I had a light-hearted exchange with the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Treasury questions today:
Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): The Treasury cannot even get its forecast for growth and the deficit correct for next year. Does the Chancellor realise that instructing his officials to produce a speculative report based on thoroughly tendentious figures about what might or might not happen in the event of Brexit simply belittles the reputation of the Treasury for economic competence and forecasting? Instead of relying on fear, why does he not give us his vision, compared with our vision of a free people in a free Parliament, controlling our own borders and leading the world towards free trade?
Mr Osborne: Our positive vision is that by being part of a reformed EU we can raise living standards, create more jobs and make sure that consumers have access to lower prices. We have set out in the Treasury analysis a range of possibilities for the alternatives that might happen if Britain leaves the European Union. All of them would make Britain permanently poorer, but if my hon. Friend and the leave campaign want to produce their own plan and their own analysis, then be my guest.
In response, I have sent him a somewhat cheeky letter asking him to lend me the Treasury to produce a 200-page report outlining the positive case for leaving the European Union.
I enclose the text of my question to you today and your response in which you suggested that I and the Leave campaign produce a report showing the positive case for leaving the European Union.
As you recall, at the beginning of the previous parliament you very kindly appointed me an Independent Advisor to the Treasury and asked me to produce a report on improving budget accountability, and helped by putting Treasury officials at my disposal. The Procedure Committee of the House has taken it up and will report on it further in the hope of enacting some of its proposals.
You know that as a mere backbencher I do not have the resources to produce 200 pages of long economic analysis. You have hundreds of Treasury officials capable of this and, as you have now suggested me producing a report putting the case for ‘Leave’ – as you put it, ‘be my guest!’ – would you be prepared to back up that suggestion by lending me a few Treasury officials to do so?
Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, has welcomed news that more homes and business in his constituency now have access to superfast broadband internet.
“We’ve had £16.6 million allocated for the superfast broadband rollout here in Lincolnshire so far,” Sir Edward said, “and more than 3.5 million homes and businesses across the country now have coverage.”
“Between September and December of last year 1,690 premises in the Gainsborough constituency received superfast broadband coverage, which makes over 18,000 premises in total here, and a further 1,790 to be covered by June 2017.”
“There’s still work to be done and I am fighting for many of our small villages and communities to have better, faster internet,” the MP of more than thirty years’ service in the Commons said.
“We still don’t have it in Stainton le Vale, so I sympathise very strongly with others who are still waiting.”
Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, has welcomed the Communities & Local Government Secretary’s final refusal of planning permission for a wind turbine near Moor Lane, Caistor, in his constituency.
The MP of over three decades’ experience in the Commons had written to Greg Clark MP asking him to call in the application for his own decision rather than leave the appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.
“Local people are best suited to make planning decisions in our towns and villages, and I am very glad that Greg Clark has backed up the informed decision West Lindsey’s planning committee came to.”
“We can’t have energy companies with deep resources intimidating locals through long, drawn-out appeals processes. The Secretary of State has used the powers granted to him under the law to determine the course of this application himself, and quite rightly decided in favour of local residents.”
The proposal called for the construction of a single 102 metre tall wind turbine on land west of Moor Lane in Caistor. Sir Edward supported local residents who pointed out the negative effect the turbine would have on the Caistor Conservation Area as well as the Lincolnshire Wolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, has welcomed Lincolnshire County Council’s announcement that they will not be destroying the yew hedge at Burton in his constituency.
The 136-year-old yew hedge was facing destruction on the orders of the County Council, a decision which provoked a public outcry, including the lodging of an online petition and Sir Edward’s letter asking the authorities to reconsider.
In response, Lincolnshire County Council have announced they are merely requiring the hedge to be trimmed back to clear about three-and-a-quarter feet to ensure a more usable space is available to foot traffic.
Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP for Gainsborough, has expressed his opposition to developers’ plans to build thirty-three new homes in Scothern.
