Monthly Archives: January 2014


Five years ago, walking around Cumbria, I was mesmerised by the echoes of the past. In a section of the Lowther valley, only one new house has emerged since 1700: the white farm-buildings, built into the steep slopes evoked a remote community in the Indian Himalayas. Nature was insistently present: in the ash leaves, slowly emerging; in the cold clarity of the night skies; and the sound of ewes in the morning. So was pre-history, in the three and a half thousand-year-old stone monument nestled in an amphitheatre of tens of thousands of river stones, at Mayburgh. It was not difficult to imagine the Jacobite army, whether chasing the Bishop of Carlisle along the Lowther ridge-line, or retreating through Clifton. This landscape of isolated villages and uplands, deeply marked with history and conflict, stretched from Cumbria and Northumbria to the Scottish borders. It was the landscape of a Middleland – an autonomous zone, not part of either England or Scotland. And its elements –  Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Celt – its green and often cloudy hills, seemed foundation stones of a much broader British identity.

But in 2011, Alex Salmond decided to hold a referendum, pressing for Scottish independence. This vote threatened to replace that broader identity and history, with simpler, narrower ideas of ‘Scotland’ and ‘England.’ So I, when I went on a longer walk through Cumbria and the Borders last summer, hoped to uncover – at a slow walker’s pace – the liveliness and richness of British identity, and expose the shallowness of the arguments for separation. At first, the echoes of soil and landscape were, almost, what I had expected. Eric the farmer at Ullswater, Barry the Blencathra huntsman, and Ron a retired horse-dealer in Dearham, were strongly shaped, it seemed, by the places in which they worked. I walked past the burnt shell of a medieval abbey and then met the family whose son had burned it. I saw how the lands that monks had drained were being reflooded. I forded the Solway with Mark, who fished in the Viking haaf-net tradition, and chatted to Duncan, who continued to celebrate the border reiver tradition in everything, including his son’s name “Reeve’.

But, on entering Scotland, such moments seemed more misleading. The Borders was one of the most remote, sparsely populated areas in Britain. But it felt startlingly divorced from history. The crofts and family farms were almost all long gone, replaced with large farms whose tenants had often moved only to the area since the Second World War. A landscape, once defined by medieval castles, monasteries and conflict, was now hemmed in by the council-tended banks of the slow-flowing Tweed. The traditional figures of rural life – farmers, labourers, landowners, priests, doctors, schoolteachers, policemen – seemed to have shrunk, changed, or vanished entirely. Most people were either commuting, or had retired, so their memories or interests were in another place. Over 90 per cent of people had not been born in the village in which they lived. There was little oral history, and very little interest in, or affection for, British institutions – least of all Parliament. British identity seemed very weak. Although Northumbrians told me they were honorary Scots, no Scot repaid the compliment.

People often seemed powerless, and marginalised – never quite able to bring their idealism or skills to use – stuck with jobs and governments and an environment they disliked but felt unable to change. Few seemed to feel the deep, rich connections to landscape, history and institutions which once underpinned British identity. Many said their ‘hearts’ were in favour of Scottish independence; and they repeated fragments of history, which were very flattering to Scotland. But they denied that their nationalism had anything to do with history – they justified independence simply in terms of getting rid of a Tory government. There was profound loss – of the past, of cultural structures, of traditions, values, of local particularity, and above all of confidence. And, then turning South again, similar things seemed true of many Cumbrian villages. It was disheartening.

Yet almost every door was a revelation. You could not guess which countries people had visited, where they had lived, or what interests they had (interests included American model train-sets, fair-trade in the Leeward islands, and the design of apps for river-walkers). There were no Christian monks, but there were strong communities of British Buddhist monks from different Tibetan and Japanese traditions. People had never been so educated, healthy, or highly, unpredictably, individual. Everywhere, was the pulsing presence of remarkable individuals whose lives, interests and tastes were almost entirely different to those of their parents.

