Conservative Party Conference

This week I went up to Manchester for the Conservative Party's Conference, where I spoke at a number of events.  First of all I debated prisons policy with MPs and campaigners.

Although Ford Prison is no longer in my constituency, penal reform has been an interest of mine ever since I wrote the Conservative Party's policy document, "Prisons with a Purpose", where I set out plans to get offenders back on the straight and narrow and so break the damaging cycle of re-offending.

The Government is now implementing many of these ideas, and we discussed what more needs to be done so that crime continues to fall.

The next day I spoke at an event about planning, where I restated my belief in localism and the danger of returning to 'planning by appeal' by allowing government inspectors excessively to overturn local decision-making.

This is an issue which affects our Downland villages, where we want to ensure that inappropriate speculative planning applications which have been rightly turned down - such as in Storrington - are not then allowed on appeal.

I again raised this with the Planning Minister last month, and I have joined calls for another Commons debate which I hope will be held within a few weeks.  I will continue to press these points on behalf of villages in my constituency.

I also spoke at an event about reform of the civil service, where I recounted some of the problems I encountered as a minister - such as the siloed nature of government departments - and how I thought the system could be reformed.

One of the most interesting meetings I addressed heard from a polling expert about public attitudes to today's issues.  He reminded us that successful political parties need to mount a broad appeal, and I echoed this point in my speech and in an article this week in the Guardian, where I strongly rejected the idea that the Conservative Party should enter any kind of deal with UKIP.

There were a number of strong conference announcements to help with the cost of living, including a tax allowance for married couples.

I was pleased by the Chancellor's announcement of further freezes in fuel duty for the rest of this Parliament.  This will be an important help in rural areas like ours.  It reflected the conference theme - to help hard-working people.

Christopher N Howarth