June news releases: page two
Post Office's service obligation must not be abandoned
David Heath has added his name to Early Day Motion 1594, tabled by his Liberal Democrat colleagues, which is concerned about the introduction of zonal postal charging in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
David Heath said: “The introduction of zonal postal charging would seriously undermine the Universal Service Obligation, which has always been an essential part of this country’s postal system.
“There is a real danger that once different prices have been agreed for delivering mail to the North of Scotland, different prices could be agreed for all rural areas, like Somerset, in the future.
“We must oppose any possibility of the creation of a two-tier postal system in Britain – one for towns and another for rural areas. The Government have already demonstrated their disdain for postal services in rural areas with their plans to close 2,500 post offices and now they want to charge more for the actual delivery of post.”
Heath backs plans to build million affordable homes by 2020
David Heath has welcomed the publication of radical proposals by the Liberal Democrats to tackle the severe shortage of affordable and social housing.
David Heath said: “There are a million and a half families on council waiting lists nationally; over two thousand in Mendip; and over 6,000 households are waiting for social housing in South Somerset. Despite these waiting lists, fewer and fewer social rented homes are being built. The number nationally has halved since Labour came to power.
“Houses to buy in Somerset are getting ever less affordable. House prices here in Mendip have grown by 4.6% in 2006 while earnings have fallen by 1.4%. In South Somerset, house prices have grown by 6.7% while earnings have fallen by 1.5%. An average house now costs over nine times the average earnings in Mendip and over ten times the average earnings in South Somerset.
“Young people in Somerset are struggling to get even a foot on the housing ladder and are being forced into taking ever riskier mortgages in a desperate attempt to do so. One of the most damning legacies of this Government is to have put the dream of home ownership beyond many local people.
“These bold new proposals from the Liberal Democrats would deliver the UK’s most ambitious home-building programme in over a quarter of a century - 100,000 new social, low cost and affordable houses every year for 10 years to benefit those in housing need.
“The Government talk about making housing affordable but it is the Liberal Democrats who have provided the blueprint for the housing revolution that people in Mendip and in South Somerset desperately need.”
Medical experts lose sight of the costs, says David Heath
David Heath has expressed his dismay at the decision of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence’s (NICE) decision to restrict access to two leading treatments of the only treatable form of the most common cause of blindness in Britain to NHS patients.
The drugs Lucentis and Macugen have been shown to be the most effective means of halting the onset of wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
NICE’s appraisal, on the grounds of cost-effectiveness, recommended not using Macugen at all on the NHS and Lucentis only for patients who have gone blind in one eye and who have the disease progressing in the second.
Mr. Heath, a former optician, knows what a detrimental effect this disease can have on a person’s quality of life and that of their family. Mr. Heath was so incensed at NICE’s decision he raised the issue with the Leader of the House, Jack Straw MP, during Business Questions in Parliament yesterday.
Mr. Straw promised to make Mr. Heath’s concerns known to the chief executive of NICE.
David Heath said: “This is an extraordinary decision by NICE to say that it is not cost-effective to stop people going blind. As a former optician, I am only too well aware of the awful devastation that can result from AMD.
“Healthcare should be about prevention, yet patients will have to lose their sight in one eye before they can get treatment.
“I recognise that NICE does a very necessary and difficult job, but often the methodology it employs seems better for assessing life-prolonging therapies than for those that enhance the quality of life. The decision making process should take more of an account of the full costs of an illness to the individual, not just the cost to the NHS.
“The New England Journal of Medicine recently reported that Lucentis can prevent vision loss and even improve sight in nine out of ten patients. It is outrageous that so many people will be denied access to a drug that would have such a positive impact on their lives.”
Families struggling to make mortgage payments, says Heath
David Heath has expressed his concern for families in his constituency after figures published today by the Council of Mortgage Lenders show that mortgages are at their least affordable for 15 years.
David Heath said: “Many families in my constituency are struggling to meet interest payments as both house prices and interest rates continue to rise. Mervyn King’s ominous warning today suggests there is at least one more rise in interest rates to come.
“Gordon Brown has been extraordinarily lucky so far, but a combination of an economic slowdown and higher interest rates could spell disaster for large numbers of heavily indebted families.
“It is a disgrace that a generation of young people are now finding it impossible to get onto the housing ladder except by borrowing at levels which are ludicrous and dangerous. Unfortunately some mortgage lenders are inviting disaster by doing just this.
