In part two of his question and answer session with Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly, former Hunts Post columnist STUART LITTLEWOOD continues to probe into key national issues now that the Conservative Party has a new leader. Question 1: IMPORTED CRIME Ma
In part two of his question and answer session with Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly, former Hunts Post columnist STUART LITTLEWOOD continues to probe into key national issues now that the Conservative Party has a new leader.
Question 1: IMPORTED CRIME
Many people must be sick of hearing about foreign gangsters plying their sex trade and bringing thuggery, drugs and gun crime to Britain. We seem bent on importing trouble, as if the home-grown variety wasn't enough. How long must we wait for a government that will clean up?
The former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens describes Britain's borders as "porous". It is easy to smuggle guns, drugs or people into this country. I want to see greater physical security at our borders.
It would be wrong to suggest that every corner of Britain is riddled with gun crime - but in many areas it has spiralled out of control. Home Office figures show that there is one gun crime every hour of every day. For every murder committed with a firearm, there are a further 15 attempted murders involving guns.
Nine out of every ten illegally held firearms in Britain is imported from abroad. Where there are guns, this is usually because of hard drugs. And where there are hard drugs, the sex trade is rarely far away.
As well as securing our borders to stop the widespread importation of illegal weapons, Britain must use her influence abroad to halt the production of Class A drugs, which give rise to the presence of guns in our towns and cities.
In Afghanistan, Britain agreed on behalf of the international community to take on responsibility for eradicating drugs production. Yet, since the war in Afghanistan, production has increased with the result that Britain's streets are flooded with heroin. When we have the opportunity to kill off the production and supply of hard drugs, we must seize it.
Just as guns follow hard drugs, prostitution tends also to emanate from the same criminal gangs, many of which are from abroad. Albanian gangsters, for example, have found that simply by pretending to be EU citizens they can easily enter the UK. The re-introduction of embarkation controls would help us crack down on these serious organised criminals.
Question 2: HARD ON "SOFT" DRUGS?
Cannabis is not only harmful to some users. It affects memory, concentration and judgement, which makes users a potential danger to the public at large and to work colleagues. Are Tories prepared to deal with cannabis seriously?
At a time when Class A drug-use is at an all-time high, Conservatives fully understand the importance of combating the damage drugs do to our society.
A key area of study for our new Social Justice Policy Group, for example, will be the provision of new ideas on the treatment and rehabilitation of young people affected by drugs and alcohol.
On cannabis specifically, I welcome the recognition that new evidence has shown the dangers of cannabis, particularly with regard to mental health. I think that we need to look at such evidence very carefully and, in turn, see what the Government suggests. According to recent comments by the Home Secretary, a decision by the Government (possibly to do a u-turn and reclassify cannabis as a Class B drug) is expected very soon.
Question 3: EUROPE
Labour and Conservative governments never say how much they squander on the EU. It runs to many £billions and the figures remain hidden. Will Tories make the arithmetic transparent, disengage from EU controls that are against our interests, and stop public money being wastefully diverted to Brussels?
I am deeply concerned about the manner in which the EU budget is accounted for. The EU Court of Auditors has, for the 11th year in a row, failed to sign off the EU accounts. This failure will do nothing to address the crisis of confidence in how EU funds are spent.
I am deeply disappointed that the Prime Minister did not use the UK's Presidency of the EU to address this problem. It is yet another example of the drift and incompetence which characterised the UK's Presidency.
I believe that EU Member States need to face up to their responsibility to ensure that EU funds channelled through them are better accounted for. The Court of Auditors should undertake a number of programme audits for all Member States, rather than just a sample of them, and publish a detailed assessment for each. This should be followed up in subsequent years so that progress can be measured.
I believe this would mark a good first step in ensuring that public money channelled through the EU is not wasted.
Question 4: ENERGY POLICY
Although all parties promised to cut CO2 emissions by 60 percent by 2050 (from 1990 levels) they are still rising. Now, threatened with dwindling oil and gas supplies, power cuts and rocketing prices, a proper 'post-carbon' energy policy is overdue. Does the Tories' energy programme include nuclear and tidal power, and what are the timescales?
I believe that any decision on a new generation of nuclear power stations in Britain would have to be taken on a properly informed, open and transparent basis, taking account of the various risks as well as the possible benefits.
I would like to see a more diverse stock of renewable power than is being encouraged by the Government at the moment. More effort needs to be given to encouraging technologies such as tidal and biomass and the emerging technologies such as solar and wave power. One option considered to redress this balance is reviewing the Renewables Obligation so that it could be adjusted to support technologies other than wind.
In reference to timescales, I believe that a decision on a new generation of nuclear power needs to be made in the very near future as it can take up to five years to build power plants.
I also believe that further research and development into tidal power should be included in the Government's forthcoming energy review.
Question 5: SAVING THE PLANET
In the meantime, we are still allowed to buy gas-guzzling cars, drive at uneconomically high speeds, run public buildings too hot, build new homes without solar panels, and jet around the world without paying tax on aviation fuel. What urgent measures would you take to curb this recklessness and cut consumption?
I agree that measures need to be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
David Cameron has described climate change as one of the greatest issues before mankind today. He has stressed the need to set targets for reducing carbon emissions and to make sure tough decisions are taken to meet them.
There are two ways in which we can tackle climate change; one is by improving energy efficiency and the other is by increasing the use of sustainable energy.
