Quite rightly, following the expenses scandal, MPs no longer have any say over their pay and conditions, so it is up to IPSA, the independent body responsible, to justify any decisions it makes, but I have always made clear that if they do impose an above inflation rise after the election, and I am still an MP, I would give any extra to charity.
As a former Marine and Fisheries Minister, I have followed the painstaking process of designating Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) with great interest. The long overdue announcement last week that 27 MCZs would be designated in English Seas was hailed by the Government as a seminal moment for our marine environment.
Yet, in reality, four years since Labour passed the landmark Marine & Coastal Access Act, these first 27 sites are 100 shy of the original network of 127 MCZs; a network proposed following two years of extensive consultation with stakeholders, costing the taxpayer £8m. We are still a long way from our international commitment to delivering a full ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas.
The Government cannot ignore the growing and diverse calls for the swift delivery of this full network. The Commons Science & Technology Select Committee’s Marine Science Inquiry reported that the process was “floundering badly” – a point echoed by no less than 85 eminent marine scientists in a letter to the Prime Minister in April urging the Government to re-affirm it’s commitment to a full network. Following a public rally on Parliament in February, more than 350,000 members of the public signed a petition in support of MCZs delivered to No. 10 Downing Street in June 2013. The Sea Users Development Group – the representative body for key marine sectors including aggregates, ports, renewables, oil and gas, and the Crown Estate – issued a statement alongside eNGOs calling for the swift designation of a full ecologically coherent network. Designating this network is not only vital to stemming the alarming decline in marine biodiversity, but in providing clarity for businesses on where they can develop with less risk of impacting on protected habitats and species. It is not only the public support for this network that is overwhelming, but both the scientific and economic imperative.
What of future designations? Given the attritional progress to date, do we seriously believe that this Government will have the ambition within the promised future tranches to deliver a truly effective network? It is baffling that Defra continues to state that the scale of its ambition will be defined by “what is affordable” – we should not be designating MCZs in spite of the need to revive growth, but because of this need. The seafloor habitats that these sites will protect are not just the bedrock of the ecosystems they support, but are the foundations of the vast array of goods and services provided by our seas. Just last week, the publication of Defra’s Sea Angling 2012 study showed that recreational sea fishing contributed £2.1bn (almost three times that of commercial fishing) to the economy, and supported more than 23,600 jobs. We must also dispel the scaremongering from some quarters that MCZs will be wholesale no-take zones; MCZs will only prevent activities that damage seafloor habitats, likely affording low impact fishing methods such as potting and static gear the opportunity to flourish at sustainable levels. The fishing industry constitutes many practices. However, the damaging and indiscriminate methods of scallop dredging and heavy towed gear are not universally acceptable. The full network of MCZs, even when added to existing MPAs, would still only place less than 25% of our seas in sustainably managed areas. Put another way, over three quarters of our seas would still be open to potentially more damaging practices. Is suggesting that one quarter of our seas be managed in a truly sustainable manner really such a lofty ambition?
There remains an enormous disparity between our attempts to manage the terrestrial and marine environments sustainably – 87% of the number of Special Areas of Conservation in the UK are on land. Delivery of a full network of MCZs that ensures the full wealth of species and habitats that grace our seas are managed sustainably is a historic opportunity that should not be squandered.
Following an Urgent Question on accident and emergency services, I asked the Secretary of State about the Government’s decision to close walk-in centres and scrap GP access targets.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): May I assure the Secretary of State that the people of Exeter are not confused about their walk-in centres, but appreciate them and have been using them in ever-increasing numbers? These centres are now under threat, so will he at least admit that closing NHS walk-in centres and scrapping Labour’s GP access targets has been a dreadful mistake?
Mr Hunt: Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman might like to hear what the British Medical Association said yesterday about walk-in centres. The BMA is not known for its support of Government policies, but it said that urgent care centres “were often opened in places with little patient demand…The result has been a lot of money being spent on these facilities with some now closing because commissioners have found there is not sufficient demand”. That is the problem we are sorting out.
November 6, 2013 in Local
Business rates are set to rise by another £530 in Exeter, putting more pressure on our high streets and local economy.
The average business rates bill in England will increase by an average of £430 in 2014/15, meaning the average business rate bill will be around £12, 600.
Although Exeter has fared better than many places since the 2008 global financial crash, the biggest complaint I get from local businesses is soaring business rates. Next year’s increase will be the third highest in the South West.
Labour has pledged to cut rates on properties with an annual rental value of less than £50,000 in 2015, back to the level of the previous year, and in addition freeze business rates for those properties at that level in 2016.
This would be paid for by reversing the Coalition’s cut in the main rate of corporation tax from 21% to 20%. That would still leave Britain with one of the lowest corporation tax rates in the developed world.
The level of business rates is set by the Treasury, although the revenue itself is collected locally. Business rates increase with inflation. The rate of increase each April is set according to the rate of RPI inflation the previous September. RPI in September 2013 was 3.2 per cent, which means the business rates increase in April 2014 will be 3.2 per cent.
This year (2013-14) the average business rates bill is around £12,200. This means that the average increase next April will be around £400. There are over 1.7 million properties in the UK paying business rates. The overall increase in business rates is therefore around £700m (1.7m properties x £400).
Below is a breakdown of the average increase in business rates in April for each region;
|Region||Average increase in business rates in 2014/15 (£)|
|Yorkshire and the Humber||340|
Business rate increases in 2014/15 – Local Authority breakdown:
|Local Authority||Average increase in business rates in 2014/15 (£)|
|Bath & North East Somerset||370|
|Forest of Dean||130|
|Isles of Scilly||120|
|Weymouth and Portland||200|
In a debate on 23rd October I raised my concerns about mental health services for young people. The full transcript can be read here, and my interventions are posted below. You can also read the Western Morning News’ story about this issue here.
