EU Referendum

Last Thursday answered one question from which many more flow. Over the months ahead, as we reshape our relationships with European countries and the rest of the world, I will continue to do what is in the best interests of all the people I represent as well as our great country.

My immediate priority is to seek answers to the questions many local people have asked me. Their questions include – how will the promises made by the Brexiteers be delivered: replacing all the funding secured for Cornwall via the EU until 2020 and paying our farmers “at least as much as they get paid now”; improving the lot of our local fishermen & women and replacing the EU funding that our universities currently get for vital medical and other research. We currently get out more than we pay into EU research funds. And finally how will immigration be reduced without creating staff shortages, particularly in our local NHS.

The organisations representing the backbone of our local economy, small businesses, wanted to remain in the European Union as they understood the benefits. So I will be doing everything I can to ensure that our local small businesses can maintain fair access to the EU – the largest free market in the world.

At the same time, I will not be distracted from delivering the pledges I made when I was reelected just over a year ago – especially those concerning the most disadvantaged in our society – to improve their life chances.

Most importantly of all, I will be fighting for a tolerant and big hearted, united Great Britain. Now is the time for us all to come together. Together we have important work to do – to deliver the security and prosperity we all want to see for our family, our community and our nation.

Published by the West Briton on June 30th 2016

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Fighting for Our Democracy & Freedom

Thank you for the messages of support that I have received since Jo Cox MP was murdered last week. Most MPs I know are like Jo – well motivated and working constructively with constituents, whatever their political views, to bring the positive changes we all want to see.

Democracy depends on informed, engaged citizens and reasoned argument. Given that most public meetings I attend these days have some very loud and shouty people trying to drown out reasoned debate, it is not surprising that most people don’t get involved in publicly discussing our big issues. More and more go online and social media has become a vast echo chamber, often spreading misinformation.

From the far left and the far right of the spectrum of political thinking there are people seeking to drown out reasoned debate, including by casting doubt about the motivations of those holding different opinions than their own, often denigrating them as ‘rich’, part of ‘the establishment’ or ‘elite’.

I have long felt we take democracy and our society based on freedom and tolerance for granted at our peril. Every generation has to fight again for our hard won freedoms, for hope not hate, for a peaceful and tolerant society.

This is a wake up call and we all need to work much harder to understand and confront the hate that seems to have led to the politically motivated killing of a democratically elected representative and the threats to so many more. These threats are not just to the individual MPs but to our way of life and our democracy.

We have to think more critically about where the line is between dangerous incitement and acceptable expressions of anger or alienation. I believe Britain is a tolerant, big hearted nation. The responsibility for keeping it that way belongs to all of us.

Published in the West Briton on 23rd June 2016

Fisheries: Facts not Fantasy by Richard Benyon

I am not surprised that the Brexit campaign have made fisheries their poster boy. The failures of the old Common Fisheries Policy are an easy hit. It was not the EU’s finest hour. But a closer look shows the weakness of the highly simplistic arguments and downright inaccuracies of the ‘leave’ campaign.

They would have us believe that if only we could throw off the shackles of EU mismanagement and bureaucracy our brave fisherfolk can harvest plentiful seas freed of pesky foreigners. No. Not true.

Most of the comments I have heard about the evils of the CFP tend to come from the mouths of those unaware of recent significant reforms in fishery management. Reforms that were promoted by British Ministers and officials and agreed unanimously by all EU countries. A British Government successfully leading a popular reform agenda in Brussels. Under these reforms European waters will no longer be micromanaged from Brussels. Fisheries will be (are, in some areas already) managed by countries that fish a particular sea basin. Fishermen and scientists will be in control of saying what quantities of each stock can be harvested. The ghastly practice of throwing away perfectly edible fish is banned for most species and all countries in Europe are signed up to a legal requirement to fish sustainably. As I told the Prime Minister after the successful conclusion of our reform negotiations in 2011, “you see, you can reform the EU’.