I feel it is important to work closely with those industries that can improve energy efficiency, especially in light of the fact that housing emissions are actually set to double by 2050, by which time 55% of the UK's carbon emissions could come from the housing sector. This is why I supported the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill which proposed new energy efficiency measures in building regulations.
On transport emissions, I believe that the increased use of biofuels could supply us with an answer, being beneficial to agriculture and reducing carbon emissions. I hope that further movement towards the use of biofuels will come from the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, to which the Government has recently committed itself.
Question 6: SEMI-NATIONALISE ENERGY?
Not so long ago, the British Government had a majority shareholding in BP and two directors on the board because it "was dealing with a strategic commodity". The Government seems woefully ignorant about strategic energy issues and needs an insider view more than ever. Is there a case for re-introducing semi-nationalisation?
The Government has a shared responsibility, with Ofgem, for security of energy supply. Both need to ensure that all reasonable demands in Great Britain for gas and electricity are met, so far as it is economical to do so. The Government is also responsible for setting the regulatory framework for energy markets.
Instead of re-introducing semi-nationalisation in the UK energy market, a better solution would be for the Government to fulfil its duty and ensure the market can operate freely to meet energy demands.
Currently, in spite of large differentials with continental gas prices, the Bacton-Zeebrugge gas interconnector has not imported above two-thirds of its capacity. This is because continental energy markets have still not been fully liberalised; I believe that this is where it is the role of the Government to intervene.
In addition, the Government should also ensure that planning regulations are suitable for energy companies to build necessary gas storage facilities.
Question 7: EASING ROAD CONGESTION
Congestion is caused mainly by people travelling to and from work in the same place at the same time. What will the Tories do to disperse jobs and encourage flexi-time and working from home?
The Government has failed to tackle the problem of congestion on our roads. They promised to reduce congestion to below 2000 levels by 2010 but instead congestion is expected to rise be 30 per cent higher by 2015.
I am aware of arguments for the Government promoting working from home and flexible working, but there has already been an increase in these methods of employment. I believe that the direction of modern business combined with technological developments will increase the number of people who work from home or on flexible contracts.
I feel that rather than place any an additional burden on business, which would increase costs, we should allow businesses to take decisions that are best for the company and employees and to invest in the technologies required to enable working from home.
Question 8: PUBLIC SAFETY
Nearly 35,000 people a year are killed or seriously injured on our roads, including many children. A major cause is speeding motorists. What will Tories do to protect us from the idiot behind the wheel, and eradicate the booze and drugs culture that pervades so many of our communities?
Most people agree that more needs to be done on road safety. It is very concerning that so many lives are lost on our roads each year.
I believe that dismissing road casualties as the inevitable consequence of driver error is wrong. To improve road safety we need to take a rounded approach to road safety: we need better investment in basic safety infrastructure on roads that are known to be dangerous and we must also change the attitude of young drivers who make up a high proportion of unnecessary deaths on British roads.
Question 9: TRANSPORT
Successive governments have failed to produce a national transport plan. It should at least be possible to organise the movement of freight better. Part of the problem is that a quarter of the trucks on our roads carry food thanks to rising imports and centralised distribution. Do Tories agree that a return to local food sources is now essential to cut down the crazy escalation in "food miles"?
The Government made promise after promise when it came to power about its plans for the transport system. Although there have been some improvements, most of the new projects they promised to complete by 2010 have either been scrapped altogether or kicked into the long grass.
Congestion is just one example. The Government committed themselves to a reduction in congestion; the reality is that they are failing to meet their target to shift freight to the railways leaving our roads congested.
Reducing the distance food travels can play a part in reducing congestion. British farmers should produce food for the market place, not under the influence of centrally directed subsidies.
That is why I support the radical reform of the CAP, greater transparency in the supply chain and more local procurement to reduce the environmental damage caused by food transportation.
Question 10: INDUSTRY AND THE ECONOMY
The Government has allowed Britain's manufacturing base to crumble and seems to rely on consumer spending and borrowing to bolster the economy. What will the Tories do to rebuild and re-invigorate our wealth-creating industrial sector? And how enthusiastically should we embrace globalisation, given the dangers and widespread concern?
I recognise your description of the Government's handling of the economy. I believe that Britain is crying out for credible policies to improve our competitiveness for the long term, so that our economy can create the investment and jobs that guarantee rising living standards.
That is why my party is setting up a Policy Group on Economic Competitiveness. But I also recognise that British business cannot flourish without economic stability, so my party has proposed a triple lock on economic stability with interest rates set independently, independent assessment of the fiscal rules and independent statistics.
We are also investigating the crucial issue of globalisation, launching a Policy Group on Globalisation and Global Poverty, which will work in consultation with Bob Geldof. The group will study the benefits and impacts of globalised free trade, and examine the interactions between trade, sustainability and the relief of global poverty.
Question 11: CHOOSER OR USER?
The Tories seem inexplicably obsessed with "choice". Will they ever acknowledge that what matters in public services is not so much choice as quality?
Choice and quality in public services are not mutually exclusive. You are right to say that Conservatives have focused on choice in the delivery of public services, and this is because we believe that choice can drive up standards.
A great deal of money has been directed into the NHS and education system over the past eight years. The results of this investment, however, have been limited as the extra money has not been accompanied by the necessary reforms.
I believe that we need to look at solutions such as the devolution of power to the people, professionals and communities who operate, understand and use the services. This will be a key aspect of the Conservatives' policy group on Improving Public Services, recently set up by David Cameron.