MP for Windsor
Working Hard For You
800 Years on Magna Carta remains a proud Windsor legacy

On a summer’s day in June 1215, after days of negotiation, the royal imprimatur was applied to a document that would underpin the history of democratic evolution across the globe.

It was sealed in at Ankerwycke which is today part of the Windsor constituency and took the form of a typically British document, the result of compromise and competing demands, free from hasty radicalism but which nevertheless formed the foundations of the free society we live in to this day.

The rule of law, trial by a jury of peers, a limit on executive power and protection from imprisonment without trial were all first laid down on that day in 1215. And these guarantees were not easily won.

Initially sealed by King John after political pressure, he conspired with the authorities in Rome to overrule British sovereignty. King John tried to revoke the document, but succumbed to dysentery, which led to his death a year later. His 9 year old son Henry was ultimately responsible for enshrining Magna Carta into law, under the watchful eye of his protector, William Marshal.

Though its passage into law was not the clear cut, magnanimous act that is often remembered, Magna Carta paved the way for the democratic, free society that we still have in Britain. This should never be taken for granted.

But this document is also an inextricable part of Windsor and Berkshire’s legacy despite some ongoing debate about the precise location of events. Unbounded by the shackles of being a qualified historian I am happy to be a shameless politician in supporting Wraysbury’s claim to that honour at Ankerwycke, in my constituency.

I spent this morning celebrating the legacy of Magna Carta with thousands of people up and down this country. It’s one of our proudest contributions to the world, both as a country and as a county. I would encourage everyone to get involved in this national celebration that to this day, keeps us a free and fair country.

To end, I’d like to quote Franklin Roosevelt, the former American President who said:

“The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history. It is human history. It permeated the ancient life of early peoples. It blazed anew in the Middle Ages. It was written in Magna Carta.”

Today we help, tomorrow we must ask questions

The floods in Berkshire are devastating. They have wrecked people’s homes, businesses and lives. My heart goes out to everyone affected by this destruction and I can understand their sorrow, frustration and anger.

Right now, our priority must be taking urgent action to protect ourselves, help those in need, put down sandbags, pump water, defend our homes and businesses or relocate to a safe place.

We need to keep these floods at bay

Water levels are still rising and more rain is forecast across the Thames Valley over the next few days. The Environment Agency has warned that water levels might not stop rising until the middle of this week – or even beyond that. This situation looks set to get worse before it gets better.

So we must work hard to keep as people’s properties safe. Local volunteers have shown us what can be achieved with grit and determination. In Wraysbury there’s a local force of literally hundreds of people, including hard-working flood wardens and local councillors, doing everything they can to help their neighbours and friends.

Wading around the constituency these last few days, I have been overwhelmed by the strength of our community across Berkshire from Ham Island and Old Windsor to Wraysbury, Datchet, Horton and Hythe End. These are people who working tirelessly, often for very long periods without rest or sleep, distributing sand bags, helping people get to safety and making sure people have food and clean water.

A national emergency requires a national response

When I spoke with the prime minister last night he was equally determined to do everything possible to help Berkshire, and will be making all the country’s resources available to Windsor and other flood affected areas. He has said that money is no object in this relief effort, and whatever is needed will be spent. He is committed, as I am, to doing everything possible to alleviate the suffering and make sure that the actual response on the ground is as desired.

It means a lot to have the country on our side, and I am thankful for the prime minister’s support during these tough times. This is a national emergency with deep local repercussions and the prime minister’s unequivocal announcement of further support will be welcomed by lots of people in Berkshire.

Questions about the Environment Agency

In the face of these floods, it’s understandable that people have started to ask difficult questions about the effectiveness of the Environment Agency. We will need answers to lots of different questions in order to learn the necessary lessons for the future. But we cannot get sidetracked by a political row as the waters are rising.

We should be wary of turning this catastrophe into a political blame game at the worst time possible. A game like this will mean very little to people who don’t have somewhere warm and dry to sleep, can’t wash or cook and don’t have access to clean water. Right now, nationally, we need to pull together and concentrate on helping people in the way the residents, like the councillors and wardens in Berkshire have demonstrated.

The time will come for making recommendations and learning lessons and I’m not about to let this issue drop. I want answers and I want action, but only once the imminent danger has cleared. We will need some distance before we are able to find all the answers and this process will need to be level-headed, scientific and fair to everyone involved. I have previously called for an independent review into the actions of the Environment Agency – and I’m doing so again today.

Review of the Environment Agency

Over the last few weeks, it has become clear that lots of people have lost faith in the Environment Agency – both in the agency’s ability to protect them and to act in their interest. Many people have said to me that they feel that the agency hasn’t done enough and may actually have made the situation much worse. This is a great shame because there are many hard-working frontline Environment Agency staff who are playing an absolutely crucial role in the area monitoring and managing flood levels. They have always been professional, knowledgeable and well informed.

In the next few months, I believe we need to commit to a full, thorough and speedy review of the Environment Agency’s actions during the last few months and their role in general. This review should tie up all of the important unanswered questions, and it should be undertaken in a calm and scientific way.

This review should look at whether the Jubilee River contributed to flood levels downstream this year. There are reasonable concerns that the Jubilee River diverted too much water and flooded Ham Island, Datchet and Wraysbury when in Maidenhead the Thames was nowhere near capacity. It will also need to answer questions about the length of time it took the Environment Agency to warn local people about the floods and whether dredging could be a possible partial solution.

This process would not only help restore faith in the agency locally, but help us understand how we can improve the Environment Agency operates. It should be able to tell us whether the agency needs extra funding or more internal flexibility to allocate its resources effectively.

It would also help us find a long-term solution for flooding risk in Berkshire and the rest of the Thames Valley. This might mean a return to dredging, fast-tracking the construction of the extension of the Jubilee River to Teddington or other measures. I’m sure there will be no silver bullet and that this will take time and thought, but we must commit ourselves to this process so that next time we’re more prepared.

But before we can find long-term solutions we need to get people to safety. We need to focus on people, their homes and their future. I for one don’t want politicians and others to waste valuable energy on petty disputes when people in this country are suffering.


LOCAL Column: Sunday, 03 October 2010

I’ve often felt that our beautiful area is under constant threat from insensitive over-development. The volume of letters, emails and phone calls I receive on the subject seems to confirm the suspicion.

So I’m delighted to hear that the Secretary of State has confirmed new planning regulations in the Royal Borough which will help maintain the rural character of two Green Belt sites in Wraysbury.

Last year, the Council agreed to impose measures that meant anyone wanting to erect a fence or wall on a plot in Coppice Field or Thamesfield would have to apply to the council for planning permission. Whilst a step in the right direction, these measures needed confirmation from the Secretary of State for them to be deemed permanent; that confirmation was received by the council last week.

This is fantastic news for all those who work so hard to stop over-development and unlawful behaviour in planning applications. So I want to take this opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to the many active residents, local councillors and, in particular, Su Burrows, of Wraysbury. She’s done a fantastic job on behalf of residents and continues the fight to protect Green Belt land in the borough.

We’re fortunate to live in a lovely part of the country, with such an active community. Let’s continue the fight to keep it that way!