Monthly Archives: May 2011

royal wedding

The centre of London on the day of the wedding was cut by police barriers; the underground stations were closed; it felt hot; and there was someone on every paving-stone between Millbank and Leicester Square. It took me an hour and a half to find a route though the crowd back to my aunt’s flat, and I just had time to drop my tail-coat and pick up a toothbrush, before heading back to Euston. Once home, I was asked about the wedding in Pooley Bridge, Crosby Ravensworth, Appleby, Tebay and Kirkandrew-on-Esk; in Longtown, Temple Sowerby and Warwick Bridge; and I didn’t know what to say.

I sat for an hour, for example, with a Royal Wedding street-party in Shap. The grandparents were wrapped against the cold wind, the parents were enjoying the bright sun, the children were riding round and round on bicycles and on the edge of the crescent of houses, lambs were grazing. I was given a slice of Union Jack cake, and someone politely asked the questions, which my mother asks about every wedding. What did you think of the bride’s dress? Who did you meet? But they were far better informed than I. They had seen it through cameras flying down the buttresses, and zooming in on the princess’ ring-finger, with an expert commentator who could tell the Agong of Malaysia from the Sultan of Brunei. Everyone agreed that Catherine’s mother’s dress was perfect; that Princess Beatrice’s outfit was not; that Harry was fun and that the couple were very much in love. But I hadn’t noticed any of those things. I was seated two rows back in the nave, behind the broad scarlet coat of a Yeoman of the Guard and a tree: a slender Field Maple with bright green leaves, with lily of the valley at its base. Oh, and I saw beech in the transept. I was used to weddings where guests pour in at the last moment; ushers try to seat giggling long-lost cousins; old men laugh over organ music, mothers try to soothe babies, fathers carry them outside; and where there are children, in white, under everyone’s feet.

It was not that kind of wedding. We arrived more than two hours before the service, each of us with our own colour-coded ticket. I was sat next to the Prince’s farm manager and his wife. Our view was of a thousand wooden chairs, a ceiling a hundred feet high and monuments to forgotten heroes on the walls. It was cool and very quiet and there were no celebrities in sight. Facing me was a soldier in uniform, with many medals. He served, I think, with Prince Harry in Afghanistan. Behind him, was a deer-stalker from Scotland. The old head of the Prince’s security team, who I had last seen in Kabul, was wearing an immaculate tail-coat. We talked a little about dairy farming in Gloucestershire. Someone who had known Prince William as a boy, said she could not quite believe that he was old enough to be married: and she cried a little.  But generally we sat in silence. There were no children and no flirting cousins and I don’t remember any organ music. Meanwhile, a heavily-built African man in a velvet suit with a silver cane, was led to his seat; the clergymen and choir-masters stopped pacing in the aisle; and the grand old men of the Queen’s bodyguard, in their silver helmets and ostrich feather plumes, shuffled into position.

When the court trumpeters played their fanfare, and the yeoman of the guard entered with their cockades in their hats, it seemed for a moment like the prelude to a comic opera. But that was the end of pomp and circumstance. Despite all the generals and uniforms, there were no marching men, clanking spurs, forest of swords, nor bugle calls. Despite all the inheritance of a 1400 year old crown, there were no rituals ofEdward the Confessor, and no great reeling off of titles. Despite the copes and mitres, crosiers and choirs, the churchmen seemed formal but not priggish: dignified, without pomposity.  The sermon was wonderful. And although every movement had been rehearsed and perfected: in some cases by generations long dead, it was not lifeless. It moved like a dance.

