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

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May news releases: page two

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Government must go green not nuclear, says David Heath

Ahead of the publication of the Government’s energy white paper, David Heath is urging the Government to reject nuclear power and adopt radical plans for increasing the use of renewables and reducing overall energy use.

David Heath said: “The Government is determined to push forward an expensive programme of new nuclear power stations, which will undermine the potential for an increase in renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.

“As well as the cost, there is the risk of accidents, the long-term legacy of waste and the danger of terrorist exploitation of nuclear material. Plus a new generation of nuclear power stations will mean that other technologies, such as renewable and carbon capture, are pushed out of the mix. This only serves to make the day that we can be fully sustainable further away.

“We need to do far more to switch to renewable energy sources. Scotland, which had a Lib Dem Environment Minister until this month, is already generating 16 per cent of electricity from green sources. But England is only generating 4%. This shows how much more can be done.

“Next week’s white paper needs to show the Government are serious about tackling climate change, and delivering a clean, green and safe energy strategy for the decades ahead.”

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Post office closures hit heart of communities, says David Heath

David Heath has criticised the Government for announcing the closure of a fifth of the UK’s post offices by 2009.

In a statement before the House of Commons today, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Alistair Darling, announced that 2,500 branches will be closed. This is in addition to the 4,000 that have already closed in the past eight years.

Mr. Heath was particularly vehement in his criticism during Business Questions in the House today when he slammed the Government for announcing the plans in a statement and not affording Members the opportunity to debate the matter in the House.

David Heath said: “Today’s announcement confirms everybody’s worst fears about this Government’s plans for our post offices. This is going to have a detrimental effect on rural communities like ours and particularly on those people, such as pensioners, who are absolutely dependent on their local post office.

“The closures announced today will mean that this Government has closed a third of this country’s post offices. The network is not safe in their hands and I would not put more closures past them. The Government should be protecting our post offices, not undermining them by consistently withdrawing their business.

“Instead of closures, the Government should be modernising the network and encouraging greater efficiency and profitability. My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I are committed to an additional £2 billion investment to create a thriving network.

“It is outrageous that the Government are still to announce which post offices are under threat. It is equally outrageous that the Government refuse to have a debate on the subject and instead announce the closures in a statement. I will continue to do all in my power to pressurise the Government into keeping our rural network and allowing it to thrive again.”

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Commons Speaker backs Heath over delay in ID card report

David Heath this week received an unusually positive response from the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, to a Point of Order he made about the Government’s failure to publish a report on the cost of ID cards on time.

The Identity Cards Act 2006 (which received Royal Assent on 30th March 2006) required the Home Office to lay before parliament every six months a report on how much they would cost. The last report was published on 9th October 2007.

The eagle-eyed Mr. Heath noticed that the report, which revealed that the cost of the project has risen by £640m since October, should have been published on 9th April. However, the Government waited until May 10th - the date Tony Blair announced his departure – to actually publish it.

On Monday, the Speaker deprecated the delay and recommended that the issue was taken up with the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Liaison Committee.

David Heath said: “I am extremely grateful for the forthright response from the Speaker. I hope that after his contribution, ministers will appreciate that when they have a statutory duty to report to Parliament, it is not an optional request, it is a requirement.

“On the Speaker’s advice, I have written to both the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Liaison Committee about how parliament monitors compliance of the Government’s statutory duties to the House. I very much hope that they heed my calls for a monitoring and reporting mechanism.”

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David Heath congratulates local firm on top business award

David Heath has congratulated local firm, Inspecs Limited, based in Farleigh Hungerford, on winning the Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2007.

The Queen's Award for Enterprise is the most prestigious corporate accolade that a UK business can win.

David Heath said: “This is a fantastic achievement for Inspecs Limited and all their employees. By managing to increase their overseas sales by nearly 500% in three years, this designer, marketer and distributor of sunglasses and safety eyeware frames has proved itself a worthy winner of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise.

“It makes me extremely proud that a company from Somerset is able to supply half of the world’s top ten optical chains with innovative designs and are able to compete successfully with large Italian manufacturers and big US distributors. “I hope that winning this Award allows Inspecs Limited to continue to go from strength to strength.”

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David Heath struggles with small print

David Heath joined with the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) and Royal Mail Group recently to find out more about the daily problems facing 3,000 people with sight loss in Somerton and Frome when trying to independently access written information.

At a reception in Parliament, David Heath took the “access to information challenge,” by trying to read everyday information, such as hospital appointment letters, local government and financial information. But the information was distorted to simulate how someone might see it if they had a common eye condition, such as diabetic retinopathy.

David Heath said: “RNIB's access to information challenge provided a very useful opportunity to really think about just how much printed information we encounter every day and just how much of it cannot be read by people with sight loss.

“I am supporting the access to information campaign because I believe it is absolutely crucial that people with sight problems are able to get the information they need about their about finances, health and many other areas of their daily lives without having to rely on others.

“As a former optician and the founding chair of the All Party Group on Eye Health and Visual Impairment, I have always taken a keen interest in campaigns like these. I will be working with local service providers to improve the amount of information that is accessible for people with sight loss in Somerton and Frome.”

Steve Winyard, RNIB Head of Public Policy and Campaigns, said: “With at least 3,000 constituents who are unable to read standard print, David Heath MP has joined with RNIB to challenge local service providers to make their information available in large print, audio and Braille.