Writing to West Lindsey District Council, the MP of over thirty years’ service in the House of Commons noted that the infrastructure and amenities in Scothern are insufficient to suitably bear this kind of rapid expansion.
“We are blessed with highly liveable towns and villages here in Lincolnshire,” Sir Edward said, “but we must be careful to ensure all further development is in line with both local desires and infrastructure capabilities.”
“This proposal in Scothern is too much, too quickly, and will only put further strain on our health resources, as well as our roads and buses.”
Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, has welcomed the concessions on local government funding announced on Monday 8 February.
“I have been shouting from the rooftops on behalf of our taxpayers and local councillors,” the MP said. “I’ve written to the Secretary of State, pointed out in debates, and raised at question times the disgraceful disparity in cuts between rural and urban areas.”
“I’m very pleased that we have made our voices heard. The Government is listening to rural taxpayers and these concessions go a long way towards closing that gap.”
In a statement to the Commons, DCLG Secretary of State Greg Clark MP announced that the Rural Services Delivery Grant would be increased fivefold from £15.5 million this year to £80.5 million in 2016/17.
“With an extra £32.7 million available to rural councils through the transitional grant I have described,” the Secretary of State told MPs, “this is £93.2 million of increased funding compared to the Provisional Settlement available to rural areas.”
“Significantly,” Mr Clark continued, “this proposal ensures no deterioration in government funding of rural areas compared to urban areas for the year of this statutory settlement.”
Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, has condemned Whitehall’s plans for local government funding as “unfair” to rural authorities. Speaking in a Commons debate, Sir Edward noted that the proposed Local Government Funding Settlement would, on a per person basis, be cut by 31% for West Lindsey District Council while an urban council like Wolverhampton would only face an 18.6% reduction.
“I accept that cuts have to be made,” Sir Edward told his fellow MPs, but “local government has delivered broadly the same service over the last five years despite having to face considerable cuts.”
“I have worked alongside Lincolnshire County Council and West Lindsey District Council for decades, and they are not spendthrifts,” the MP continued. “They know the needs of our people far more than anyone in Whitehall does. We have already give up much of our invaluable network of local libraries, and got rid of our magistrate’s courts, and our police stations. How much more does Whitehall really expect that rural England can take?”
Pointing out that rural authorities like Lincolnshire include “real areas of deprivation” the MP of thirty years’ service in the Commons said it was “totally unacceptable” that “we are not bearing the burden equally.”
The Local Government Finance Settlement, Sir Edward said, was “totally unfair to the rural taxpayer and our rural authorities” and that it “must be revisited.”
Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, has written to the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government urging him to rethink the proposed funding levels for local authorities.
The MP of thirty years’ service in the Commons told Greg Clark MP that he was “disappointed” that the Local Government Finance Settlement “delivers a significant switch in resources from rural shire counties to the urban metropolitan districts.”
“The disparity in funding between rural and urban areas is obvious,” Sir Edward told the press. “I’m working with other rural MPs through the Rural Fair Share campaign to press the Government to do more about this.”
“We accept the need for tightening the belt, but urban districts are seeing an average cut of 13 per cent while our rural councils are facing an average of 34 per cent reduction in funding.”
The MP did note, however, that he is “glad” to see the Rural Services Delivery Grant “has been boosted from £15.5 million for 2015/16 to £65 million for 2019/20”.
This is Edward Leigh’s response to the report.
The Commission’s report is a clever attempt to denude the public square and reduce faith to something that goes on in private while promoting religious indifferentism. Great Britain is tolerant precisely because it is a Christian country and if we banish religion from public life I fear we will become increasingly victim to a creeping conformist totalitarianism dressed in a therapeutic guise. We would certainly be even more subject to the tyranny of naked materialism and self-centredness.
Catholics will view the Report’s recommendation that faith schools be shut as a specific attack on us as well as on evangelicals as we tend to be the only two groups of any size who are bucking the trend and resisting the educational conformism of the official establishment mindset. The Report also, in a mealy mouthed way, accused Catholic schools of fostering sectarianism without giving any supporting evidence. Indeed the only testimony of open sectarianism I read in the report was a Catholic victim of prejudice in Glasgow. How insidious and ingenious to employ the victims of sectarianism as an argument in favour of destroying those victims’ schools, culture, and right to live out the fullness of their faith in modern Britain.
