Tessa: Bedroom Tax needs to change

Tessa has been lobbying Lord Freud to rethink his bedroom tax policy for some time

Tessa writes a regular fortnightly column in the Daily Mirror.   Below is her most recent article, published earlier this week, on the controversial Bedroom Tax. Since the piece was published, a new Report has revealed that the policy is, in fact, not working.

No party won the General Election in 2010, but the Conservatives received the largest number of votes from the British public, and 307 Tory MPs packed their bags to head for Westminster.

57 Lib Dems were elected at the same time, roughly a sixth of the number of Tories, so when we agreed to enter coalition to form a Government, we knew difficult decisions lay ahead.

To sort out the country’s finances, lots of tough choices had to be made.  One thing was sure – the benefits system would have to be reformed. So many people felt the system was unfair – not just on those who worked hard, but also those who had been left to languish on the dole.

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Tessa speaks about child sex abuse inquiry

Tessa

In an interview on Monday last week, Tessa welcomed The Home Secretary’s announcement to hold a full, independent Inquiry into worrying patterns of ‘lost’, suppressed and destroyed evidence about paedophile rings which, it is alleged, involve high-profile individuals.

Tessa and six other MPs had written to Theresa May last month about the need for a completely independent investigation into the procedures used by the authorities when reports of sexual abuse are raised.  She had serious concerns about apparently side-lined and abandoned prosecutions and alleged cover-ups, stemming from victims’ assertions that abusers were influential, famous and consequently powerful – and able to sway society’s official ‘enforcers’ away from the path to justice.

During that interview, Tessa disclosed that she had been a victim of sexual abuse in her childhood. 

Tessa said:

“I’m a survivor.”

Three small words I dropped into conversation in the House of Commons this week.  I want to explain what those words mean to me.

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Tessa and her colleagues to deliver a £250 bonus for Britain’s unsung heroes

Tessa with Care Minister, Norman Lamb

Local MP and ‘Carers Ambassador’ Tessa Munt has announced her party’s intention to reward almost 1,300 carers in the Mendip area and more than 1,600 carers in the Sedgemoor area with a bonus worth up to £250 a year – should the Lib Dems form part of the next Government.

The annual bonus will help more than one million people who look after disabled loved-ones nationally, and would be available to anyone who receives the Carer’s Allowance or the Carer’s Premium.

The annual payment will help full-time carers get a bit of extra help and is in recognition of the invaluable contribution they make to society.

Tessa said:

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Tessa right on board with Guide Dogs’ Talking Buses campaign

Tessa with Guide Dog

Local MP Tessa Munt has added her support to the Guide Dog charity’s campaign to make travelling by bus easier for people with sight loss.

Tessa attended an event in Parliament last week in support the campaign to make sure all new buses have audio visual (AV) ‘next stop’ announcements, which are so vital for blind and partially-sighted bus travellers.

The meeting, which was addressed by Tessa’s colleague and Bus Minister, Susan Kramer, highlighted how announcements enable blind and partially-sighted people to understand their location and prevent them from missing their stops.

AV systems are only fitted to around one fifth of the bus fleet nationally, with the overwhelming majority operating in London.

Guide Dogs is calling for the Government to require all new buses be fitted with AV.  Currently, bus operators are under no obligation to include this technology when upgrading their fleet.

Tessa said:

“Navigating can be challenging at the best of times, but can become a complete nightmare when you are unfamiliar with an area or route.  It is particularly difficult for blind and partially-sighted people living and travelling in rural areas as often the distances involved are longer, and hard to estimate.”

“This simple step would go a long way towards making leading an independent life easier for blind and partially-sighted bus travellers.”

“Given that only one fifth of the national bus fleet currently has AV installed, it’s pretty clear that operators need some encouragement.”

“If a change in the law means a speedy resolution to the problem, then I fully support this.”

James White, Guide Dog’s Campaigns Manager, said: “Buses are a lifeline for people who are blind or partially sighted, and we welcome Tessa’s support for people with sight loss to be able to travel safely and independently.”

“Without AV, bus travel for people with sight loss can be especially difficult, stressful, and dangerous when stops are missed and they end up in an unfamiliar area.”

“Safe and accessible bus services give people with sight loss much greater freedom to work, socialise and participate in the community.”