Scottish nationalists talk of modernity, and the death of the old Britain. They acknowledge the inventiveness, and modernity, in remote communities. But their proposal is to create a smaller country confined to borders abandoned four hundred years ago. This is exactly wrong. If people’s identity is based on history, then it is a history of more than just Scotland or England. If it is about modernity, then history itself hardly features. To liberate new talents, energies, and imaginations, we need a framework capacious and various enough to accommodate tens of millions of individuals. We need a context which allows separate local identities to flourish alongside very different cultures: a context that would encompass Cumbria, as well as Aberdeen, or London. Our culture often seems to lack a common goal, to lack hope. The solution cannot lie in history, or inventing a smaller Scotland. But there is hope in a new idea of Britain.

Rory speaks on plight of Syrians in Prime Minister’s Questions


Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border): Christmas in Syria will be defined by unstopping grief and horror in sub-zero temperatures. I encourage the Prime Minister to keep a relentless focus on humanitarian relief in Syria, to encourage the rest of the international community to meet the UN’s demands for £4 billion of assistance, and to ensure that that assistance is much more imaginative and generous.

The Prime Minister: On behalf of the House, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue before Christmas. That is where our thoughts should be. There is a huge humanitarian crisis affecting up to half of the Syrian population. Britain can be proud of the fact that, at £500 million, we are the second-largest bilateral donor of aid going to Syria and neighbouring countries and we are helping people in those refugee camps. We should encourage other countries to step up to the plate in the way we have done, and ensure that we fulfil our moral obligations to those people who will suffer at Christmas time.


Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border, yesterday gained cross-party support in parliament for his review of how to support forces veterans who end up in the criminal justice system. Rory Stewart MP has been appointed by Ministry of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to lead a government review into the issue.

A significant number of Forces’ veterans are now in jail. Some of them have suffered from post-traumatic stress. Rory Stewart who served alongside the military in Iraq, and then spent three years in Afghanistan, will look at the support provided for ex-service personnel with custodial or community sentences, and will seek to improve the rehabilitation programmes currently in place. At the parliamentary debate on Tuesday, colleagues from all parties, expressed a wish to support the review, and work closely with him on it,

Rory Stewart said: “It is incredibly important to make this review cross party so we can really utilise the vast amount of experience from all sides of the house. There has been very good cross-party focus on the matter over the past few years and I have a huge amount to learn. I am very much looking forward to working with colleagues across parliament to make sure we have the vest programme for veterans in the world.”

Rt Hon Elfyn Llwyd MP of Plaid Cymru said:”‘I was glad to read in the papers over the weekend that there will be a Government review on how to improve the rehabilitation of ex-service personnel who are in prison, and that it will be led by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). I wish him well in that work. I have a feeling that it will be done consensually and that we will all be able to muck in, as it were, and do our best to come up with some good answers for the Government, because the work is long overdue.”

Trace Crouch MP of the Conservative party said: “It is good news that my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border has been appointed to look at these issues. I hope he will notice the degree of party consensus and the wide and varied expertise that exist; he will, of course, take submissions from all parties and all those who have taken an interest in the matter for some time.”

David Anderson MP of the Labour Party said: “I am really pleased that the commission has been set up. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border is exactly the right man to lead on it, and I ask him to come over the Pennines as quickly as he can. He will be made to feel welcome in the north-east, because people there have lived through this, and although I am telling their story, I can never relate to it in the way they can.”

Kielder Forest

Kielder Forest: the North-Eastern edge of this constituency. From the Bloody Bush stone, 160,000 acres of dark trees flow into every hollow in Tynedale. It appears almost as a blank space on the map, without roads or villages. As a walker, it is almost impenetrable: a slow push for five hours, on steep broken ground, through the tightly planted trees, parting soft branches and sharp needles, in semi-darkness.