And now I’m back in my kitchen, exactly two weeks later. The blackbirds fell silent three hours ago and all I can hear is the mosquito-like buzz of the strip-light above my head. It’s past midnight and I haven’t said anything about the other days of the fortnight: the local elections, or the anniversary of my first year as an MP, or my father’s 89thbirthday. Yesterday, I brought the Skills Funding Agency and Askham Bryan together to talk about Newton Rigg and we made some progress. The willow-warblers are back from Africa and there are whorls, like miniature bee-hives, on the walnut twigs. Scotland may vote for independence. I am introducing my first proper motion on the floor of the house next week, which will, I hope bring mobile coverage to two million more people in rural Britain. And Bin Laden has been killed. But Joan Raine has asked me to speak about the wedding…



backbenchers fight and win a battle for the future of rural britain

The House of Commons voted unanimously yesterday  to push the government to provide mobile and broadband coverage for two million more people, particularly in rural areas. The surprise vote, led by
Rory, attracted over a hundred signatures to the motion in four days (more than for any motion, debated on the floor of the House of Commons, in living memory).

The MPs passed the motion in defiance of the regulator, OFCOM, which had proposed not to increase the existing coverage obligation, when they auction the next generation of mobile licences in 2012. Mobile
coverage currently includes only 95 per cent of the population 90 per cent of the time, meaning that up to 7 million people in UK do not receive mobile coverage and many more do not receive fast broadband connections. This significantly disadvantages rural businesses and rural communities – particularly with more and more services moving on-line.

Backbench MPs, particularly from rural areas, turned out in mass to push for much wider coverage. Over 20 MPs spoke.

In his opening speech, hailed by dozens of MPs from all sides of the House, Rory called on the government to increase the scope of its ambition to bring mobile and broadband coverage for everyone in the UK. Mr Stewart argued that in claiming that the final 5% of the population was uneconomic to serve with mobile broadband, the government and Ofcom were being “Penny wise, pound foolish”. “Everyone is looking for growth and a positive future for Britian: good broadband and mobile infrastructure throughout the country is one of smartest, cheapest forms of infrastructure investment that we can make.”

Mr Stewart praised “the extraordinary people” of the Eden District of Cumbria who have been leading community broadband projects in remote areas and praised the moves by Cumbria’s doctors and nurses, policeman and teachers, to make more use of modern technology. But he warned their jobs would be made impossible unless the government ensures that high-speed coverage in rural areas can keep up with the coverage in urban ones:

He said: “The justification for the Cumbria police closing police stations is that they want policemen to be on the streets more, using their tablets to transmit data straight back to the police station. Nurses and doctors visiting people in their homes rely on being able to transmit data in real time back to a hospital from the home. Education is being transformed by online learning.”

Mr Stewart warned the government: “Are we prepared to turn around in 2015 and say to people in this country and people in our constituencies, “No, everybody else in the world can have this thing, but you can’t have it?”

Mr Stewart ended by saying: “Let us not allow the clever arguments of narrow economists who are blind to technology and obsessed with making their auction feature in a particular fashion allow Britain to miss
the chance to get what it needs for its economy, for its society, for its health, for its education and for its communities by signing up to the best superfast mobile and broadband coverage in Europe.”

The vigorous debate, which lasted three hours, with speeches and interventions from more than 30 MPs, finished with a unanimous vote for Mr.Stewart’s motion. Mr.Stewart said: “We now need to see a concrete proposal from OFCOM on how they will extend coverage. They can do it by imposing a coverage obligation or the treasury could commit a small fraction of the money which it will make from the licence auction.  What matters is that the millions of excluded people in Britain are given mobile broadband coverage as soon as possible.”


glenmore trust’s community garden launch

Rory was “delighted and honoured” to plant a commemorative oak tree at the launch of the Glenmore Trust’s community gardens initiative at their Heathlands Farm project outside Carlisle. Guided by project manager Bill Parkin, Rory met with staff and members of the project in a tour of the farm, which included a presentation on the Trust’s recent achievements.

Rory said: “It’s a pleasure and an honour to be here today, and meet with all the people involved in the Glenmore Trust’s excellent work here at Heathlands. I’m delighted to be able to see the wide range of activities offered by the Trust here, and am so impressed at its community gardens project. I look forward to supporting the Trust in the future, and to visiting again to see how my tree grows.”