Alan Johnson: Not only did West End close in March, but we are beginning to hear of closures across the country, including in Devon and Somerset, where my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) has been pursuing this issue vigorously with the chief executive of NHS England, who confirmed in a letter to him that other units had closed as a result of the change to tier 4 specification well before the spurious 1 October date.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend, a former Health Secretary, aware that, in Devon, that has led to young people being admitted to adult mental health residential units, in clear breach of the Mental Health Act 2007—a scandalous position? I hope that the Minister will have something to say about that when he responds.
Alan Johnson: I am aware that that has happened. I feel sure that, as the debate gathers momentum, Members from other parts of the country will have similar experiences.
Mr Bradshaw: I am sorry to have to say this, but the Minister’s speech is just waffle. Will he accept that the Government’s reorganisation of the national health service has led to confusion as to who is responsible for the interface between tier 3 and tier 4 mental health services for young people? Will he look at the cases I have raised with the Secretary of State of young people from my constituency being sent to Newcastle—the north-east of England—and all over the country, and being sent to adult wards, in breach of the law?
Norman Lamb: I do not think it has been waffle at all. I have tried to answer very directly the concerns that have been expressed. I will absolutely look into the cases that the right hon. Gentleman raises. When I hear reference to children being placed in adult services, I find that as unacceptable as he does. I want to understand how it has happened and bring it to an end. NHS England is carrying out a review over a three-month period to assess the facilities for tier 4 services to ensure that sufficient services are available in all parts of the country. Because of the nature of the specialism, they cannot be in every town and city, but they must be within reasonable reach. That is exactly what the review is seeking to undertake.
On 23rd October I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate about the Greenpeace activists currently being detained by Russian authorities. The transcript of my contribution is below.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): My comments—I shall keep them brief, because I know that many Members want to speak—follow on nicely from those of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). I want to press the Government on what exactly they have been doing for the past month, and to question the “softly, softly” approach that they appear to have adopted.
I wrote to the Foreign Secretary a month ago, and I still have not received a reply to my questions. It has not escaped my notice that the Governments of other nationals held captive in Murmansk have been much tougher. The Dutch are taking legal action; Hillary Clinton, who has been mentioned, has spoken out very strongly; and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, who does not even have any nationals held in Murmansk, has picked up the phone to President Putin and made it clear that what has happened is unacceptable and should be resolved quickly. Yet when the Prime Minister was asked at Prime Minister’s questions last Wednesday what he has been doing, he said that he has simply been asking for updates. I am afraid that that is not good enough.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): I want to put on the record that my right hon. Friend’s point is supported by constituents of mine who are friends of Kieron’s. They have written to me to say that our Prime Minister really should get involved. I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees.
Mr Bradshaw: I absolutely agree, not least because more Britons are being held by the Russians in Murmansk than people from any other country. As has already been said, there are six of them, of whom three are from Devon.
In a letter to me from his jail in Murmansk, the marine engineer from Exeter, Iain Rogers, has complained bitterly about what he sees as the British Government’s lack of action, compared with what is being done by his fellow captives’ Governments. He makes this direct appeal to the Prime Minister:
“I find it hard to believe that you are not outraged that British subjects have been kidnapped at gunpoint, detained and abused and yet so far you have done nothing except sit on your hands. It is time to act Mr Cameron. You have a duty to protect UK citizens and international law.”
Iain’s mum, Sue Turner, visited the Foreign Office last week. I understand that she did not get to see a Minister, which is regrettable, but she did see an official. At a vigil held for the Arctic 30 in Exeter on Sunday, she told me that she and the rest of the relatives share a concern that they are not being given enough information. She said that when they asked why more was not being done and said publicly, she was told by the Foreign Office official that Russia had not responded well to criticism from abroad in the past. We all know that, and it may well be the case, but this has been going on for more than a month.
Many of us do not have a great deal of faith in the Russian judicial system, and other Members have already referred to the prosecution of Pussy Riot and the state-sponsored persecution of gay and lesbian people in Russia. The British Government should make it absolutely clear to the Russians—yes, privately, if necessary—that the situation is unacceptable, and that severe damage will be done to our bilateral relations and Russia’s already battered international image unless the hostages are freed forthwith. The Government also need to tell the relatives and the British public what they are doing to help.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has quite rightly said that it would be inconceivable for the Sochi winter Olympics to go ahead unaffected, if these 30 people from all over the world are still held illegally in a Russian goal. Does any hon. Member think that that would be an acceptable backdrop to an international sporting event? I hope that the Minister will reassure us by telling us what the Government are doing, and what representations he, and the Prime Minister personally, have been making. Are they supporting or are they a party to the Dutch legal action, and if not, why not?
Mr Cox: On the Dutch legal action, it is important to remember that only the Dutch have the standing to bring such an action: it was their sovereign-flagged ship, and they therefore have that status under the convention. We could not bring that action. Of course, we can support it morally, but we cannot be a party to it.
Mr Bradshaw: I defer to the hon. and learned Gentleman’s superior legal knowledge, but I hope that the Minister will at least tell us that we are supporting the Dutch legal action politically and morally.
Finally, what conversations have there been between the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary and Cathy Ashton? I would have thought that—given her very good reputation in recent months for bringing together parties, including the Russians, over Iran and Syria—the European Union’s foreign policy representative would be well placed to organise a co-ordinated European Union response to this intolerable behaviour by the Russian authorities.