Parliament will soon be sitting again after the summer and conference recesses. Nationally, Brexit remains at the top of the political agenda. Regardless of how tired we may be of the constant twists and turns of the terms of our departure from the European Union. I believe we are on course for a bright and prosperous future outside the European Union’s constraints.

I was disappointed to learn that the Ministry of Defence has brought forward pans to close RAF Scampton in 2022. I never fail to express my admiration and pride of our county’s aviation heritage.

It has been a centuries since battles were fought in the fields of my constituency; there was the Battle of Gainsborough during the Civil War, and perhaps we will just pass over the fact that the Cromwellians won.

However, during the Second World War it was the fields of my constituency that provided the bases for numerous squadrons of the Royal Air Force, of which perhaps the Dambusters were only the most famous. They were based at RAF Scampton, where Commander Guy Gibson flew missions from – and where his dog is still buried. The historical importance of RAF Scampton should not be minimised, quite the reverse: it should be protected, and its future properly debated.

The base at Scampton was founded back in 1916 as Air Station Brattleby Cliff – until it was renamed two years later. Many older locals will recollect the extension of the runway in the 1950s to allow the Vulcan bombers to use it – diverting the straight line of the ancient Roman Road, the Ermine, to be diverted.

Proud though we rightly are of our history of military aviation, we have also witnessed time and again the less inspiring aspects of the Ministry of Defence; such as their way of disposing of land, designated as surplus to requirements. The poor examples that are too numerous, littered across the preceding decades.

We must be vigilant in ensuring that, if RAF Scampton is indeed to close, its future use must be well thought-out, suitable and sustainable to the needs of the local communities. I will be working with colleagues on West Lindsey District Council, Lincolnshire County Council, the local communities and government to make sure that the base has the best possible future.

Support for RAF Scampton has been wide-ranging. I am pleased with the cross-party support that exists on this issue. We gained a somewhat surprising ally this last week when Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Leader, said that “Obviously it has to remain open if the Red Arrows are there”. That is obviously a very big if. Nor is it unequivocal support.

The Red Arrows have left the base before, between 1995 and 2000. Nevertheless, such support for a military airbase does seem somewhat contrary to the life-long pacifism that he has espoused. Despite the many commonalities in our parliamentary careers – we both joined the House at the 1983 general election, we have both spent years on the back benches of our respective parties often putting forward alternative views to the pervading orthodoxy; we often have found ourselves in the same lobby voting against the Iraq War, or assisted suicide, or the introduction of foundation hospitals, together. Circumstances make unlikely allies of us all.

I have been disappointed with the discrimatory and, in my view, counterproductive rules that hinder free schools, run by the Catholic Church, are still in place. I am however encouraged that across our country new free schools are being founded at apace. Fifty-three new schools have started this term, creating 40,000 new school places and giving parents choice.

Whether founded by community groups, charities, or multi-academy trusts many of them provide specialist education for their pupils. Parents are the primary educators of their children and it is for that reason that they should have a range of options when it comes to choosing a school where their offspring can experience their formal education.

Allowing groups of parents, charities, and others to found new schools has improved the quality of education provision in England, and more pupils are now studying in schools that are rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

The government also recently announced a very welcome pay rise for classroom teachers and there is a co-ordinated effort to work with school leaders and trade unions to boost recruitment and retention while getting rid of unnecessary workload. There are now over 450,000 teachers in our classrooms, and the number of former teachers returning the profession is increasing too.

Finally, Brexit continues. I await the final deal that is negotiated before I will commit to supporting or opposing it. I struggle to understand colleague who are able to prognosticate on the outcome before both parties have agreed such an outcome. Perhaps I am old-fashioned in believing that it is much better to know what one will be asked to vote upon before declaring how a vote will be cast.

Sir Edward Leigh has been the Member of Parliament for Gainsborough since 1983.

Prisons are a grim necessity of society. They fulfil two very important functions: first, to punish criminals for their wrongdoing, and second, to remove dangerous, threatening people from society.

There is always a danger that prisons will become universities of crime, where those incarcerated for smaller offenses learn from their cellmates worse and higher forms of illicit and illegal behaviours. Re-offending is a huge problem for both the victims of crime and the taxpayer, who foots the bill for further trials and incarceration.

Rehabilitation is not a matter of ‘touch-feely liberalism’ but an essential component of any sensible justice system. The government’s new plans for prisoners should help save £15 billion of public money, by helping to train prisoners to find further employment once their sentences are finished.

Currently only 17% of prisoners are in PAYE employment within a year of their release. Soon, governors will be put in control of their prisoners’ education, with the aim of tailoring training to prisoners needs as well as to meet local labour market requirements.

At Justice questions recently, I asked what assessment the ministry had made of participation in sporting activity on re-offending. The reply from the minister revealed a strong correlation between sport or physical activity and wellbeing; both amongst current prisoners and amongst ex-offenders. A well-rounded approach to help rehabilitation and stop reoffending is at the very heart of the government’s plans for prisoners.

Regular readers of this site will have seen that I have been actively engaged with the various ideas and issues around local rail services.

The return of regular services to Gainsborough Central later this year is a good example of steps in the right direction. I am committed to pressing the case for direct rail links from the Humber south bank to London. This could include a stop at Market Rasen and I will be pressing my case with the Transport Secretary, now that the East Coast service is being brought back into public ownership and as progress is made to re-franchise the East Coast Main Line.

I have also been very interested in suggestions from the local branch of Railfuture about a rail-based part and ride scheme, centred on Lincoln. This could lead to the return of a station at Langworth or the addition of a station at Cherry Willingham.

The list of criticisms that can be levelled at Tony Blair’s premiership are considerable. Amongst them is the case of Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Bouchar.

The government was inherently complicit in the two individuals being kidnapped by agents of the Gaddafi regime and forcibly taken to Libya. Mr. Belhaj was imprisoned and tortured. It later emerged that it was British Intelligence that had tipped Gaddafi’s regime off to their location.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has quite rightly, issued a full apology to Mr. Belhaj and his wife. Hopefully going some way to make amends for this travesty. I pointed out in the House that it was Mr. Blair who should be issuing an apology, but I doubt any will be forthcoming.

I was privileged to attend the recent awards for the county’s ‘snow-heroes’. Local people really stepped up during the bad weather we experience over the winter months. Some drivers were stuck on the A46 for a whole day, whilst other trekked in severe conditions to make sure that vulnerable people and animals were looked after.

Police, fire and rescue personnel, ambulance workers, nurses, carers, emergency service workers and members of the public performed brilliantly during the crisis. It was totally right that their efforts should be recognised at the Lincolnshire Resilience Forums’ awards.

Sir Edward Leigh has been the Member of Parliament for Gainsborough since 1983.

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