As Fisheries Minister I sometimes had to remind people that beyond our inshore waters there are relatively few species that hang around in one part of the sea. They might spawn in one country’s waters and shoal in another’s. Fish operate in ecosystems not according to lines on maps. In the case of North Sea Herring for example, most of the juveniles live in the south east corner around the German bight, whereas the adults tend to congregate around the Shetland Isles prior to spawning at various sites along the British coast. Cod are found throughout the North Sea but prefer spawning along the border between UK and Norwegian waters. This is important when you consider the complex network of bilateral arrangements that would have to be agreed if we left the EU.

Never mind “Project Fear”, “Project Fact” is needed here. The UK exports 45% of its catch. 80% of that quantity goes to EU countries. For example 90% of fish landed in Ramsgate are sold in the Boulogne Fish Market – for 15% more in value than they would get at home. When you visit North East Scotland you see vast European registered refrigerated trucks driving south and many don’t stop until they reach France or Spain. UK fishing vessels fish in the waters of other EU countries. In addition to wider sovereign waters fishing rights UK fishermen have rights within the 6-12 mile limit of four other member states: Ireland, Germany, France and the Netherlands. For example trawlers out of Brixham exploit the valuable scallop stocks in the Baie de Seine. Trawlers out of Peterhead fish in Dutch and German waters. Many of the foreign vessels fishing in UK waters do so because the companies that own them bought from UK fishermen and with them the right to fish. It is important to note that the UK is allocated about 30% of the EU’s total catch even though it has only 13% of the total sea area (ie the UK EEZ compared to the entire EU EEZ, but not including territorial waters).

In a post Brexit world what would “taking back control of our fisheries” really mean? Some suggest it would mean an end to quotas. No. Quotas would still be needed to regulate the quantity of fish landed. Would it mean an end to regulations on net sizes and engine emissions? Well, perhaps if a truly ignorant Government was elected that did not care a damn about the health of our seas, our environment or the future economic value of fisheries and the communities they support.

I have been a vocal critic of the pre reform CFP but it is simplistic to blame it for all the woes of the fishing industry. Professor Callum Roberts of York University has produced a graph of cod stocks in the North Sea. It shows a steep decline since the late 19th century. There are only two periods when cod stocks rose: 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. I’ll leave you to work that one out. There is not even a blip in the descending line at the time the UK joined the CFP. The truth is that our technical ability to harvest fish on an industrial scale has improved every decade and successive Governments’ ability to regulate the industry effectively has always been behind the curve. The absurd centralised nature of the CFP just made the problem worse – as did sea temperature rise, acidification and other environmental factors.

The ironic fact is that the “leave” campaign’s use of fisheries to support their case has come at a time when the future is starting to look bright for our fishing industry. Certain stocks are rising. North Sea cod has been one of the success stories of reformed EU management, showing strong recovery in the last few years and now approaching a healthy stock size for the first time in decades. Other stocks show signs of improvement. Our commitment with our EU partners to manage our fisheries to Maximum Sustainable Yield will deliver the increased biomass of fish that has so long been wished for. “Leave” offers our fishing industry only uncertainty and a myopic view of how to manage a complex environment. As Professor Roberts puts it, “The stocks of many species in UK waters have improved considerably with the reform of the CFP. The signs are positive”.

Richard Benyon is MP for Newbury and was Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries from 2010-2013

 

How do we share the economic recovery more equally across all of society?

There is a pressing question here in Britain that’s posing a real dilemma to politicians: how do we share the economic recovery more equally across all of society?

So much is made in the media of the expanding super-rich and their houses and yachts, when for the vast majority just owning their own small home is a big challenge.

The quiet insistence that this inequality be comprehensively addressed can only grow as anger about it festers.

For some of us lifelong Conservatives, it is also prompting a painful question. Is the free market we cherish and nurture distributing its spoils in a morally defensible way?

Capitalism is supposed to cascade wealth down, so why does it seem to be cascading up?

To make my point, the typical FTSE company chief executive now makes 183 times more than their average employee, and some take home even more.

