David Heath MP, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Somerton and Frome

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January news

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David Heath calls for smarter satnavs

David Heath has called on the Government to improve information to satnav devices.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday Mr Heath cited the disparity between routes given to HGV trucks and the routes that are appropriate to them. As a result many lorries and trucks faithfully follow directions along roads that they shouldn't drive down.

Mr Heath asked whether the Government "are now prepared to introduce a route hierarchy into satnav structures in order to make sure that heavy lorries do not use roads that simply cannot take them".

The Minister assured him that "work is being undertaken for a heavy goods vehicle programme" to make sure satnavs indicate suitability of roads for HGVs.

Mr Heath said: “In my constituency it seems that every other week there is an incident involving HGV trucks or lorries . These accidents are largely because satnavs don't take into account the size of the vehicle and the suitability of the road.

"The Government had said some time ago that they would review satnav devices. With many accidents resulting from poor satnav directions I believe it should be a greater priority for the Department for Transport.”

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David Heath backs bill to help small businesses

David Heath has joined for forces with Conservative MP Peter Luff to bring a bill directed at helping small businesses.

The Small Business Rate Relief (Automatic Payment) Bill, if passed, would see rate relief automatically granted to small businesses. At present many small businesses are unaware of the rate relief and therefore do not apply for it.

The Local Government Association found that in 2006 £400 million was left unclaimed by businesses entitled to rate relief. The bill is timely as around 85 businesses are closing every week.

Mr Heath who co-sponsored the bill said: “Rates are the third largest expenditure for small businesses after wages and rents. As the economic down turn continues, a boost from the rate relief would be appreciated by many who are currently struggling.

“The money has already been ear-marked for the purpose of rate relief, but this bill would ensure that no small business entitled to the relief would miss out.

“Businesses in rural communities like those of Somerton and Frome, have consistently faced difficulties. It is important that this bill gets through parliament, particularly for small rural businesses, which is why I am giving my full support for the bill.”

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Success for David Heath's bee campaign

The Government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs today announced a £4.3 million bee health funding increase.

The news comes after a debate in Parliament yesterday where David Heath, called upon the Minister to take the decline in the British Honeybee population seriously and to do something about it as a matter of urgency.

The government proposals were announced by the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, and include £2.3 million for the National Bee Unit over the next two years and £400,000 towards bee health research every year for the next five years.

In response to this announcement, David Heath said: "I am absolutely delighted to have won my campaign. I have been raising this issue consistently with ministers, but have until now received less than satisfactory answers. I am pleased to see that the government has committed to spending on this issue over the next five years."

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David Heath presents farming concerns to Parliament

David Heath secured an hour and a half long debate on Agriculture in the South West on Tuesday 20th of January.

Opening the debate, Mr Heath commented on the lack of parliamentary time given over to the issues affecting agriculture, citing the few debates that have taken place over the past five years.

Amongst the issues discussed in the debate were: Bovine TB, milk prices, nitrate vulnerable zones, sheep identifiers, food labelling and the need for a food supply ombudsman, to flooding, organic vegetables and bees.

In addition Mr Heath asked the Minister for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Jane Kennedy, if she would attend the Royal Bath and West show. The Minister would have direct contact with a large number of dairy farmers from Somerton and Frome and would gain first hand knowledge of the issues they are facing.

The Minister expressed an interest in the invitation and said that she hoped “to visit the south-west soon. Given the distance, it would seem sensible to spend more than one day there.”

Commenting on the debate, Mr Heath said: “Given the lack of parliamentary time given to issues of agriculture this debate was very important. It’s very hard to do a whole industry justice in a short time, but I hope I took the opportunity to raise some of the issues that I know local farmers are concerned about.

“I hope that the Minister will be able to attend the Royal Bath and West show, as previous agricultural Ministers have done. I think it is vital that she spends time in Somerton and Frome so that the Ministry can fully appreciate the wide-ranging issues affecting the farming community.”

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Government plans to limit transparency must be stopped - Heath

After spending close to £1 million of taxpayers’ money, and spending 7 months compiling data on MP expenses, the Government wants to limit information available to the public.

On Thursday evening MPs will vote on a statutory instrument which intends to prohibit the public from attaining information about MPs expenses through Freedom of Information Orders.

David Heath said: “The house authorities have spent a considerable amount of time and money in preparing for full publication, and this work would now be fruitless if the proposals are passed in entirety.

“The question that members should be asking themselves in the run up to the vote on Thursday is ‘Do I want to exempt myself from the rules of Freedom of Information?’ I do not believe it is right that members such as myself would be exempt from the laws that other public bodies must obey, which is why I will be voting against the governments proposals.

“It is essential that parliament is accountable, and to achieve this, our processes including our claims must be transparent. In my capacity as Shadow Leader of the House, I have strongly urged my colleagues to vote against the Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order.”

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David Heath adopts bill to end fuel poverty

David Heath announced today that he intends to take forward a bill to end fuel poverty.

It will aim to help the thousands of people who are struggling with the cost of energy in the current economic crisis.

Mr Heath won second place in the annual ballot for private members bills, and therefore his bill has a good chance of becoming law.

The fuel poverty bill has the backing of a wide range of organisations concerned with the elderly, poverty and the environment, including Age Concern, the Association for the Conservation of Energy, the Centre for Sustainable Energy, the Child Poverty Action Group, Consumer Focus, Disability Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Help the Aged and the National Right to Fuel Campaign.

