The new Tory MP for Plymouth Moor View, Johnny Mercer, made a moving, passionate, and dynamic maiden speech in the Commons in June Hansard 1 June 2015 column 373, 6.54 pm).

He spoke excellently about the insufficiency of mental health provision in Britain and the duty of government, the state, to care for our armed forces veterans and their families. He said he would be actively engaged with these issues. I am onside for this: his argument is civilised and liberal (and, I think, socialist).

Two passages of his speech stand out:

“I want to speak briefly about my two main missions in this Parliament. First, mental health provision in this country remains poor. There are some extremely dogged and determined characters who fight night and day to improve the services offered to those who struggle with mental health problems. Often, those who struggle with mental health problems cannot shout for themselves and suffer in silence because of the ridiculous stigma placed on mental health. That stigma ends in this Parliament. It is not good enough to have sympathy, empathy even, or simply to understand these issues when they affect someone close to us. It is time to get this right and I look forward to starting this crusade in Plymouth.” (column 374)

“I am sorry to report, however, that there remains a great stain on this nation of ours when it comes to conflict. In 2012, we reached a very unwelcome threshold when, tragically, more soldiers and veterans killed themselves than were killed on operational service in defence of the realm. It goes without saying that there are some genuine heroes in our communities and charities up and down this land who work tirelessly night and day to look after and assist those who have found returning to a peaceful life the biggest challenge of all. A great many of these veterans are not only from Afghanistan.

My key point is this: there has been a fundamental misunderstanding by governments of all colours over the years that veterans’ care is a third sector responsibility and that the great British public, in all their wonderful generosity, support our troops well enough, and any new initiative is met with the response, “Well, there must be a charity for that.” That is fundamentally and unequivocally wrong, and I make no apologies for pointing it out to anyone of any rank or position who may be offended by my candour.

I am not a charity and neither were my men. We gave the best years of our lives in defending the privileges, traditions and freedoms that this House and all Members enjoy. It is therefore the duty of this House to look after them and, crucially, their families when they return.” (columns 374-5)

He goes on to talk baldly but movingly about the deaths of two of his soldiers, one from suicide, one in a terrible combat, lance-sergeant Dan Collins and lance-bombadier Mark Chandler. I urge you to read their stories told by Mercer in Hansard, and google them.

Mercer is right. Mental health provision in England, including Cornwall, is poor and must be improved. Mentally ill people in Cornwall, as elsewhere, can end up in a police cell because of poor provision of acute psychiatric beds in mental health places of safety for them. Indeed, my understanding is that such is the lack of suitable psychiatric beds here that some mentally ill people from Cornwall are sent to Manchester for treatment, away from their family and friends and familiar environment. In these circumstances the psychiatrist treating them has to visit them in Manchester. I am with Mercer all the way: “It is not good enough to have sympathy, empathy even, or simply to understand these issues when they affect someone close to us. It is time to get this right”.


16 May 2015

Cornwall Tory Watch is where I shall now scrutinise the six Tory MPs and other Tory politicians in Cornwall and the impact of their Tory government’s policies upon people here. I shall also put on the blog more detailed separate posts about some of the issues as they arise.

Cornwall Libdem Watch continues but with reduced activity I expect.


22 May 2013

“This bill will make a lot of people’s lives much better” Diane Abbott Hansard 21 May 2013 column 1167

The Commons passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill yesterday by 366 votes to 161 on third reading (Hansard 21 May 2013 column 1169). It now goes to the Lords. Details of the bill are here.

An injustice is on the way to being righted.

This is a summary of Hansard’s record of how Cornwall MP votes at second and third readings of the bill.

Second reading 5 February 2013 (Hansard division 151 column 231)
Voted for: Andrew George, Stephen Gilbert, Sarah Newton, Dan Rogerson
No vote recorded: George Eustice, Sheryll Murray

Third reading 21 May 2013 (Hansard division 11 column 1169)
Voted for: Andrew George, Stephen Gilbert, Dan Rogerson
No vote recorded: George Eustice, Sheryll Murray, Sarah Newton

Sarah Newton has confirmed she abstained at third reading: read here.

The Tory Libdem government proposed that the EU budget for 2014-2020 should show “significant savings” and “increase at most by no more than inflation”
(Hansard 31 October 2012 column 295).

There was a backbench Tory amendment to change that: the EU budget should be “reduced in real terms”. The amendment was carried.

At the vote (column 341) all six Cornwall MPs voted against the amendment.


10 December 2010

The Commons tuition fees votes are done. Well, the votes are done but probably not the aftermath for the Libdems. I am going to focus in this post on Cornwall MPs.