The Glenmore Trust works with adults and young people with learning disabilities, and provides residential and domiciliary support enabling those with disabilities to live as independently as possible; formed in 1988, it began as a partnership of social services, East Cumbria Health Authority, Impact Housing Association, and Carlisle and Penrith Mencap Societies. The Heathlands Farm site was set up in 2006 at Harker Road Ends, and offers a wide range of day services. It is hoped that the centre will eventually offer allotments, wildlife walks and activities, and a cafe, all of which will be  available to the local community.

Bill Parkin, Project Manager at Heathlands, said: ““It was a great pleasure for all of us at the Heathlands Project (part of the Glenmore Trust) to meet Rory; he won many hearts on his visit. Whilst at the project Rory planted an oak tree to commemorate the start of the community gardens at Heathlands, funded by Biffa and The Lottery Peoples millions and to be completed this summer. This project will transform an acre of wasteland, add drainage, a polytunnel, a rain water collection system, car parking and roads and will be available for local people to use free of charge. The oak tree was particularly appropriate as an acorn is The Glenmore Trust’s logo, signifying what can be built from a small start.”


Rory Speaks on Rural Broadband and Mobile Coverage


I beg to move, that this House recognises that rural businesses and rural communities across the UK are isolated and undermined by slow broadband and the lack of mobile voice and mobile broadband coverage; urges Ofcom to increase the coverage obligation attached to the 800MHz spectrum licence to 98 per cent.; and calls upon the Government to fulfil its commitment to build both the best superfast broadband network in Europe and provide everyone in the UK with a minimum of 2 Mbps by 2015.

I am grateful for the opportunity to move this motion, which also bears the names of 100 other Members of Parliament. When I last saw Ed Richards, the head of Ofcom, he said that the most powerful argument he required was a political argument. He wanted to hear that Members of Parliament cared about broadband and mobile coverage. If that is all he requires, I might as well resume my seat now. I am not an expert on the constitutional history of this House, but as far as I know there have not been so many names on a motion on the Order Paper for debate on the Floor of the House in recent memory.

I wish to thank very much everybody who has supported this motion. I wish to thank first my hon. Friends from Cumbria, on both sides of the House, as well as the many Members who have put so much energy into mobile broadband over the last three to five years. That includes my hon. Friends the Members for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) and for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), and of course many Members from other parties. From the Liberal Democrats, we have had contributions from the hon. Members for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Chippenham (Duncan Hames)—to roll out the Cs—and from the Labour side, we have had support from the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas), and the right hon. Members for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) and for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). We have also had support from the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru.

What, though, is the motion facing us today? It has three parts. The first focuses on rural need, which I hope Members will address in their speeches. The second focuses on mobile coverage, and the third focuses on the Government’s commitment to super-fast broadband. All three are connected. In a sense, it is already outdated to separate them. It is increasingly clear that a separation between voice coverage and data coverage is a thing of the past; that an attempt to separate the rural areas from the urban areas is a thing of the past. The central fact about broadband and mobile coverage is that it is—not to be too pretentious—a single global universe. Nevertheless, I will hand over to other Members, who will talk about the first and third elements of the motion. I will focus exclusively on the second part—the mobile coverage obligation.

Enormous thanks are due not just to the many Members whom I have mentioned, but to the civil servants who have worked unbelievably hard in Broadband UK to make this happen. It is unfair to pick out names, but I would like, in particular, to thank Mike Kooley, Rob Sullivan and Jim Savage. I would also like to thank Ministers, including the Minister here today, the Secretary of State and all the communities that have been working so hard. I hope that others will develop that point, but again, although it is unfair to pick out names, I want to mention those extraordinary people in Eden—Libby Bateman, Miles Mandelson and others in the Leith-Lyvennet broadband group—who have been pushing ahead with their programme. However, that is not the subject of my speech today.