“If there is a further rise in interest rates, many home owners will simply not be able to pay. The figures over the last two years show that although we are not yet at the crisis levels of the early 1990s, the number of repossessions and repossession orders is soaring.”
Students saddled with record debt, says David Heath
David Heath has voiced his alarm about the rising levels of student debt in this country.
Official figures released by the Government today show that the total student debt in the UK is now over £18 billion, which is greater than the Gross Domestic Product of GDP.
David Heath said: “Part of the legacy of the Blair Government is to have left graduates burdened by an ever increasing amount of debt at the start of their working lives.
“Massive debts are the biggest worry for most students and for many the pressures that come with them will affect their choice of careers, homes and family planning.
“For many students from poorer backgrounds, huge debts serve as a deterrent to applying to the country’s best universities. It is appalling that in just ten years Labour have managed to create a disgraceful situation in which ability to pay, rather than academic ability, determines access to higher education.
“It is rank hypocrisy that ministers, who all benefited from free university education, are happy to pull the ladder of opportunity up behind them. This Government’s record is one of hindering rather than helping social mobility.”
Post offices suffering from government neglect, says Heath
David Heath has slammed the Government’s management of the post office network after last week’s Trade and Industry Select Committee report criticised aspects of the network.
David Heath said: “Post Office management have exercised a dead hand in inhibiting the entrepreneurial instincts of postmasters and postmistresses. The committee’s report correctly highlights this.
“However, that is not the central issue. The major problem has been that the Government has had little faith in the future of the network and has never followed the recommendations of a key Cabinet Office report eight years ago.
“Ministers have stifled new initiatives involving Government business such as driving licenses and passport forms, and discouraged many people, particularly pensioners, who would have used the Post Office Card Account.”
Government must show commitment to freedom of information
David Heath has announced his support for Liberal Democrat Local Government Spokesman Tom Brake MP’s ten-minute rule bill in Parliament tomorrow which will press for tougher Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation.
The Freedom of Information (Amendment) (No 2) bill will seek to remove the veto which allows ministers to overrule the Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal. It will also introduce a time limit for responses to public interest FOI requests.
The Bill will also try to bring school academies and large private contractors working for public authorities within the scope of the FOI legislation.
David Heath said: “This Bill gives MPs a much needed opportunity to prove that we are committed to the principles of Freedom of Information. David Maclean’s grubby little bill a couple of weeks ago marked a shameful day for the Commons and once again, it has been left to the Liberal Democrats to try and restore some public trust in our elected representatives.
“Members must show that they will take a firm stand against any attempts to water down existing legislation.”
Mr. Brake’s Bill comes hot on the heels of Mr. Heath challenging the Government over their attitude to Freedom of Information during Business Questions in the House last week.
Mr. Heath was prompted by reports that civil servants at the Treasury had been ordered by the Office of Government Commerce to destroy the ‘gateway reviews’ detailing the cost of the Government’s controversial ID cards scheme and other IT projects.
David Heath said: “It is appalling that the Government think that they can get away with ordering damning reports to be destroyed and they are attempting to do so in defiance of the Information Commissioner and the information tribunal.
David Heath scales up pressure for marine bill
David Heath is supporting The Wildlife Trusts’ call for a Marine Bill in the next Queen’s Speech.
Mr Heath has shown his support by signing their ‘Petition Fish’ at an event in the House of Commons.
David Heath said: “I believe that we need a Marine Bill urgently. At present less than 0.001% of our seas are protected by law. As an island nation, we have a responsibility to care for our seas and protect the wildlife that lives there, from dolphins to corals and starfish.
“I will do what I can to keep up the pressure on the Government for a Marine Bill to be included in the Queen’s Speech this autumn. I am delighted to support The Wildlife Trusts and will be gathering signatures from my constituents with my own ‘Petition Fish’ throughout the summer months.
“I asked the Government about a Marine Bill in the House back in November last year but still nothing has been done. The 2007 Queen’s Speech must include a commitment to a Marine Bill in the next parliamentary session.”
Stephanie Hilborne, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts said: “I am delighted that David Heath MP has shown his support for the Marine Bill in this way. Like climate change, the destruction of marine wildlife is an urgent global issue and the UK Government must take a lead by protecting our own seas.
“We cannot delay marine legislation any longer - the urgency to protect marine biodiversity is unquestionable.”