There were two votes yesterday (divisions 150 and 151) on raising the cap, the maximum that undergraduate students can be charged, to £9000 a year and raising the basic fee to £6000 a year. The three Conservative MPs from Cornwall voted yes; one of the Liberal Democrats, Stephen Gilbert, who is a whip, voted yes; two Liberal Democrats, Andrew George and Dan Rogerson, voted no. These fees apply only to English universities as the devolved governments are responsible for university fees there.

All three Cornwall Libdems had signed a pledge to vote against any rise in tuition fees. George and Rogerson kept their promise; Gilbert didn’t. None of the three Conservatives had signed that pledge.

The pledge and keeping it/breaking it is an issue about which the Libdems as a party have damaged themselves seriously; repeatedly shifting ground by the party leadership as the party tried to get itself out of a hole of its own making compounded the damage. The Libdem party has forfeited trust. Despite the twenty one Libdem MPs who voted against the rise, many people who voted for the party will feel let down and be very reluctant to believe the Libdem party again.

I have looked at the Libdem MP websites. Gilbert’s explanation for voting for the rise doesn’t mention his signed pledge. He focuses on the minutiae of the government’s proposals and says they are an improvement on the present arrangements. He says he believes “higher education should be free”. Andrew George, for whom the sticking point appears to be raising the cap, also says, “If we were in power we would…get rid of tuition fees”. Rogerson says briefly his concern is “the government’s contribution to tuition”. I assume he means the cap should remain at just over £3000 or possibly that the division of costs between government/taxpayers and students should be different from the present and proposed arrangements.

I am presently unclear whether the abolition for tuition fees is still Libdem policy or is effectively a disregarded relic from the past, a dead clause 4 or hanging-and-flogging awaiting eventual erasure from the party agenda.

Incidentally, after three years at university a graduate will owe £18 000 or perhaps
£27 000 in tuition fees; if he had a loan for maintenance as well his total debt might be around £38 000. Two graduates marrying, a usual occurrence, might well have a combined couple debt of £77 000.

I mention these scary figures because the supporters of the new fees avoid mentioning them.

The Libdems nationally have struggled with this question. They have tried in the past to portray themselves as righteously different than other parties: it’s time to put an end to broken promises, for promises to be kept, Nick Clegg said in his video, comparing his Libdems with Tories and Labour. It turns out they are just like the others.

This is an ideological argument as well as a practical one. The Conservative party appears to believe in a significant shift in the balance of funding university education from society collectively through taxes as the major funder to individuals through much higher fees for individual students. The Tory Libdem government’s cutting of the university teaching grant by 80 percent in the comprehensive spending review has left universities with a funding gap and raising tuition fees is seen by the government as a way of plugging that gap (though arts and humanities courses are seriously imperilled). This tallies with the Tories’ notions of individualism.

Libdems generally have gone along with the 80 percent cut but some have then baulked at the fee rise, not a credible position, I think. As I said, I don’t know whether the party still seeks the abolition of tuition fees; and I am unclear where the argument from some Libdems about current economic circumstances making abolition unaffordable and increases unavoidable fits in.

Labour, who introduced tuition fees and increased them, appears to have no current worked-out policy though an undefined graduate tax seems to be the preferred view. I think had Labour won the election in May it would be putting up fees.

qSee Addenda at the bottom of the post

The Tory Libdem government is set on reducing the number of UK MPs from the current 650 to an arbitrary 600 (Hansard 5 July 2010 column 24). It also aims to have all seats contain approximately the same number of electors, apparently about 75 000 with a 5 percent leeway (columns 44 and 25). The number basis will be the December 2010 registers (column 37).

At present all six constituencies here are wholly within Cornwall and the boundary commission respects historic county boundaries generally. As I noted here, the equalisation of the size of the electorates in constituencies and the limited leeway, presents the possibility that Cornwall will have a constituency shared with Devon. Dan Rogerson, Libdem MP for North Cornwall, raised this question in the Commons on Monday (column 37).

Nick Clegg’s answer was clear: the only two exceptions to the number constraints would be Orkney-and-Shetland and the Western Isles. For the rest the boundary commission would have equal size electorates as “the predominant requirement…of greater weighting and importance than any other considerations” (column 37).

There are difficulties. Respecting historic boundaries throughout the UK matters to many people; and starting to redraw constituency boundaries with a strict electorate limit and strict leeway as predominant considerations might well disrupt that and cause much immediate local opposition. It will be interesting to see how support for equal size and a desire for county boundaries play out among people. Additionally, about 3.5 million people are apparently not on the electoral registers who are qualified to be and there is a question of whether these are mainly in deprived areas mostly represented by Labour MPs and how far the new equal-sized constituencies can reflect the missing people. The size question is also caught up with the proposal for a referendum on the switch to elect the Commons by the preferential alternative vote (which before the May election Clegg described as “a miserable little compromise,” scroll to the end of the item) and the contentious date of that referendum and the reduction of the number of seats.