Tessa Munt

9th July 2014

Tessa welcomes full Independent Inquiry into allegations of child abuse cover ups at the heart of the establishment

 Local MP Tessa Munt

Local MP Tessa Munt has welcomed the Home Secretary’s announcement that she will establish a full, independent Inquiry into the worrying pattern of ‘lost’, suppressed or destroyed evidence about paedophile rings which, it is alleged, include prominent politicians, celebrities and other high-profile members of the establishment.

The Home Secretary’s announcement follows a letter to her, signed by Tessa and 6 other MPs, last month. The letter has since attracted another 140 MPs’ signatures from across the political divides, and an online petition attracted over 78,000 signatures in a matter of days.

Tessa said:

“There is the potential for abuse wherever an individual has power over others.  Where that imbalance exists, we should all be alert to the risks of abuse and must try to listen harder to those who may feel they do not have a voice – whether they are children, adults or the elderly, from the playground to the nursing home, whether victims of domestic, sexual, emotional or any other form of abuse.  Then, if we have heard that voice, we have a responsibility to act.”

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Help stop changes to the way access to land is acquired for fracking

no fracking

Tessa recently sent this message to people who have contacted her before about environmental matters.

“As you have contacted me before about environmental matters, I hope you do not mind if I write to update you further on some proposals which relate to Hydraulic Fracturing, known as ‘fracking’, in our part of Somerset, and to ask again for your help.

You may be aware that last month, the Government announced plans to encourage investment in and increase the competitiveness of the UK’s energy infrastructure.

The wording used in the Queen’s Speech was as follows:

“My government will introduce a bill to bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning law to improve economic competitiveness. The bill will enhance the United Kingdom’s energy independence and security by opening up access to shale and geothermal sites and maximising North Sea resources.”

This would have come as no surprise, as David Cameron is on record stating his intention to “go all out for shale”.

I am firmly opposed to fracking, for which exploration sites have been identified across Somerset and in particular, on the Mendip Hills.  I have asked the Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) for clarification about exactly what meaning is intended by the words above.  I await the detailed response, but in the meantime, it has become clear that this relates to plans to change the laws of trespass on accessing underground gas and oil deposits, and geothermal energy. Read the rest of this entry »

Tessa Munt calls for inquiry into historical child abuse cover-ups by local authorities

P1010059Tessa is one of a cross party team of seven MPs which has called on the Home Secretary to hold a national inquiry into historical child sex abuse, exploring alleged cover-ups by the authorities.

The seven MPs have written a joint letter to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, urging her to set up “a full, properly-resourced investigation into the failure of the Police, HM Customs & Excise and other agencies to follow up on evidence in a number of historical cases of child sex abuse, some dating back to the 1970s and said to involve paedophile rings consisting of leading politicians, celebrities and other figures of the establishment.

Worrying patterns have emerged whereby evidence has been ‘lost’ or ‘destroyed’, which has stifled investigations to date. Read the rest of this entry »

Tessa fights for super fast broadband

The Government is set to miss its target of getting 90% of homes connected to superfast broadband before 2015

As a rural MP, I have had dozens of local residents write to me – yes, often with good old-fashioned paper and pen – because they are not convinced the promised broadband scheme will be available to them.

Superfast broadband sounds fantastic.

But it’s a thorny business.

There seem to be two main problems.

One: Government forgets that many, many people live a long way from London and other major towns and cities.

And in their wisdom, Ministers have allowed BT – the only provider – to start with strengthening the coverage in towns which already have broadband and then to work outwards into the rural areas.

This is completely mad.

What ‘superfast rural broadband’ means to me is starting in those parts of England with no coverage and working back into the towns.  Not the other way round.

Two:

The difficulties in rural areas are often made worse rather than better by Government’s modernisation – putting everything online – of its own systems. Read the rest of this entry »

Tessa Munt MP becomes first south west “species champion”

Tessa with Regional Director of RSBP Tony Richardson and Tim Youngs, Head of Nature Reserves, for Somerset Wildlife Trust

Tessa was out with the RSPB and Somerset Wildlife Trust  on the Ham Wall nature reserve this morning, in her capacity as the first ‘Species Champion’ for the  wonderful Bittern. The rare heron like waterbird is making a strong comeback in our area.