But it hasn’t always been like this. The ratio of FTSE 100 chiefs’ pay to that of average workers has jumped significantly since the millennium turned. In 1998 the multiple was only (if ‘only’ can be the right word) 47 times. And these ‘average’ employees are themselves typically paid up to four times what the office cleaners get.

These chief executives are, of course, few in number. They would argue they do a skilled job and the companies they run would add that if they didn’t pay so much, they couldn’t hire the top talent to drive companies forward to create jobs and prosperity.

It’s also true that under capitalism, over the long term, we’ve almost all got much richer. Capitalism has delivered us technology and medical breakthroughs that were only fantasies to our predecessors.

Of course, this is all well and good, but now society rightly finds grotesque such disparities of income so lavishly displayed. People simply won’t stand for it and all politicians, are going to have to take that as a given.

So, what to do to address this dilemma? Well, since 2010 there has been some progress in closing the gap. We saw a reduction in inequality in the wake of the financial crisis, driven by large income falls at the top.

More encouragingly, we have seen a recent return to wage rises and, crucially, faster earnings growth of the lowest incomes. These earnings increases, combined with swift rises in employment, have meant income gains for the bottom outpacing the top. The new National Living Wage is also something that will start to improve the situation over the long term.

But the ratio of typical workers’ pay to chief executives in most large companies and some public sector organisations is still difficult to explain by market forces alone.

And it’s not something unique to Britain. In America, the average CEO makes 354 times more money than the average employee. In Germany, CEOs make a comparatively reasonable 147 times more money than workers.

I don’t know how people in those countries feel about the situation, but I hope Britain may soon be a beacon of hope when it comes to excessive executive pay.

The recent news that BP shareholders voted against the huge pay rise of their CEO is welcome and builds on the so called “Shareholder Spring” of 2012 where a number of large British firms were similarly challenged about pay.

Back in 2014 Vince Cable gave shareholders more power over executive pay. I firmly believe it’s time the Government revisited shareholder power and gave them more tools to help them exercise it.

Requiring all FTSE 100 companies to report on top-to-bottom as well as top-to-median earners’ pay scales would be a good start, and lead to transparency that has been lacking.

When large employers were asked to tackle another type of inequality, that of gender pay gaps, a similar approach was used and is beginning to have a good effect.

So this CEO/employee pay inequality is a bellwether of how things should not be because the high skills, high pay economy opportunities must be open to all.

It makes it clear we must shape future growth so that the vast majority see their living standards rise in line with the nation’s economic growth because that is vital to delivering a One Nation Conservative government.

Published in The Western Morning News on 16th June 2016

 

 

How We Vote Really Matters

How we vote next Thursday really matters. It matters not just for us but for our children and grandchildren. Some of my older constituents have discussed their vote with the younger generation of their families and will vote according to their wishes. They know it’s about their futures.

But it’s about older people’s futures too. We all want well-funded pensions and public services like the NHS and police. To raise the taxes to pay for vital public services we need a strong economy, with well paid jobs for local people. Small businesses in Cornwall have worked really hard through the recession to secure and create jobs here. All the credible, independent expert organisations on the economy, including the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce representing local businesses, say we are better off in the EU.

We are patriotic people who love our country and the emotive language of Leave – declaring UK Independence Day – is stirring stuff. Like you, I am worried about the huge challenges we face, including defending our hard won freedoms, controlling immigration, tackling climate change, building a strong economy and fair society for ourselves and our children.

As your local MP, my job is to do everything that I can to help people get on in life. It’s clear to me that local families are better off in the EU and they can’t afford the consequences of us leaving the EU.

Remember, as the EU changes, we all decide how. It is the British Parliament that decides if Turkey or another country joins the EU. You will decide, in automatic referendums, matters such as the UK joining the Euro or an EU Army.

We are Great Britain not little England. We must continue our important job of reforming the EU from within making our membership work for the UK.

EU Referendum

On Sunday, like many people, I will be joining communal celebrations of the Queen’s birthday. Sixty – five years ago in 1951, the year before the Queen ascended to the throne, after prolonged negotiations, a group of European statesmen from six nations dreamed a dream originally proposed by Winston Churchill in 1946 that conflict between European nations could be forever eliminated.