Banksy and Olly stood in a clearing. They were forestry workers, living in forestry cottages. Banksy’s father, and father-in-law had been foresters. So had Olly’s father, brother, and son. Banksy’s wife had worked planting trees. Their nearest town was Bellingham. From the bottom of the hill, it was 18 miles away. Banksy’s wife’s family had originally been sheep farmers on this spot. The government began to plant the slopes with trees after the First World War: to provide pit-props for trenches, in a future war. Once their pasture, walls, and sheds had been swallowed by trees, the family had become foresters. When Olly’s brother began, the men used axes. By the 1960s, they were using the Bowman saw. At 17, Banksy was given a jacket and some steel-toed safety boots, and at 18, a chainsaw. At 20 he had rebelled, and tried to become a farmer. It had not worked out, and he had come back to chain-sawing. There had been hundreds of forestry workers.

He had worked in a pair, “I was put next to one of the best chainsaw operators in the North Tyne valley.” They worked, in sight of each other, and met every twenty-five minutes to refuel the chain-saws. ‘Malcolm told me, “learn how to sharpen your saw, present your wood, and fell your trees: always keep it tidy and you’ll make money.” I carried a spare T-shirt for the rain. And at the end of the day I brushed away the branches, to prepare for the next day. I go to a masseur now,’ he added, grinning, ‘every two months, for my back.”

Harvesting machines had been introduced when Banksy was in his 20s. Now instead of hundreds of men, they needed ten. Banksy had moved into supervision. Olly had trained as a harvester operator. “He won’t mind me saying this, he can’t understand the computer side of it, but Jason his son is up to speed on it, so they work together.’

I watched Olly. He was in the cab of the quarter of a million pound machine, peering out of the bullet-proof glass. He pushed it forward, over a carpet of branches which he had laid, to keep it above the boggy ground. Its robotic arm swung at a 90 foot tree, grabbed it, twisted it, yanked it forward, stripped its top branches, and then immediately began to cut it into sections. Jason measured the diameter and length with an electronic instrument, and fed the data into a computer, straight to the sawmill. One man could now cut and finish a hundred trees in a day.
‘‘OlIy and Jason came at 4.40 this morning, they do an 11 hour day. Operators are working 2 or 3 trees ahead, working out what they can get out of the branches. In the winter, they come in the dark and leave in the dark. They’re not very talkative of an evening, because they are brain dead, just staring at trees all day. Olly’s wife works late, so when he gets home, he prepares the dinner.’

‘What happens if the tree falls on top of him? I asked.

“He gets jip off me for damaging the cab.’

Now there was talk of new technology, needing fewer forwarding machines and operators. ‘Sons and daughters aren’t interested in staying in the forestry industry” Banksy said. He had decided his daughter needed to get out of the North Tyne valley. She lived in York, had a psychology degree, and a teaching degree, and was looking for work. The school which Banksy had gone to had closed. They tried to always use the village shop, to keep it running, because if they were snowed in, it was the only shop they could reach.

Banksy walked me down the hill to introduce me to his collie. As we came onto the road, an old shepherd pulled up next to us, looked at the dog, and said ‘Ay, you’ve got one of those stylish dogs!’ ‘How do you mean?’ Banksy asked. ‘We got dogs that bark a lot’, the shepherd replied. ‘He though it was a party dog,’ said Banksy, when the shepherd had gone, ‘but it’s not.’ Banksy used his dog on his small-holding. They had 100 sheep and six cows.

Banksy seemed now to be spending a lot of time commissioning wooden ramps through the forest for mountain-biking. He marshalled fell-running races. He was working to develop patches of wood for owls and ospreys. He talked of the ‘dark sky’ that they preserved over the forest, and the Forestry Commission star observatory. I wondered whether he disliked this change from chainsawing, to recreation services. But he seemed excited by it. At his cottage, he had changed into his Ron Hill track-suit. He was going fell-running. He pulled a sled full of sand behind him, because he said the hills weren’t high enough here. I said goodbye to him at the reservoir. It had been built to power the manufacturing industry in the North-East. The manufacturing had not come. There were now hotels and lake bungalows along its shores. Banksy’s father’s cottage lay somewhere deep below us, buried under the water of the reservoir.