The initiative has been launched this month by RSPB, Butterfly Conservation, Bumblebee Conservation, Buglife, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation,The Wildlife Trusts and National Trust.

Tessa has been able to gain first-hand about their species from wildlife NGOs who have strong environmental expertise throughout the region. She is working alongside them to provide a brighter future for these species, spread that knowledge throughout the West Country’s political community and shape policy to improve our environment.

Tony Richardson, regional director for RSPB in the South West said:

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Tessa rolls up her sleeves with local businesses this summer!

Local MP Tessa Munt is to complete a series of fact-finding work experience days this summer in some of Somerset’s fantastic local businesses.

Tessa will learn more about the challenges each business faces, whilst highlighting the benefits of undertaking work experience and volunteering during breaks in work or study and between school terms.

Tessa has already secured work experience with, amongst others, a local baker, cider-maker, vet and a reclamation company.  She will be serving at a lunch club, up early for milking and out with a local bee-keeper.  Tessa will be accepting other invitations over the coming weeks.

Tessa said:

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Engagements | Oral Answers to Questions – Prime Minister | Commons debates

Is the Prime Minister aware that since 2012, when he promised to increase patient access to innovative radiotherapy, particularly for cancer patients, the number of cancers treated by radiotherapy in some hospitals has actually decreased by 70% and state-of-the-art machines are lying idle because NHS England will not allow doctors to use them? Will he meet me and other cancer cure campaigners, such as Lawrence Dallaglio, to discuss this scandal before more patients are refused treatment?

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Flooding (Somerset) | Westminster Hall debates

While we are on the subject of sluices, will the Minister address the problem of Bleadon sluice, bearing in mind that we have all talked about how any approach has to be for the whole catchment

area? My concern is with the Axe and Brue rivers; there is a need for dredging on the Brue, but my most important concern is the Axe, which drains out into the northern part of my patch and over towards Weston-super-Mare. Bleadon sluice was closed by the Environment Agency, which put a red notice on it in 2009. There has been a bundle going on—no one will take responsibility. I was told earlier this year that the sluice was going to be fixed at some point during the year, but we are a long way through it and nothing has happened. Will the Minister address that, since we are on the subject of sluices?

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Head and Neck Cancer | Commons debates

The hon. Lady refers to innovative radiotherapy and I wonder whether she is aware of how much work is being done on the indications suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford)—I congratulate him on this debate. I also wonder whether NHS England does not recognise that this type of radiotherapy can be used for anything except lung cancer.

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NHS Investigations (Jimmy Savile) | Business of the House | Commons debates

Child sexual abuse is always abhorrent. The victims are always innocent and nobody should be above the law. At the beginning of this month, six Members and I wrote to the Home Secretary—now we are supported by a further 104 MPs—requesting an investigation by an independent panel into at least eight cases of child sexual abuse going back over 30 years, where the evidence has been lost or destroyed by the police, by Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise and by other agencies, and where the cases have therefore been stalled or abandoned altogether. To date, we have had no reply, so can I ask the Secretary of State to encourage the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary, and anyone who else who might be moved to take the matter on, to do so, and accept that such an independent investigation is essential to search out the truth and to make sure that action is taken after that?

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Severe Eating Disorders (North-East England) | Commons debates

I recognise the similarities between what is happening in the north-east and in the south-west. We have young people being discharged from services when they reach the 18-week threshold or because they have reached a body mass index of 18, yet the Minister has accepted that this is a complex condition which sometimes takes five or six years to recover from.

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Points of Order | Commons debates

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would be grateful for your guidance on the following matter.

On 4 April, Monitor, the sector regulator for health services in England, issued new guidance for the commissioning of radiosurgery services. That new guidance clearly updates and modifies the guidance issued in 2013.

The new guidance means that NHS England’s ban on NHS patients being treated by the gamma knife machine at University College hospital, London is not sustainable. In the past couple of weeks, I have asked three questions of the Secretary of State, and I made it clear that they related to the new guidelines that were issued on 4 April. I stated:

“To ask the Secretary of State for Health pursuant to section 3 of the guidance issued by Monitor on the commissioning of radiosurgery services on 4 April 2014”.—[Official Report, 7 May 2014; Vol. 580, c. 245W.]