I am here to speak about mobile broadband coverage. I will take 30 seconds to explain the issue. This is the last chance for a generation to provide good mobile broadband coverage for 6 million people who will not otherwise get it. It is the last chance because, at the end of the month, the Ofcom consultation closes. That consultation will determine the coverage obligation imposed on mobile telephone companies for the 800 megahertz spectrum. This is a spectrum on which we all depend for our smartphones, our iPads and iPhones. It is also a spectrum that is ideal for rural areas. So why has Ofcom stated in its consultation that it has no intention of increasing the coverage from the current level, which, as hon. Members will know, is 95% of the population, 90% of the time? That equates to about 87% of the population.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is not even that level of coverage? The companies produce maps claiming that there is coverage, only for people to find—I am in this position at home—that it does not actually work.

Rory Stewart: That is an enormously good point. It is a matter of bewildering complexity. Ofcom is over-layering four different models dependent on masts, terrain, topography and thickness of walls, and the reality is, as the hon. Gentleman says, that 90% of the time for 95% of the people is probably an overestimate of what we are currently getting.

Nevertheless, Ofcom states in its consultation document that it can see no benefits from extending the coverage further. In fact, it states on page 67 that the costs would outweigh the benefits. Why? Because it is worried about losing money in the auction—nobody knows how much—and is worried that when it tries to sell the radio spectrum, which it owns, to the mobile telephone companies and asks them to increase their coverage obligation from 95% to 98% these companies might pay less in the auction. Indeed, they may. It stands to reason they would pay less, but probably not as much less as Ofcom fears.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): It may indeed stand to reason, but the evidence from past auctions of the spectrum does not show bidders producing bids while in any sense respecting the cost base of the project on which they are about to embark.

Rory Stewart: That is an excellent point. The reality of auctions is not that people operate on a fully rational basis, counting the number of their masts and then bidding exactly less than that. We have all participated in auctions. They are elaborate psychological procedures that are exactly designed to extract as much money as possible.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): My hon. Friend is putting the point so eloquently that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cover the sorts of constituents that he and I represent, along with many others in the House. Does he agree that there is a risk that Ofcom is being penny wise, pound foolish, and that in future it could become very expensive for this country to have truly mobile broadband?

Rory Stewart: My hon. Friend makes exactly the right point, and much better than I could. “Penny wise, pound foolish” is exactly right. To put it bluntly, it is a no-brainer. This is the time to act. If we are going to do it, we should do it now. There is some fantasy out there that if we get it wrong, we can go back to the mobile telephone companies in two or three years’ time and say, “We’re very sorry, we didn’t impose an obligation on you, but would you mind awfully providing 98% coverage?” However, by that time they will already have begun to lay out their infrastructure and will have made their decisions. Acting then will be more expensive, the mobile telephone companies will be under no obligation to do so, and we will have to pay them. At that point their interests will not be aligned with ours.

If we impose an obligation at the right moment and say, “You’ve got the licence; now provide 98% coverage,” their interests will be to provide it as cheaply and efficiently as possible. If, on the other hand, we approach the mobile telephone companies in three years’ time as a contractor, we should remember that there will then be an additional problem. As my hon. Friend suggests, if we do it now, there is no cost to the taxpayer. The money would not come from raising taxes from people or stealing it from another Department. All that we would be doing is taking the risk that we would make slightly less in the auction. That would not be the case in three years’ time. If in three years’ time we suddenly wanted to spend £215 million on building masts, we would have to tax people or move money from other Departments; and we absolutely know that people who say, “Give me that bird in your hand, because I can promise you those two in the bush in three years’ time,” are almost certainly misleading us. This is the time to do it.

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): While my hon. Friend is on the subject of investment in broadband paying for itself, does he agree that part of the significance of the measure—the Government are to be congratulated on the investment—is that every pound that we spend on rural broadband will pay back UK plc in spades? In my constituency, where coverage is extremely poor, communities are waiting for the opportunity to start businesses back in villages and drive a model of sustainable development. The investment will pay for itself; we merely need to think about how we recoup that benefit and use it to invest in infrastructure.