It will be interesting to see what happens about constituency boundaries and not just in Cornwall.

Of course were I writing this in Plymouth or Holsworthy I should entitle it Will Devon spill over into Cornwall.

I’ve come across this discussion of two kinds of alternative vote (10 July 2010). No doubt the government will clarify which it means. (10 July 2010).

Related posts
Boundaries 9 September 2010
Boundaries 2 15 September 2010
Boundaries 3 17 September 2010
Boundaries 4 11 October 2010
Boundaries 5 24 November 2010

The trinity of Libdem MPs in Cornwall welcomed the June 2010 budget as “a step forward for Cornwall and the country ”.

Let’s see what a Libdem step forward looks like. The Tory Libdem budget among other measures…

* Raises VAT to 20 percent. “It is a regressive tax. It does, without question, hit the poorest more than it hits the wealthiest” – Andrew George, 24 June 2010. See Table 3 in this ONS study The effects of taxes and benefits on household income 2007/2008 but read the text and notes.

* Freezes child benefit for three years. “Freezing child benefit will hurt the poorest parents most rather than their riches peers” – Save the Children 22 June 2010

* “This is a disappointing budget for child poverty…The increase in VAT is a regressive measure which will impact hardest on poorest families…freezing it [child benefit] for three years won’t be a pain shared equally by all families. It will hit hardest the families who need it the most” Child Poverty Action Group 22 June 2010

* “Iain Duncan Smith [work and pensions secretary] admits the budget stymies bid to cut poverty” – Guardian 3 June 2010

* Cuts local housing allowance from the median to the 30th percentile of local rents

* Scraps the health in pregnancy grant from January 2011 and limits the Sure Start maternity grant to the first child only from April 2011

* Costs up to 1.3 million people their jobs – undisclosed Treasury estimate, Guardian 29 June 2010

* “Budget cuts will hit Britain’s poorest families six times harder than the richest” – Observer 27 June 2010 referring to the Don’t forget the spending cuts: the real impact of budget 2010 by Tim Horton and Howard Reed

*Scraps child tax credits for households earning more than £23 274 a year (an individual’s income or a couple’s joint income) from April 2012 (median pay in Cornwall for an individual is £21 522 pa: see the post Cornwall data on this blog).

* Cuts housing benefit from April 2013 for those who have been on job seekers’ allowance (£65.45 a week) for more than twelve months

These Libdem steps forward in the budget come as the Tory Libdem government scraps Labour’s planned extension of free school meals to children from low income families; ends the future jobs scheme; ends the building schools for the future program to refubish or rebuild secondary schools throughout England; cuts £450 million from the Homes and Communities Agency regeneration and affordable housing programs; and cuts £14 million (plus education cuts) in grants for 2010/2011 from Cornwall Council which will have a marked effect on services and jobs here. More Libdem steps forward presumably. Of course Conservatives support these too.

7 July 2010: Now there’s this: 10 000 jobs in the NHS disappearing despite a Tory Libdem promise – yes, I know, ‘Tory Libdem promise’ is a hoot – to protect frontline services and give the NHS especial protection.

24 July 2010: The Tory Libdem cuts in housing benefits mean nearly one million people, including pensioners, low-paid workers, and the unemployed, will lose an average of £12 a week in 2011/12. The figures come from a government analysis of the cuts. [Guardian 24 July 2010 ]

9 July 2010: Cuts figure for Housing and Communities Agency amended to £450 million following the latest government decision on funding for the agency.


30 April 2009

Yesterday the House of Commons voted for a Liberal Democrat motion to let Gurkhas settle in Britain; an expression of a view and not binding. Frankly, the way the Gurkhas have been treated by British governments 1945-1997 is very poor. To its vast credit the Labour government since 1997 has done much more to treat them justly than ever happened before: between 1945 and the advent of Labour to power in 1997 only five Gurkhas were granted settlement here; under the present government six thousand have (Hansard 29 April 2009 column 997). It is disappointing that the government has so far failed to build on that achievement and find a way to be more generous and fair to all Gurkhas.

What we have now is a moral question. It is in terms of financial and immigration policies complex, but it is fundamentally about dealing justly and generously with people who are prepared to defend and die for our freedoms. As Chris Huhne said, it is about “the sort of people we are” (Hansard 29 April 2009 column 898).

At bottom, the Labour government yesterday opposed justice and generosity.