The bill will bring in two measures:

  • A major energy efficiency programme to ‘fuel poverty proof’ existing homes by bringing them up to the current energy efficiency levels enjoyed by modern homes
  • Social tariffs to limit vulnerable households’ exposure to high energy bills

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg hosted a fuel poverty summit with energy companies, charities and consumer groups on Monday which discussed these issues.

Mr Heath said: “I don’t think anyone over the last few weeks will need persuading of the need for warm homes, and yet far too many people are still vulnerable to the cold simply because they can’t afford to heat their homes.

"It is estimated that five million households face an impossible choice between food and fuel this winter. And it’s not just an urban problem; many in rural areas such as Somerset which I represent live in older, damp, un-insulated properties and fuel costs, particularly for those who rely on fuel oil, are even higher.

“Whether in terms of social justice, concern about the environment, or a hard-headed calculation of the stimulus such action could give to a struggling construction industry, this is a measure which is urgently needed.

"It puts back in place a duty everyone thought the government was committed to under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, but which was overturned by a decision in the High Court last October. It’s a bill that is timely and needs to succeed.”

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Lib Dem leader announces membership of privacy commission

Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg yesterday announced the membership of his party’s new Commission on Privacy, which will examine the use, abuse and retention of private data, and propose new safeguards to protect the rights of individuals.

The Commission’s members are:

  • David Heath MP (Chair,) Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House
  • Simon Davies - Privacy International; Fellow at LSE
  • Shami Chakrabarti - Director of Liberty
  • Baroness Sue Miller - Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson in the House of Lords
  • Henry Porter - Journalist on The Observer
  • Prof. Ross Anderson - Professor of Security Engineering, University of Cambridge
  • Richard Rampton QC - Barrister at law, specialising in libel
  • Richard Allen - Former MP; Head of Government Affairs, Cisco Systems

Nick Clegg said: “With Britain now among the most watched upon countries in Europe, there has never been a more vital time for proper scrutiny and protection of privacy.

“Under this increasingly authoritarian Government, a combination of intrusion and incompetence has resulted in the steady erosion of our right to privacy and the protection of our personal data.

“This is an exceptionally well-qualified team bringing together experts from a wide range of fields. I am confident that they will work to provide real solutions to check the growing threat to our privacy.”

David Heath said: “I am looking forward to working with a team of people who lead the country in these issues, and I hope we will produce a report which is hard-hitting but practical and shows the way forward.

“British people have never been subject to so much intrusion and prying, and whatever the merits of collecting information, it must be used responsibly, properly and securely. That is clearly not the case at present.”

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David Heath welcomes news on Templecombe Station

David Heath has welcomed the news that the Secretary of State for Transport has vetoed South West Trains' plans to cut staffing hours at Templecombe Station.

South West Trains had intended to reduce ticket office opening hours at 114 stations across the network, including in many cases over week days, as well as weekends.

A small reduction in ticket office opening hours at Templecombe has been approved by government Ministers, although these reductions are now significantly less than they would have been under South West Trains’ original plans.

David Heath has spent a number of weeks campaigning locally on the issue, and had highlighted his concerns regarding the reduction in facilities and services available at Templecombe station should they have been forced to massively reduce both staffing and ticket office opening hours.

Commenting on the issue, David Heath said: "This is excellent news for Templecombe. If these proposals had gone through, the ticket office would have been closed for half the week, and it would have been difficult or impossible to buy the cheapest tickets.

"The plans to reduce staffing levels would also have made it substantially more difficult for disabled or elderly passengers who have difficulties using the steep footbridge from seeking assistance onto the platform.

"The planned cuts at Templecombe were totally unacceptable – with the ticket office closed in the afternoon and all weekend. The news that this policy has now been rejected by Ministers is great news for the local area".

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David Heath promoted to Front Bench

In an announcement from Liberal Democrat Party Leader Nick Clegg, David Heath was today returned to the Liberal Democrat Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Leader of the House, a role he last held in 2007.

The position will mean that David will scrutinise the work of government minister Harriet Harman MP and her department, and act as spokesman on matters relating to the work of the House of Commons.

Mr Heath left the Liberal Democrat front bench in March last year when he voted for a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon against the official party line. He has since been a backbencher, but made it plain that other than the disagreement on the specific issue of Europe there were no differences between him and Mr Clegg on policy matters.

Commenting on the changes he had made to the Shadow Cabinet, Liberal Democrat Leader, Nick Clegg said: “I am proud to lead the best front-bench team in British politics, a team which has consistently been ahead of the curve on the big debates that matter to the British people.

“This team leaves the Liberal Democrats well placed to take the fight to both Labour and the Conservatives in the run-up to the General Election and to bring about the change that Britain needs.”

David Heath said: “Obviously I am delighted to be back in a leading role for the party, and particularly in a position which allows me a degree of freedom to comment on a wide range of issues.

"However, a key role will be to argue for effective reform of parliament itself so that it can do its job both in legislation and scrutiny of the actions of ministers more effectively. I am eager to use the opportunities I have to strengthen democratic involvement and the relevance of parliament as an institution.

“I have had plenty to occupy me over the last nine moths with constituency issues, but I hope that my new job will enable me to carry those arguments forward even more effectively.”

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