In a meeting with members of Eden District Council on the issue of footway lighting, Rory has pressed for the council to take the lead on using innovative, smart LED lighting solutions to help reduce lighting costs in the area. Following Eden Council’s latest proposals, Rory met with environment portfolio holder, Councillor Mike Tonkin, to better understand the council’s approach, and how best the local MP can offer further support. By focusing on solutions which use the latest smart technology, Rory hopes to be able to gain additional support from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Rory said:

“Trying to find a sensible and affordable solution that recognises and addresses the concerns of local, rural communities who fear being plunged into darkness, has not been easy. Eden Council have had an incredibly difficult task in hand. I continue to believe however that smart technology remains the key to helping solve this. LED lighting can drop costs for councils by 85 per cent, and I would like Eden to take the national lead in introducing this new technology. I would also like us to take advantage of amazing recent technological developments, particularly when it comes to energy use, and tackling fuel poverty. Given the level of local concern on footway lighting, I remain committed to doing all I can to help, and I hope now to work with Eden Council to put forward a strong proposal to DECC for additional support.”


Rory has met with Lieutenants Stuart and Jenny McPhee at the Salvation Army Hall in Penrith, in an opportunity to hear about their fantastic work in the community and the services they offer; ranging from a community garden project in co-operation with Penrith Action Community Trust, to luncheon clubs and parent and toddler groups. He was particularly interested to learn about the food bank which distributes food from the hall with the help of Corps members and community volunteers. As a result, Rory has now written to the Department for Work and Pensions and the local job centres, to look at specific cases of delayed benefits.

Rory said:

“Local volunteers, like Stuart and Jenny, are doing such an incredible job helping some of the most vulnerable individuals and families in our community. It is extremely sad that anyone at all should feel the need to access a food-bank, but I continue to believe that we need to understand the problem of food bank use at a local level in local contexts. If anyone remains concerned about this, I would strongly encourage them to get in touch and help me understand the issue better “.

Commons Debate on the Rehabilitation of ex-service personnel


Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I wish to speak to new clauses 2 and 3. As the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) has just pointed out, the Secretary of State has asked me to lead a review into these matters. I would like to pay huge tribute to the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) and the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for the work they have done on that. There has been a very good cross-party focus on the matter over the past few years, and I have a huge amount to learn.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee visited Washington last summer and saw at first hand some of the stuff we are talking about? Is he willing to take evidence from some of the Members who were on that trip to ensure that it is included as well?

Rory Stewart: I would be delighted to do that. My hon. Friend’s intervention reminds me just how much expertise there is in the House. I see that there is an enormous amount of expertise on the Opposition side of the House. He has a great deal of expertise on the matter, as do many other Members in the Chamber this afternoon.

We need to focus on this for three reasons: first, because we have an obligation towards individuals in the criminal justice system as a whole; secondly, because we have a huge obligation specifically to those who have served in the armed forces; and thirdly, because we have an obligation to society as a whole. The US experience suggests that there is something we can do. It is unusual in such a situation to find that we have concrete levers that might be able to improve our relationship to reoffending.

There already exists enormous expertise, for example in the Howard League for Penal Reform, Combat Stress and the Royal British Legion, and in the work that has been done by all the forces charities—29 different forces charities are currently working on the issue. There is also deep expertise in our universities. For example, King’s College London has done an enormous amount of work on some of the trauma elements, and in the past 24 hours I have been contacted by seven doctoral students doing theses on these issues. I hope not to try to reinvent the wheel, but to learn an enormous amount, including from Opposition Members, to make this as much of a cross-party enterprise as possible and to bring in the expertise that is here.

Alison Seabeck: I look forward to the results of the work that the hon. Gentleman is undertaking, which I know he will do with a great deal of care and intelligence. We are talking a lot about trauma and front-line experience being among the key issues, but surely the institutionalisation of young men in particular has an impact on how they behave when they come out. That must also be part of his review.