The Gurkha motion was supported by the Libdems, including all five from Cornwall, along with Conservatives. About a hundred Labour MPs either voted for the Gurkha motion or appear to have abstained, refusing to support their government. The Conservatives did damn all about allowing Gurkha settlement here when they were in power.

Later yesterday the government responded to the debate and vote (Hansard 29 April 2009 column 988) and it is clear pressure on them must continue.

I am pleased all the Cornwall MPs voted for justice and generosity to Gurkhas. Our corner of Britain owes them a debt of honour too.

Read the debate here: Hansard

UPDATE 21 May 2009
The government has today decided to let the Gurkhas settle in Britian if they wish. Yes, it’s a turnabout but it is right.

The second reading of the Human fertilisation and embryology bill was debated in the house of commons on 12 May 2008 and approved by 340-78 votes: Hansard column 1145. Four Cornwall MPs, Colin Breed, Julia Goldsworthy, Dan Rogerson, and Matthew Taylor voted for the bill’s second reading.

I shall follow the progress of the bill and the speeches and votes of Cornwall MPs and post information here about what they say and do.

The bill regulates research and activity about the treatment of human illnesses and difficulties in conceiving. Aspects that are contentious include admixed embryos, saviour siblings, and the need for a declared father. Abortion is likely to be raised by amendments about the legal temporal threshold (at present twenty four weeks of pregnancy) and the need for two doctors to consent to an abortion.

Let me be candid so that you can detect more easily any bias in my posting on this question. I support the bill, oppose lowering the abortion time threshold, and support the abolition of doctor consent. Research and activity that the bill allows will benefit people here in Cornwall. Abortion is a procedure that several thousand women in Cornwall have decided to use; the scientific arguments about survival into a decent life point against a lowering of the threshold which is why I wish to see it remain at twenty four weeks.

I should like to see sex education improved and contraceptive availability improved – there are reported difficulties with obtaining emergency morning-after-pill contraception from some pharmacies on occasion and these difficulties should be removed.

However, this post is primarily about Cornwall MPs not an extensive account of my views on the question. Of the several votes on the bill so far, I have selected the ones which I think are the most important.

Vote to ban admixed embryos (Hansard 19 May 2008, column 68, division 191), ban lost by 336-176 votes votes

Voted for a ban: Colin Breed
Voted against a ban: Andrew George, Julia Goldsworthy, Dan Rogerson, Matthew Taylor

Vote to allow saviour siblings (Hansard 19 May 2008, column 124, division 195), permission approved by 342-163 votes

Voted for permission: Colin Breed, Andrew George, Julia Goldsworthy, Dan Rogerson, Matthew Taylor
Voted against permission: none of the Cornwall MPs

Vote for “a father or male role model” for fertility treatment Hansard 20 May 2008, column 215, division 195), rejected by 290-222 votes

Voted for: Colin Breed, Matthew Taylor
Voted against: Andrew George, Julia Goldsworthy, Dan Rogerson

Vote to lower abortion threshold to twenty two weeks ( Hansard 20 May 2008, column 286, division 203), rejected by 304-233 votes

For twenty two weeks: Colin Breed, Dan Rogerson
Against twenty two weeks, ie for the current twenty four weeks: Andrew George, Julia Goldsworthy, Matthew Taylor

Some other votes
Threshold of twenty weeks, column 278, division 201, rejected by 332-190 votes: For Colin Breed, Dan Rogerson; against Andrew George, Julia Goldsworthy, Matthew Taylor

Threshold of sixteen weeks, column 274, division 200, rejected by votes 387-84 votes: Against Andrew George, Julia Goldsworthy, Matthew Taylor; no vote recorded Colin Breed, Dan Rogerson

Threshold of twelve weeks: Against Andrew George, Julia Goldsworthy, Matthew Taylor; no vote recorded Colin Breed, Dan Rogerson

I very much welcome the outcome of these votes and warmly congratulate Andrew George and Julia Goldsworthy, and largely Matthew Taylor, for their across-the-board progressive and liberal votes. I think most people in Cornwall will be glad too.
Original post 13 May 2008. Amended 20 May 2008 and 23 May 2008.

The law of blasphemy, an unjustified restriction on free speech, has been abolished. Four Cornwall MPs commendably voted for abolition after a Commons debate on 6 May 2008: Andrew George, Julia Goldsworthy, Dan Rogerson, and Matthew Taylor. Colin Breed did not vote; I do not know whether this was an abstention or whether he was not available to vote.

You can read the debate in Hansard 6 May 2008 column 638 onwards. The vote for abolition was 378 to 57. Royal assent to the bill that included abolition (the Criminal justice and immigration bill) was on 8 May.