Rory Stewart: That is a fantastic point. I will come to growth in a second, but perhaps, rather than taking any more interventions, I could now make some progress and accelerate through my speech so that everyone can get in.

There is only one question—the fundamental question—that we need to ask Ofcom: does mobile broadband technology matter? Will this thing that I have in my pocket—this mobile device—and that everyone else has in their pocket matter in five years’ time? Will people be using iPads and iPhones then? If we have reason to believe that the technology is important, why are we proposing to leave between 6 million and 9 million in this country on the current figures excluded from using these machines? For the sake of what? Why exactly are we being told that those people should not be able to use the technology?

I hardly need explain to the people in the Chamber why this technology matters or what its uses are. Others will develop that far more, but to run through them quickly, the fantastic comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) was absolutely right. Our economy is driven by these devices. Growth comes from productivity, and the biggest, simplest contribution that we can make to productivity in this country is through broadband and mobile coverage, which is particularly true for rural areas, as the many people in the Chamber from such areas know. Why? Because the biggest contribution to economic growth through mobile and broadband technology is made by small and medium-sized enterprises. What do we have predominantly in rural areas? Small and medium-sized enterprises. My constituency is an example. The national average is that SMEs occupy 50% of the private sector, but in Penrith and The Border, SMEs with fewer than 10 employees employ 92% of our work force. Furthermore, because we are almost starting from scratch in rural areas, we are not talking about a slight increase in speed from 2 megabits to 3 megabits; we are talking about a step change in economic productivity for rural areas.

We are also talking about making a real difference in public services. As we all know, more and more public services are being driven online. In Cumbria, for example, the justification for the Cumbria police closing police stations is that they want policemen to be on the streets more, using their tablets to transmit data straight back to the police station. Nurses and doctors visiting people in their homes rely on being able to transmit data in real time back to a hospital from the home. Education is being transformed by online learning. In the United States, 40% of post-secondary school students are taking a course online. Recent research by Carnegie Mellon university suggests that mixed online and classroom learning can increase the speed at which children learn by 100%. And I do not need to talk about Twitter, Facebook and all the other things that everyone in London, and every child in those parts of the country with mobile coverage, take for granted, except to ask why everyone else should be excluded.

Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an extremely powerful and eloquent speech. In rural areas, we spend more time travelling from place to place, because the distances are greater. The coverage figures that he has given are those for static people when they are at home, but in fact, we spend far more time travelling from A to B, and our communication is often broken further when we do so.

Rory Stewart: My hon. Friend makes a very good point.
My argument is about mobile broadband coverage. What is the argument against extending it in the way that I have suggested? It is cost. Ofcom’s only argument is that it is worried that it might make a little less in the auction. Let us say that, based on the Swedish and German models, the auction is going to generate about £3.215 billion. Ofcom is worried that it might make only £3 billion. For a number of reasons, that is probably an underestimate. That £215 million represents an absolute worst-case scenario. Let us look this directly in the eye: £215 million is less than we spend in three weeks on our operations in Afghanistan. In fact, mobile coverage is one of the smartest, cheapest forms of infrastructure investment that we can make. It is far cheaper than fixed telephone lines, and far cheaper than ports or roads. As far as infrastructure investment that would create real productive growth in the British economy is concerned, £215 million is a small sum of money.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): Could the hon. Gentleman give me some clarification on the figure of £215 million in lost revenue through a change in the coverage? What is the basis for that estimate, and have the providers supported it?

Rory Stewart: It is a very basic estimate predicated on the assumption that, to increase from 95% to 98% coverage, we would need to build approximately 1,500 masts, and that the average cost of a mast hovers at just under £150,000. So the figure of £215 million represents a worst-case scenario. The assumption is that the mobile phone companies will cover some of the costs of the masts anyway, because they will get increased revenue as a result of installing them. The Government should not have to pay for all those masts. Furthermore, companies such as Three already have the infrastructure in place, and were those companies to win that chunk in the auction, they would not have to pay to install new masts. The £215 million is a worst-case projection for getting up to 1,500 extra masts and pushing through to 98% coverage.