Since that time, twelve separate Treaties have been arduously negotiated and twenty – eight nations have joined what has become the European Union, each sacrificing some national sovereignty in exchange for the substantial benefits of the single market and the strength and security of unity.

The voluntary bringing together of twenty – eight nations each with different languages and cultures, is a unique achievement in world history which deserves to be celebrated, particularly since an essential condition of membership is the acceptance of democratic laws, values and freedoms.

It is clearly acknowledged that further reforms are necessary but it does enable interaction and debate to take place between member nations and for co-operation and constructive compromise.

If we leave the EU, it will still be there, going its own way without us. Throughout history we have ended up getting involved in Europe’s problems, better we remain and help shape our joint destiny.

The world is facing many serious problems that may seem insoluble, but since they have been caused by human action we must believe they can be mitigated by us.

The Prime Minister has negotiated the extraordinary right for us to opt out of any further agreements towards closer union. We can enjoy the best of both worlds – we can have security and prosperity, which comes being a member of the EU, and we can retain our present level of national sovereignty which amounts to 90% of our existing laws.

Published by West Briton.

 

SMEs to be hit hard by Brexit says Cornwall’s only Remain MP

Cornwall’s only MP in favour of Britain remaining in the EU believes South West SMEs could be hit the hardest in the advent of a Brexit vote.

Sarah Newton, the Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth, believes that while the EU needs serious and profound reforms, the UK is better off staying in the EU club than going it alone.

The MP, who is currently serving her second term, said the EU was far from perfect but had been beneficial for Cornwall.

Mrs Newton, whose parents ran a small holiday park on the outskirts of Falmouth, said she was familiar with the woes and worries of SMEs.

She insisted: “It’s vital that SMEs down here have access to the largest single market in the world, especially in the farming, leisure, tourism and food and drink sectors.

“These sectors have benefited from huge investment from the EU.

“Businesses need certainty and the uncertainty that would be caused by Brexit would be hugely detrimental especially as each sector of activity would have to renegotiate access to the single market.”

The MP said the South West had benefited from £700m of EU funding over the past few years and was scheduled to receive another £700m by 2020.

Mrs Newton added: “Most economists agree there would be a massive economic shock to the system if we left the EU.

“If we do then the UK will go back into recession.

“SMEs in Cornwall have worked hard through the recent recession to make themselves leaner and more efficient and more competitive.

“They can’t afford to see the UK get plunged back into another recession right now. That’s why Britain needs to continue trading with the largest single market in the world.”

She added: “People complain about red tape and regulations but these have enabled all countries to be on a level playing field across Europe.

“If we leave, rather than having one set of regulations, we might have to renegotiate trading terms with all 27 other EU countries separately. That could lead to more red tape and regulations not less.

“If we leave we’ll still have to abide by their rules if we want to trade but we won’t be able to improve the system or implement the reforms that need to be done.

“Next year the UK is scheduled to have the presidency of the EU. If we leave that won’t happen and we will have missed a huge opportunity to take the lead.”

Mrs Newton believes farming, tourism and healthcare sectors would be the most seriously hit by Brexit as all three sectors employ a large number of EU workers whether in fields picking daffodils, fruits and veg or at Treliske hospital where many are employed as nurses and doctors.

The Truro and Falmouth MP said that what the Prime Minister has proposed, which would see EU migrants only being able to claim benefits in the UK if they have worked and paid into the system for a number of years, represents a fair system.

Similar schemes already exist in other EU countries like France where non-French people need to work for at least six months full time to qualify for free healthcare and other benefits.

Mrs Newton said: “My family and I lived in Milan for four years. It is an opportunity that exists for all EU citizens at the moment.

“We can all live and work in each other’s countries. This enriches us all, helps us share ideas and promotes greater cooperation between us all.

“I don’t want to see this opportunity closed to my children and grandchildren if we leave the EU.”

Written by Kate Langston for the The Herald, June 6th 2016