Rory Stewart: That is a very important intervention. First, essentially we need to be looking at the base data. We need to understand what exactly is happening because, as hon. Members have pointed out, we do not yet have enough data on that. Secondly, we need to look at the causes of the incidence of offending and reoffending by people who have formerly been in the armed forces. Thirdly, we need to look at our response. In doing that, we need to be absolutely sure that we are not stigmatising. We must make it absolutely clear that we are not trying somehow to portray people who have been in the armed forces as more likely to offend. In fact, a lot of the data suggest that they might be less likely to offend than those from similar socio-economic backgrounds. We need to get that clear. It is important in terms of the recruitment and employability of people leaving the armed forces.

On the specific issue of causes, most of the research, according to my preliminary reading, suggests that the hon. Lady is absolutely right that there are different elements, one of which may be experiences before people join the military. For example, people who join the infantry tend, comparatively, to come from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. A second element is experiences in the military, such as combat stress, and another is that raised by the hon. Lady, namely the question of what happens when individuals leave the military and go from what for many of them may be a very fulfilling institutional framework in which they feel a strong amount of team work and esprit de corps, to suddenly finding themselves in an environment in which perhaps less support exists.

That said, people coming out of the armed forces already benefit enormously from the forces charities and even from individual regimental associations, so we should not underestimate the amount of support that exists or try to reinvent the wheel.

Oliver Colvile rose—

Rory Stewart: I will give way for a final time.

Oliver Colvile: Will my hon. Friend also recognise that in the United States of America all veterans are given a mobile phone when they leave the military and receive a couple of telephone calls during the following six months to a year, which means that there is permanent contact?

Rory Stewart: That is a good point on which to conclude.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind) rose—

Rory Stewart: I can see that the hon. Lady wishes to intervene and I will let her do so.

Lady Hermon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for taking an intervention from me as a Member who represents a constituency in Northern Ireland. I know that he will be very sensitive to the role of the British Army in Northern Ireland, which has in the past been very divisive for some sections of the community. May I urge the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind, when he does his research in Northern Ireland, that former members of the Royal Irish Regiment and the Ulster Defence Regiment are very reluctant to raise their profile, because they are anxious not to be targeted by dissident republicans? I would be keen to meet the hon. Gentleman when he comes to Northern Ireland to do his research and to be as helpful as I possibly can be. I am sure I speak for all Members who usually sit on these Benches.

Rory Stewart: I thank the hon. Lady very much for her offer and I would love to take it up. On the penultimate intervention, the provision of mobile phones is a simple example of a very important point that every Member has raised so far: what we do know about veterans who offend and reoffend is that the military provides a very powerful possible support network. Unlike other sectors of society, it provides an instrument or lever that could be incredibly helpful and supportive to backing people in their recovery process. Trying to make sure that we get the very best out of institutions that already exist will be the key. We have an obligation to the individuals who offend and reoffend; we have a particular obligation towards the military; and we have an obligation towards society as a whole.


PENRITH and the Border MP Rory Stewart will spend this Saturday night sleeping in one of the highest and coldest places in England to raise awareness of Cumbria Community Foundation’s Winter Warmth Appeal.

He’ll be joined by CCF’s Chief Executive Andy Beeforth and supported by members of Penrith Mountain Rescue Team.

They’re hoping their freezing night on the fells will encourage people to sign up for a similar challenge ‘The Big Sleep’ in a field beside the Low Wood Hotel, Windermere, on Saturday 15 February.

Rory Stewart explained why he is taking on the challenge, he said:

“Cumbria has some of the highest instances of fuel poverty in the country. Our traditionally built homes are difficult to heat and frequently off the mains gas grid, which make heating them very expensive. When your income is fixed, as is the case for many retired, elderly people, rises in energy bills can quickly become unaffordable, and the only choice left in the worst cases is to endure a cold home. It is completely unacceptable that an average of 300 people in Cumbria alone will die from the cold this Winter. The Cumbria Community Foundation plays a hugely important role in helping vulnerable older people meet the costs of heating their home. I was only too happy to do anything I could to help raise awareness of the Winter Warmth Appeal and the Foundation’s fantastic fundraising efforts, and I hope that our sleep out will do just that.”