Are we prepared to turn around in 2015 and say to people in this country and people in our constituencies, “No, everybody else in the world can have this thing, but you can’t have it. In every other part of Britain, if you happen to live in central London, you will be able by 2015 to attach a device to your heart, which can monitor your vital signs, transmit in real time to a hospital, regulate your drug intake and help you stay at home. I am sorry, though, but you live in Northumbria and you are not going to be allowed to have it”?

Are we prepared to turn around to students and say, “Everywhere else in this country, if you happen to live in Chelsea or the centre of Manchester, you can do online learning, you can learn the harp, you can study German or Russian. In fact, you can study anything you want from anyone you want at any time you want, but unfortunately you live in Suffolk, so you are not going to be able to do those things.”?

By 2015 it will not be just data-rich businesses or internet-rich businesses, but the basic small and medium-sized enterprises that will be dependent on these devices to cut their transaction costs, increase their reach to market, drop their advertising costs and so on. Are we prepared to turn round to every one of those businesses and say, “Of course it is extremely beneficial for a business to have these services—in fact, it is the only way a business can compete and survive—but because you don’t happen to be located in the very centre of London, you are not going to be able to work in that way.” ?

Are we to say to a farmer, “Through this technology, you might be able to use special identification tags and make some use of the astonishing bureaucracy being imposed on you, but only if you happen to be farming in Chelsea. If you are farming in the uplands of Cumbria, you might as well forget about it.”?

We are looking for a positive narrative. We are looking for a narrative around growth. We are looking for growth, which is not effectively saying, “Oh, we are just going to get 90% of the country going”. We are looking for growth that is saying, “We want 100% of this country going.” Growth is about productivity; productivity is about the internet. If we are looking for a positive narrative, let it be this: at the moment, our best mobile next-generation coverage is worse than that of Uzbekistan. I know something about Uzbekistan. I would not be surprised if someone were to stand up and say to me, “In Uzbekistan, there are more political prisoners in jail than there are in Britain”. However, I am not just surprised, but horrified to learn that in Uzbekistan, the mobile next-generation coverage is better than it is in the United Kingdom.

Let us stand behind this motion. Let us push Ofcom with all our might to take that small risk to reach that 98% of coverage. Let us not allow the clever arguments of narrow economists who are blind to technology and obsessed with making their auction feature in a particular fashion allow Britain to miss the chance to get what it needs for its economy, for its society, for its health, for its education and for its communities by signing up to the best superfast mobile and broadband coverage in Europe.


broadband activism in askham

Rory, attended a broadband meeting at Askham village hall on Saturday to discuss community action and the benefits of superfast broadband with residents of Askham, Helton, Bampton and the surrounding area. In a meeting convened by newly-elected District Councillor and local broadband champion Mike Slee, Rory discussed the ways in which communities can get involved in the roll-out of superfast broadband, as demonstrated by community groups such as the Northern Fells Broadband Group and Great Asby Broadband. Speaking to a packed hall, Rory offered to support residents and suggested ways in which they might come together and form a local broadband group.

Rory said: “The turnout today was very, very encouraging. There is clearly a lot of knowledge and  expertise in the Askham area, and a huge desire to improve internet access for all. The community needs to gauge demand and try to raise awareness of the importance of getting superfast broadband into our villages; then, they should form a group to investigate the options available to them. Several groups have already formed in Penrith and the Border, and all are very willing to share their  knowledge with any new community groups wishing to form. The inkspot of interest is spreading, which is great news.”

