so that the money available can go to where it’s needed most, but where the threshold should be set is a question that there are many views on.

There was confusion on the Opposition benches last week when the Government put through the House something called the Charter for Budget Responsibility. This commits Governments to acting responsibly and keeping the public finances in surplus during normal economic times. This ensures responsibility in any Government to prevent the kind of spending seen previously which then led to the deficit which is now having to be confronted and dealt with.

The new Shadow Chancellor had said two weeks ago that the Opposition would be supporting the measure, however when it came to the debate last Wednesday, he told his colleagues to oppose the motion. By opposing this they have effectively confirmed that they would always borrow more and more money, even in times when it needn’t be necessary. The Opposition benches descended into disarray with some Labour MPs openly criticising the position and the confusion that seemed to reign in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

The measure is very sensible. In normal economic times the Government - of whatever persuasion - should look to be prudent with the public finances in preparation for times when money may not be quite so readily available. These conditions will only apply in normal economic times. If the Office for Budget Responsibility (an independent body) judges that the economy has been hit by a significant negative shock – defined as growth of less than 1% a year on a rolling four quarter basis – then the rule will be suspended. This enables the flexibility that may be needed in difficult times yet retains control on Governments not to play fast and loose with the public finances in good times.

It is worth noting at this point that The Office for Budget Responsibility is an independent body set up under the Coalition Government to ensure true independent analysis of the public finances and the economy. This was done after years of massaged figures in the hands of politicians who could spin them to say what they wanted for political purposes. The OBR is now a respected and much quoted body, by all sides of the political divide, but as it retains its independence and the figures and analysis it produces can be relied on to be truly independent, no matter whether they be convenient or inconvenient to the Government of the day.

Assisted dying is something that arouses many different views and opinions on both sides of the argument. A Private Member’s Bill about it was brought before the House on Friday 9th September. People emailed me both for and against the Bill and made their case with great passion and feeling. Fridays are reserved for Private Members Bills and consequently do not always see a high attendance of MPs as it is rare that a Private Members Bill makes it into legislation. However there was a huge attendance of MPs on this particular day, which shows the passions aroused by the issue.

It was a day where as an MP you have to make a decision whether to be in Westminster or in the constituency. As the Tour of Britain cycle race was passing through the High Peak I would have very much liked to have been here to see it, however many constituents asked that, if possible, I be in Westminster for the debate and vote. I took the decision to be in Westminster to listen to and attend as much of the debate as I could. There were so many MPs wishing to speak that it proved impossible to accommodate everyone, but many of the speeches were borne from personal experiences and were consequently very powerful.

As people may know, I did vote in favour of the Bill as I felt that we have a situation at present which is too vague and uncertain. I fully respect all views on this most emotive of subjects and I can assure everyone who wrote to me that I did read and consider all points of view. However, I still felt that the Bill should progress to the next stage where it could be fully studied and scrutinised and any amendments necessary could be made. Whilst I am supportive of the principle of assisted suicide, I am also very aware of the difficulties such legislation could create. Consequently, as I said to many of the people who contacted me on the subject, I would have wanted to see strict guidelines included within the Bill to give protection to people who may be vulnerable to having such a huge decision taken out of their hands.

When the vote was taken, the House had voted convincingly against the principle. This vote means that the Private Members Bill will go no further and in all probability settles the matter for some time.

The main focus in Westminster on its return from the summer recess was the ongoing migrant crisis as refugees from Syria continue to flee the country.

There have been some truly heart-breaking images shown in the media in recent weeks and many people have emailed me on the matter. Britain has a long history of supporting refugees from conflict and persecution, so when the House returned last Monday the Prime Minister made a statement outlining the steps being taken by the Government. He also explained to the House actions taken by drones in killing British nationals who were on the brink of carrying out terrorist attacks on British soil.

The Prime Minister undertook that Britain would accept up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years and these would come from the camps in the Middle East. This will discourage refugees from taking the perilous journey across the Mediterranean which, as we have seen in recent press pictures, are tragically claiming the lives of young and old alike. The foreign aid budget will be used to finance these refugees in the first year but in the longer term the aid spending will continue to be directed at failed states and to the refugee crisis. In terms of spending on aid, the UK has allocated £1 billion in aid since 2012, making us the second largest donor in the world.

The Prime Minister also informed the House of actions taken during August that saw three British nationals, who had joined ISIL, killed by drone strikes. He was very clear that firstly the strike was entirely lawful, and that, as Prime Minister, he would be prepared to act if there is a direct threat to the British people. I have the confidence that he will act judiciously should another occasion arrive. I understand that this could give people concerns but as the threat of direct action from terrorist organisations such as ISIL is there, then drastic actions may on occasions be necessary. These strikes were not part of any coalition military action against ISIL in Syria, but a targeted strike to deal with a clear credible and specific terrorist threat to our security at home. Any proposals to join coalition strikes in Syria would be subjected to a vote in the House of Commons at some future date and only with the support of the House would such an action take place.

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