I have had a busy few days as I spend my last week in the Constituency before the Party Conference and Parliament resumes.
On Saturday I attended a concert commemorating the 70th anniversary of The Battle of Britain performed by the Lancashire Fusiliers Association Band.
On Sunday I attended the official rededication of the Parish Hall at St. Anne’s Church in Tottington which was performed by the Bishop of Bolton in the presence of the Mayor and Mayoress of Bury.
This week I have had meetings with a number of constituents about various problems and queries. On Monday I addressed the Sixth Form politics class at Bury Grammar School for Girls ( which some of the boys also attended) and answered their queries in a Question and Answer session.
Yesterday I was up early to address a group of local businessmen at a 7am Breakfast meeting held at the Bolholt Hotel and again I answered queries on a range of business related subjects during another Question and Answer session. Later I had a briefing meeting with the Principal and Chief executive of Bury College where we discussed the various issues and developments at the College.
Earlier today I had a meeting with the Chief Executive of Tetrosyl Limited at their Head Office at Bevis Green. Tetrosyl are very much a well kept secret within Bury. Each year they manufacture literally tens of millions of car care products here in Bury and they are exported around the World each one proudly bearing the imprint that it was made in Bury.
Recent reports indicate that the Coalition Government is to spend £900 million more to cut down on the level of tax evasion and tax avoidance.
Whilst I fully support all measures to ensure that everyone pays the tax they should pay I think there has been some lax use of language. As someone who studied tax law, admittedly several years ago, I have always understood there was a big difference between tax evasion (illegal) and tax avoidance (legal). The difference is one that has exercised the Courts over the years and as I understand it essentially the difference is that any taxpayer is legally entitled to arrange their affairs so as to minimise the amount of tax payable – in other words to reduce or avoid the tax that would otherwise be payable. On the other hand tax evasion is where the taxpayer deliberately misleads the HM Revenue and Customs by not revealing the true extent of their income or the true nature of a particular transaction or series of transactions.
In simple terms everyone who has taken out an ISA (Individual Savings Account) is ‘guilty’ of tax avoidance as they have arranged their affairs in such a way as to reduce the amount of tax they have to pay.
Yesterday I had a further meeting to discuss the position of the W O Street Charitable Foundation where I am continuing to campaign for the Trustees to be changed so that less of the Charity’s income is used up in fees and there is more available for local charities.
I also met with and addressed the Bury Elder Persons Forum in Bury Town Hall. I spoke about what life is like as a new MP and answered a number of questions.
After the six weeks recess (which I must admit rather reminds me of the six week holiday we used to have when I was at school) it was back to Westminster yesterday. I don’t say it was ‘back to work’ as that suggests that the recess is all just a holiday. During the recess MP’s work just as hard as when Westminster is sitting as it gives time for them to spend more time in the Constituency.
The main item of legislative business yesterday was the Second Reading of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. I decided that whatever its merits might be in terms of keeping the Liberal Democrats happy the Alternative Vote system of voting is a system I fundamentally disagree with and I was not prepared to vote for something I disagree with when it concerns the Constitution of our Country.
The Bill does not provide for the Alternative Vote system to be introduced automatically but it does establish all the procedures to enable all future General Elections to be held under the Alternative Vote system which will come into force if there is a ‘Yes’ vote in a National referendum. Tens of millions of pounds will be spent on the referendum question when there are so many other more important things that amount of money could be spent on. I can think of many schools and charities in Bury that would benefit from that amount of money ( or even just Bury’s share!). When I was out canvassing during the election campaign not a single person asked about the voting system and not a single person asked for a referendum on whether we should introduce a different voting system. There were lots of people who wanted us to have a referendum on our continued membership of the European Union though – now there is one referendum I do think we should have!
Most people w ill be aware that with the exception of Prayers at the start of each days sitting all the proceedings of the House of Commons are televised live and can be viewed on the BBC Parliament channel or on the internet via the Parliament website. Many people only come across the Parliament channel by accident and I guess few choose to watch for very long although I am aware of people who enjoy watching the live coverage! However people view the coverage one aspect always raises concern and that is the number of MP’s who are actually sitting in the House and listening to the debate. It is no surprise therefore that I am often asked about why this is.
There is no simple, single answer. The answer lies in the number of different things Members of Parliament have to do. For a start all the Members who are Government Ministers are invariably working in their respective departments. Backbench members may be sitting on a Committee (there are Standing Committees which deal with the Committee stage of legislation and Select Committees which monitor the work of Government) or dealing with Constituency matters.
Then there are the hours the House sits. The House usually sits for around 8 hours a day and even when a Member is sitting in the Chamber perhaps waiting to be called to speak not surprisingly there are times when it is necessary to leave the Chamber if only to grab a bite to eat. I should also add that there are television monitors in each MP’s office so many MP’s who are working on paperwork in their office keep on eye on the debate via the monitors.