Rory also met on Friday with manager Angela Richardson of the Grow IT! in Eden project, an exciting new initiative funded by UK Online and based at Penrith’s Eden Rural Foyer. Rory offered his
support to the project and has pledged to try and obtain donations of unused IT equipment from local businesses. He said: “The Grow IT! In Eden project is an excellent initiative, and has a natural home in the Eden Rural Foyer, where there is already a great cyber cafe. Enabling local broadband champions with the tools and resources to spread the word and educate about the benefits of broadband is of crucial importance to make sure that we are delivering superfast broadband to
a receptive and knowledgeable audience.”

The project will raise awareness of IT and the uses of the internet by identifying and training local digital champions to educate about the advantages of broadband. The project will be launched on Tuesday 24th May from 4-5pm at the Eden Rural Foyer, Penrith, and there will be taster sessions on the same day from 5-6pm and on Thursday 26th May from 1-6pm.


eden credit union

Rory met with organisers and members of the newly formed Eden Credit Union study group in Penrith on Friday, to sign a pledge form to become a member of the Union. Supported by a variety of Cumbrian organisations, including the Cumberland Building Society, Impact Housing, and Eden District Council, the Union has been formed to encourage a new way of saving for Eden residents. After saving a small amount for a short time, savers will be eligible for loans at affordable interest rates and, because the Union’s savers and borrowers are local to Eden, money will remain in the community.

Rory has pledged to become a regular saver with the Union, and said: “Eden deserves a great credit union; it’s a model that has worked already in over 90 countries worldwide, and is a common way of saving and lending on the continent. There are already six credit unions in Cumbria, and what is so brilliant about the model is that it is a local organisation run for the local community, which encourages local saving and spending for adults and juniors alike. Its local appeal makes it perfect for Eden, and I encourage anyone who is able to save even a small amount each month to get in touch with Pat and her team to make a pledge to become a saver.”

Pat Godwin, Chair of Eden Credit Union’s Study Group said: “We are delighted that Rory has pledged to join Eden Credit Union. Once the Credit Union is established in Eden anyone who lives or works in Eden will be able to save with the Credit Union and access affordable loans. This venture will help to strengthen the local economy in Eden and we already have the support of both local councils, Eden Housing Association and the Cumberland Building Society. We need as many pledges as possible to get do this, so I hope that lots of other people follow his example and pledge on line.

More information about the Eden Credit Union can be found at, or by telephoning 07780031045



eden valley hospice

Rory visited Eden Valley Hospice’s Durdar Road, Carlisle base on Friday, where he met with staff and Board members of the renowned Cumbrian hospice charity, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Guided by Chair Carol Ferguson and Head of Nursing Services Gillian Ward, the local MP visited the day hospice, adult in-patients’ ward, out-patients’ clinic and children’s day and respite care centre, and chatted with doctors, nurses and administrative staff. He has promised to support the Hospice’s fundraising efforts in whatever way he can.

Rory said: “Cumbria’s hospice tradition is legendary: in both Eden Valley Hospice and Hospice at Home we have two enormously impressive home-grown charities that provide the most crucial of support at what is the most difficult and challenging time in a person’s – and their family’s – life. Not only that, but in their newly-built wing they have provision for pre- and post-bereavement care that they offer for as long as needed. Above all, the Eden Valley Hospice is a place of real light and joy: I could sense a very calm and caring atmosphere, created no doubt by the wonderfully positive and thoughtful staff, and a dedicated group of around 400 volunteers who support them.”

Picture: Rory with Carol Ferguson (centre) and Gillian Ward (left) and nurse’s in the children’s activity room of the Eden Valley Hospice in Carlisle



solar power at bolton village hall

Rory enjoyed a visit to Bolton Village Hall on Thursday, where he met and chatted with the village hall committee and saw the hall’s newly-installed photovoltaic cells. The hall’s move to renewable energy by fitting solar panels – from local Appleby firm Love Solar – was made possible by the village’s inclusion in the government’s Big Society vanguard project, which Rory Stewart has been championing since last July. The local MP helped secure funding for the village hall project, which is designed to show other villages within the Heart of Eden community plan boundaries, and further afield, the potential for generating income through Feed-in-Tariffs, an initiative that has already been successfully pioneered at Bampton village hall, amongst others.