Tax burden falls on less well-off, says David Heath
David Heath has slammed the Government and Prime Minister-in-waiting, Gordon Brown MP, for placing the tax burden on low income employees rather than private equity entrepreneurs during Business Questions in the House of Commons yesterday.
The Leader of the House, Jack Straw, promised to refer the matter to the Chancellor.
David Heath said: “This Government pretends to be supportive of the less well-off in society but it is all spin and no substance.
“How can the Chancellor and future Prime Minister justify the generous tax relief afforded by taper relief on capital gains tax, which enables private equity entrepreneurs to pay as little as 10% tax on their very generous income, while their cleaners, on little more than the national minimum wage, pay 20%?
“It is staggering to think that this is Labour party policy in the 21st Century. This Government must stop pandering to this country’s well-heeled elite and start looking after those on the lowest incomes.”
EU ban on barometers ridiculous, says David Heath
David Heath has tabled Early Day Motion 1636 in protest against the proposed EU ban on the production or renovation of traditional barometers.
Britain, along with other EU governments, is backing the change, and on Tuesday the European Parliament’s environment committee voted for the move, which is designed to prevent toxic metals from entering the food chain.
Mr. Heath is outraged that hundreds of years of British tradition and the craft of those working in the industry have been destroyed by unnecessary meddling from Brussels.
David Heath said: “This is a classic example of superfluous EU bureaucracy. Banning traditional barometers on the spurious grounds that mercury from them may enter the food chain is ridiculous and unnecessary.
“The manufacture and repair of barometers is a craft that has been going on safely in this country for 400 years. Of the 300 million tonnes of mercury used by industry in the EU each year, only 0.2% is used in barometers.
“It is absurd that the barometer industry has been targeted because of infinitesimal health effects. The preposterous concerns of the nanny state have made the repair and maintenance of thousands of existing instruments impossible.”
David Heath backs campaign for UK's six million carers
David Heath has pledged his support for Carers Week 2007 (11-17th June).
Mr. Heath is drawing attention to the UK’s six million carers – people who look after a loved one who is ill, frail or disabled – to help them gain the recognition and support they desperately need.
‘My Life as a Carer’ is the theme for Carers Week, and a survey of 3,500 carers has revealed the immense impact caring can have on every aspect of their life including, health, finances, career and relationships.
Two out of every three carers (66%) admitted that their personal relationships had suffered as a direct result of caring, with 60% revealing they have little quality time together with their partners.
Two thirds (67%) admitted to being financially worse off, with a quarter (28%) unable to support their family properly. Alarmingly, three-quarters of carers had not had a break from their caring role in the past 12 months.
Carers Week will highlight the services available to help ease the burden of caring and ensure carers lives’ are changed for the better.
David Heath said: “I am delighted to be supporting Carers Week. There are six million carers in the UK, including many in Somerton and Frome. On top of worrying about a loved one’s needs, it must be terrible if carers themselves feel they have nowhere and nobody to turn to.
“I hope that by supporting Carers Week, more of my constituents who are dedicated to looking after someone will find out what support and services are available to them locally.
“I have also added my name to an Early Day Motion on the subject, which calls for an updated and improved National Carers Strategy. This EDM has the support of over 280 cross-party MPs.”
David Heath makes green promise on World Environment Day
David Heath is encouraging his constituents to join him in making a promise to the environment to mark World Environment Day 2007.
Speaking on World Environment Day (June 5th) David Heath said: “Climate change is a global issue. But tackling it starts at home.
“Over a quarter of the UK's carbon emissions come from heating, lighting and running power supplies in our homes.
“Small actions, such as saving water and switching off the lights can, when taken together, make a big difference.
“If everyone in the developed world makes even one small change to their daily life to reduce their energy use, such as not leaving the TV on stand-by or overfilling the kettle, that would make a huge difference to our global energy use and the amount of carbon we emit.
“Of course there is more the Government should be doing. The Liberal Democrats have set out plans for radically improving home energy efficiency, producing greener electricity and switching taxes from income to pollution and energy use. That is what we would do if we were in government.
“But there is action each of us can take now. This year I am making a personal commitment to turning the tap off while brushing my teeth. While this may seem like a pretty small thing, if enough people do it we can save tremendous amounts of water.
“I hope other local people will join me in making a green promise to mark World Environment Day 2007.”