John Whittle, Penrith Mountain Rescue Team, said:

“This weekend, we’ll be ensuring the safety of these brave souls by accompanying them to England’s highest, coldest, stone-built bothy, over 2,700 feet up in the Pennines. It’s no mean feat as the temperature will be well below zero and winds have been recorded at 113mph. The exact location for this Saturday’s sleep out is a closely guarded secret as we don’t want to encourage people to head out onto the fells overnight in winter. Instead we’d say consider joining The Big Sleep – a much more civilised sleepover beside the Low Wood on February 15.”

Whatever discomfort is felt by the adventurers, it is for one night only and will highlight the ongoing struggle many elderly Cumbrians face to keep warm every night.

This year’s Winter Warmth Appeal has already raised £52,000 to help older people in Cumbria stay warm and safe this winter – this is more than last year and half way to the target of £100,000.

But, all of this money has been allocated and given out to elderly people who are facing the stark choice of heating their home or eating a meal.

Andy Beeforth, Chief Executive of Cumbria Community Foundation said:

“I’d like to say thank you to all our donors who have helped raise more than £52,000 to keep older people warm this winter. We’d like people to join us for The Big Sleep in a field beside the Low Wood Hotel, Windermere, on Saturday 15 February. If you have your own camping gear and can bear the cold for one night to help raise even more money for older people, please join us. We’ll try to keep our minds off the weather by watching a family friendly film on an outdoor cinema screen. All the information you need and the names of the people who have already signed up are on our website or speak to Dan on 01900 825760.”




As part of a renewed focus on finance options for small local businesses, Rory Stewart MP has urged Cumbria County Council to back the creation of a new ‘Cumbria Business Boost’ scheme, designed to bring the benefits of peer-to-business lending to Cumbrian businesses. The peer-to-business approach to business finance has grown substantially since the financial crisis, as borrowers and savers alike look to disintermediate the banks and benefit from improved interest rates. The ‘Cumbria Business Boost’ scheme would create a mechanism for local savers to directly support local businesses, while at the same time bringing in a new source of external capital. The operational details of the scheme are currently being finalised, and it is hoped that a launch may be feasible some time during the second quarter.

Rory said : ‘I am very excited by the prospects of extending the use of peer-to-business lending within Cumbria, and am optimistic that our new Cumbria Business Boost proposals will provide a straightforward support mechanism for this approach. This is likely to be the first area of focus for the new Small Business Finance Steering Group I am setting up, and I am hopeful that it will benefit from widespread support.’

Rory to lead veteran’s review

I have been asked to lead a Government review to look into the reasons why some of Britain’s veterans turn to a life of crime after they leave the armed forces. I will also be looking at the support provided for ex-service personnel convicted of criminal offences and given custodial or community sentences, and how that support can be improved. I expect the review to last six months. It will consider issues including how ex-service personnel are identified on conviction and what advice and support is available to them – as well as looking at effective interventions in other countries.

Veterans have made a unique contribution to our society, and we owe them a huge debt. Their needs are specific, and it is an honour to have the opportunity to support veterans in this way. I am very much looking forward to working with veterans organisations, the armed forces and the Ministry of Justice to make sure we have the best programme for veterans in the world.

Latest figures, taken from a study by the Ministry of Defence in 2010, suggest that ex-servicemen and women make up around 3.5% of the prison population, and around the same percentage of offenders on licence, while almost all convicted veterans were men from non-commissioned ranks and 80% were army careerists.

Please get in touch with me if you have experience of these issues, or any advice to share.

If you are interested in reading more, here are links to two papers by the Howard League for Penal Reform, which lay out many of the issues and challenges clearly.