Rory commented: “Renewable energy is of course the future. With rising energy costs, increasing fuel poverty, and worrying predictions about our environment, we need to be looking at these alternative sources of energy very seriously. PV cells really do work: by having them on the village roof, residents can see how unobtrusive yet effective they are. The Heart of Eden group and Bolton’s village hall committee have worked closely together to create this exemplar, which will serve as a great model for other village hall committees to follow.”

Peter Smith, Chairman of the Heart of Eden community group said: “Without Rory this would not have been possible. He has supported our initiative and has encouraged us all along to ensure that other villages can learn from this project. We hope that all village halls in Eden will eventually take on this model, and we’ll be investing our own resources of time, energy and knowledge into ensuring that we can share the learning more widely.”

Picture below: Peter Smith (left) and Rory Stewart MP with members of Bolton’s village hall committee


rural broadband and mobile coverage debate

Rory will open a full debate in the House of Commons on May 19th on the subject of rural broadband and mobile phone coverage. If he wins he hopes mobile coverage will be provided to an additional 2 million people around Britain and rural broadband will be significantly extended. Rory’s motion has garnered much cross-party support for the debate from MPs across the country, including Workington MP Tony Cunningham.

The motion of the debate is: “That this House recognises that rural businesses and rural communities across the UK are isolated and undermined by slow broadband and the lack of mobile voice and mobile broadband coverage; urges Ofcom to increase the coverage obligation attached to the 800MHz spectrum license to 98%; and calls upon the Government to fulfil its commitment to build both the best superfast broadband network in Europe and provide everyone in the UK with a minimum of 2Mbps by 2015.” Full debates proposed by backbenchers instead of the Government, or the opposition, are relatively unusual and only occur when the House of Commons concludes the subject is of unique interest or importance.

Rory said: “I’m absolutely delighted that I have managed to secure this debate – essentially, a full Parliamentary debate – to push for wider broadband and to extend mobile telephone coverage in rural areas. If I can get that motion passed  next Thursday, it should make a real difference to government policy and to 2 million people around the country.”

northern flood conference

Rory has shown his support for Cumbrian communities affected by flooding at the Northern Flood Conference, held in Carlisle on Saturday, where he joined fellow Cumbrian MPs Jamie Reed (Copeland) and Tony Cunningham (Workington) in a  wide-ranging discussion on the issues affecting Cumbrian communities at risk of flooding.

The conference, organised by a consortium of Cumbrian organisations including Cumbria CVS, Cumbria Community Foundation, the Environment Agency and flood actions groups from Keswick, Cockermouth, and Morpeth, raised issues surrounding community support, flood defence measures, home insurance and government legislation. Speakers included the Commission for Rural Communities’ Dr Stuart Burgess, the Environment Agency’s Phil Younge, and Heather Shepherd of the National Flood Forum.

The Cumbrian MPs agreed that flood prevention and support was a cross-party issue, and expressed their commitment to working together to ensure better support for affected communities.

Rory said: “Living in a flood risk area is deeply distressing. Cumbria has suffered real trauma because of flooding recently, and this conference has been immensely important in bringing together committed local campaigners, members of government agencies, and Cumbrian politicians to discuss how we can better work together to make sure that flood risks are minimised, communities work better together to combat the trauma of flood, and to find solutions to issues such as rising insurance premiums, and implementing better drainage measures. We have ahead of us a real opportunity, with the upcoming Water Bill, to feed into national legislation the needs of communities at risk of flooding. Communities need also to feed us information; tell us where your drainage needs are; bring us examples of prohibitive insurance premiums. These concrete examples help us to better fight your corner in Parliament, and that we are absolutely committed to doing.”