I then led into my questions. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), answered all three questions in the context of the outdated Monitor guidelines. I understand that that might be an error on her part, but it means that my legitimate questions remain unanswered, and I do not know how else to get an accurate response to oral and written questions. I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, on how to redress that.

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Rural Bus Services | Commons debates

I could not agree more with what my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) has said, but I wanted to bring one or two other aspects of life in Somerset to the Minister’s attention. This subject is one of the most vexing that comes up in casework and in my surgeries, as people complain because they are not able to get to work or to hospital appointments. In my part of mid-Somerset, someone wanting to attend an acute hospital has to go to Taunton, Yeovil, Bath or Bristol. Nobody complains about that because that is just a fact of life and people have to travel 20 or 25 miles to get to any appointment. We have the opportunity to do something pretty standard; that does not mean we have to have bus services once an hour through the villages, but it does mean we have to consider people’s needs. When their needs cross local authority boundaries, things becomes increasingly difficult for them when the authorities do not work together.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), who has left the Chamber, was talking about different technologies and making sure that we have some form of co-ordination. A lot of modern practices in London and in other cities around the country allow people to see where their cards have been used when they are using a bus or train service. There should be some way of ensuring that we have co-ordination in gaining information on the activities of passengers, so that the bus companies are aware of, for example, exactly how many tickets are used by older members of the population at no cost to themselves. We should be able to allocate those to services and then take action in areas such as mine, which have a large number of tourists and a lot of people using their free bus passes to travel around my beautiful constituency. That would allow for a more accurate reflection of what is actually happening.

We should also probably examine some of the alternatives. As a child, I lived for a while in a part of the country where there were post buses, whereby the Royal Mail provided a minibus that had about 17 seats. The back part of it was a cage and the postmaster or postmistress would call at villages on a particular route to collect the post or deliver it to the point where people could collect their own post. The post in all the mail boxes was collected on that trip, and people had to sit on the bus and wait for two minutes while people jumped in and out to put the parcels and envelopes into the back of the minibus. The Royal Mail needed to collect the post and there was a civilised, co-ordinated and fantastic service, which was reliable because it ran to outlying villages regularly at certain times every day and fitted in entirely with the postal collections. I wonder why government cannot consider co-ordinating services with those of other organisations that have to go into the villages—the Royal Mail is exactly one such organisation.

I am sure we can find some way of ensuring that smaller buses are used for core services. Large areas of my constituency, such as Brean and Berrow, attract a huge number of visitors who want to be able to access the bus service, particularly on changeover days when they need to go to Weston-super-Mare station or down to Taunton station. Those bus services need to be provided, particularly in the summer months, but perhaps

even from March to October. A much more basic service is needed for local people, however, so perhaps it might be worth considering an extended service during the summer months and a basic service during the winter months. That might mean having smaller buses, but having more of them during the summer months.

One of my passions is ensuring that younger people use bus services. In my area, if someone wants to move out of their village or the most local town, they invariably need access to a car. It seems to me that modern technology should allow us to give some sort of restricted access to a free bus pass. That was one issue on which I crossed swords with Bob Crow here in Parliament, because he expressed his desire that only older people should be able to enjoy free bus passes. I do not think that is right. We should at least be able to allow young people up to the age of 19 a card that gives them free travel within a 25 or 30-mile radius of their home. That could be done using the technology used on some of our buses and would reduce the need for young people to use cars and it would set good habits for the future.

I also want briefly to mention a point on which I hope the Minister can give us absolute clarity. When alternatives such as car sharing are used, what is the insurance situation for those who drive other people? Is that considered to be work in some way and is the act of offering lifts absolutely excluded from one’s normal social, domestic and pleasure use of a vehicle? If someone is effectively charging 40p or 25p a mile, I believe they can get into difficulties over the insurance cover they need and there is the question of whether that becomes business use or whether it is covered by social, domestic and pleasure use.

I hope that something can be done to give more assurance to people in rural areas about their bus services. Buses provide vital links to the local town. Someone living in a village might often have to make a journey of five, six or seven miles to reach any services whatsoever given the reduction in the number of post offices, garages and so on. Although one might formerly have been able to buy some small services, a lot of our village shops are no longer around and people might have to cover significant distances that are far too far to walk, and in places where there are no footpaths, it is extremely difficult for people to access services. I hope that the Minister might be able to address some of the points that I have raised.

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