I both hope and expect this report will be ignored. The UN Declaration on Human Rights specifically asserts the rights of parents to direct the education of their children and I’m sure the United Kingdom will continue to comply with this. I’m sure most Catholics – alongside Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, and others – will reject the dull, dreary, conformist, and obsequiously inoffensive society this Commission aims for and instead seek to build a better Britain, to borrow Chesterton’s words, “aflame with faith and free”.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) has given a consummate performance, in which he really summed up the arguments well. There is only time to give a few headlines. The first hero of this debate is, of course, our Prime Minister because, but for him, there would not be a debate. Even our heroine, Margaret Thatcher, never gave us a full referendum on Europe, so we should thank our current Prime Minister profusely for giving the British people the chance to make this historic decision. It will be a most interesting debate, and I will make one or two points about it. Read the rest of this entry »
Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, has said that any changes to local government in Lincolnshire must be done by consent and not imposed from above.
“People in Lincolnshire want to proceed by consent,” the MP of more than thirty years’ service told a House of Commons debate on local government reform.
“We do not want a bruising battle over many years between district and county councils about which should be abolished. We want to proceed by consent and to get together.”
Recalling Ted Heath’s reforms – famous for creating the unpopular Humberside – Sir Edward said that “many are people are scarred by the events of the 1970s, when ancient counties were swept away.”
“We want to leave the present structure in place with district councils and county councils, and perhaps form a new body on which those will be represented,” the MP suggested.
“I am worried that in our rush for change and innovation, we may ride roughshod over what local people and local councillors want.”
The reform of local government is a realm ripe with hazards for those who wish to approach it. Some of my readers will recall the complete overhaul of local government that took place in 1974 during the premiership of Edward Heath. This involved some sensible changes but also enforced upon us unwanted and unwise creations like the entirely fake counties of ‘Humberside’ by us and ‘Avon’ down in the West Country. They were enacted in the very worst spirit of the ‘Whitehall knows best’ mentality, and local people were barely consulted at all.
As someone of a philosophically conservative mind, I would always prefer to give the local opinion the benefit of the doubt over the supposedly clever bureaucrats and civil servants in London. It’s not that they don’t mean well – they really do hope to improve things – but being stuck in their departments in Whitehall they all too often they lack the insight and knowledge that comes from decades of experience in our counties, districts, towns, and villages.
I am very supportive of plans to shift power away from London and back in the hands of more local authorities. So I very much welcome the Chancellor’s plans for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ reinvigorating the economy and civic spirit of cities and council areas too long neglected. We here in the East Midlands will not remain untouched by these reforms. There are proposals to devolve powers to a new body for Greater Lincolnshire. Whether it’s plans for accelerating economic growth, improving our transport links, or joining up public services, there are plentiful arguments in favour of giving this proper due consideration.
What is vital is the matter of consent. While we can all pick a significant qualm or two (the plan for libraries, for instance), Lincolnshire County Council is generally well run and popular. In our discussions in the House of Commons, I have spoken and made multiple interventions seeking to emphasise that unitary authorities must not be imposed from above without the consent and approval of local county and district councils. We do not want to destroy the significant local links that currently exist, nor should we, in a rush for change and innovation, ride roughshod over what local people and local councillors want. All the same, opportunities do exist, and they should be fully explored to see how we can make things better for people across Lincolnshire.
Christmas is probably the most beloved time of the year. It is a time for families and friends to come together. With the end of the year approaching, it is an apt time to take stock of the changes we’ve seen in the past twelve months. Most importantly, it is a time for remembering the birth of the Saviour and reflecting on our own little spot in the great chain of being.
I would like to wish all my constituents here in our part of Lincolnshire a very happy and blessed Christmas, with the hope for a fruitful year to come.