“Blind and partially sighted people are being sidelined when it comes to accessing information. For many of the two million people in the UK with a sight problem, obtaining information in a form they can read remains an every day challenge. Although laws are in place saying they should be able to receive information in a format they can access, all too often this doesn't happen. And yet, relatively small adjustments can mean the difference between inclusion and exclusion.”

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Don't take away council powers on superstores, says David Heath

David Heath is calling on the Government not to reduce local councils’ decision powers over huge new superstore developments.

Small businesses in Somerset have come under increasing pressure from big out-of-town superstores, but the Government is now considering removing a crucial tool of local councils in defending the shops in Somerset’s high streets.

The Government’s review of planning suggested that they scrap the ‘needs test’, which allows local planning authorities to decide supermarket planning applications based on need.

Local Liberal Democrats have hit back saying that scrapping it would stop the council objecting to more distant supermarkets taking business away from local shops.

David Heath said: “I know that local shops in towns and villages across my constituency are concerned about the effect that more gigantic supermarkets setting up out of town will have on their business and on the high street generally.

“If local councils cannot say ‘No’ to supermarkets when they are not needed, how will they ever be able to stop them undermining high streets from Somerton to Frome.

“Whilst many people in Somerset are campaigning to protect our high street and local community, the Government is seeking to undermine our efforts and make it easier for big businesses to drive local shops, like the Post Office and newsagents, out of business.

“I’m calling on the Government not to scrap the ‘supermarket needs test’ and to give power back to our local community so we can save our towns centre and help them grow into the hub of our sustainable, vibrant communities.”

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Prime Minister should be people's choice, says David Heath

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of his resignation today, David Heath has joined the leader of his party, Sir Menzies Campbell, in calling for an immediate General Election.

David Heath said: “Tony Blair and the Labour Party were elected at the last General Election on the promise that he would serve a full third term. The Prime Minister has broken that promise by announcing his resignation today and it is only right, therefore, that the people of this country have their say on who should be their next Prime Minister.

“Today, my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I submitted a motion to trigger a general election.”

Commenting on Tony Blair’s ten years in charge, Mr. Heath described it as a decade of missed opportunities, best remembered for the war in Iraq: “Tony Blair will rightly be remembered for ending 18 years of Tory rule and for being the first Labour Prime Minister to win three general elections.

“His ten years as Prime Minister, however, will be remembered as a decade of wasted chances. He came to power in 1997 with a mandate to change the country but he has failed to do so.

“Blair’s premiership and New Labour will be remembered for their over-reliance on spin; for allowing the gap between rich and poor to grow even wider; for top-up fees; for allowing personal debt to spiral out of control; and for throwing money at public services without seeing improvements.

“Tony Blair should be remembered for the sterling work he did in the Northern Ireland peace process but it is his ill-judged decision to invade Iraq that will define his legacy. The death of thousands of Iraqi civilians and over a 140 British service personnel, and bringing instability to the Middle East is not a legacy many people would want.”

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Government buries bad news on ID cards, says Heath

David Heath has accused the Government of breaking the law in an attempt to bury bad news, after waiting until the day of Tony Blair’s resignation to publish a report on ID cards that reveals the cost of the project has gone up by £640m since October.

The Government had previously refused to publish the report despite the fact that it was breaking the law by doing so. Section 37 of The Identity Cards Act says that a report on the costs of ID Cards must be put before Parliament every six months.

However, the Government has ignored that deadline, which would have seen the report published on 9th April.

David Heath said: “It is disgraceful enough that this dishonest Government have attempted to bury this bad news in the media furore surrounding Tony Blair’s announcement but it breaks new ground, even for them, to break the law doing so.

“The truth is that this announcement has been illegally postponed and published a full month beyond the statutory deadline. This demonstrates this Government’s reliance on media manipulation to force through this increasingly unpopular and expensive scheme.

“The statement may be a myriad of contradictory claims but one thing is clear – the cost of the project, by the Government’s own admission, has gone up by a staggering £640m since October. As the costs spiral out of control, the Government should do the decent thing and shelve this ridiculous idea.”

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Head teachers lament underfunded kids, says David Heath

David Heath has once again highlighted the appalling funding levels for pupils in Somerset, compared to the national average, during Education questions last week.

Jim Knight, Minister of State for Schools, admitted that the Government does ‘not fund equally on a per pupil basis throughout the country’ but pointed out that the Government was ‘currently consulting on school funding.’

David Heath said: “I received a letter from Glyn Ottery, the Chair of the Somerset Association of Secondary Heads (SASH), who complained of the appalling funding of schools in Somerset compared with the national norm.

“Glyn and I were appalled to learn that Somerset secondary schools are 135th out of 149 in terms of funding per pupil and that his school, Stanchester, receives an astonishing £254,740 less each year than the national average. I cannot see how this extraordinary differential can be justified.

“Head teachers in Somerset admit that the annual struggle to balance budgets with insufficient funds is one of the key demotivators for both head teachers and governors.

“I do not see any valid reason why children in Somerset should not have access to similar levels of resources to kids in other areas of the country. With the help of people like Glyn and other hardworking teachers, I will continue to press for more equitable funding arrangements for our children.”

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