Newsletter Edition 51
The final Parliamentary debate on the Equitable Life Assurance debacle came to a conclusion at the last Strasbourg plenary session and I spoke in the Chamber about the Special Committee’s findings and conclusions. The report was a damning indictment of the Company’s management and was very critical of the failures of the Financial and Insurance Regulators in Britain. But the crisis also affected many policy-holders outside the UK and various MEPs from Ireland, France, the Netherlands and especially Germany, spoke forcefully about the personal financial tragedies endured by their constituents. I demanded that HMG recognise the deficiencies of the British Regulatory system and come up with a compensation package. Sadly, that is very unlikely but is probable that the Report of the UK Parliamentary Ombudsman, due in the late autumn, will add further shame to the Government’s position and it might then be persuaded to act.
Speaking in the Debate
British Tory MEPs were invited to have dinner with the Hungarian centre-right MEPs last month and a very jolly and productive evening it was. Hungary, of course, has longstanding democratic traditions, unlike some of the formerly Communist East European states, and we discussed a number of issues of mutual benefit. They look upon the Conservative Party as their guide in Parliamentary activities and we sought to persuade them to consider joining the new group that David Cameron is initiating before the next European Elections. However, they are, as yet, wholly unpersuaded.
I did discover that one of the Hungarian MEPs was, to all intents and purposes, British. His family fled to Britain in 1956 and he was educated in London. Indeed he was at the same school as me! As soon as normality was restored in Hungary, he returned there and built a political career and so the English accent of this particular Hungarian MEP startled us across the dinner table.
The Leader of the Ulster Unionists, Sir Reg Empey, was in Brussels a week or so ago and I acted as his host. I have known Sir Reg for many years, especially when I was a Northern Ireland Minister, and I was pleased to hear of the progress being made with ‘normal’ administration of the Province. Clearly his party, now as the second Unionist party in Stormont and with only one Westminster MP, is somewhat in the doldrums but Sir Reg’s obvious democratic commitment and determination to rebuild the party as a significant player in Northern Irish politics, must produce positive results sooner rather than later.
With Sir Reg & Mairead McGuinness MEP
I joined Rossendale & Darwen PPC, Jake Berry, on Bacup Moors last week to help his fight against an unpopular and intrusive wind farm planned for the summit of this visually appealing moorland. Local residents are all opposed to the application, for a variety of reasons, and Jake is very active in representing their concerns.
I then went to the Craven Ward By-election in Pendle, meeting PPC Andrew Stephenson and canvassing up some of the steepest hills I have ever climbed. This is a long term Liberal seat and it has remained so but Andrew’s objective was to give the Liberals a fright and to ensure that our candidate came a good second. We did just that.
The By-Election Team
“Save Our Canals!”
Liverpool hosted the World Canals’ Conference last month and, as a former Waterways Minister, I was invited to attend the Gala Dinner. Dulcie also has the Lancaster Canal flowing through her ward and the network is very important to our region. I met Audrey Smith, who was Chairman of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) when I was Minister, and she now lives in Lancashire. She and all her colleagues are up in arms about the savage cuts to the funding of British Waterways (who own the canals) and deplore the possible implications - reduced maintenance, substantially higher costs to boaters, loss of restoration projects and so on. This is entirely due to the failure of the Rural Payment Scheme to farmers by DEFRA which necessitated cuts in every other budget in the Department. Mrs Beckett has a lot to answer for! I pledged my support for the IWA campaign to “Save Our Canals” and I urge you all to do the same.
With the Chairman & ex-Chairman of the IWA
The Chinese Fur Trade
The attempts to ban dog and cat fur from China achieved some success recently and the credit goes largely to my Scottish colleague, Struan Stevenson. All such imports into the EU will be banned from next year although China has made it clear that it will not stop the barbaric practices surrounding the killing of these animals. It maintains that animals are fundamental to its traditional medicine and that the need is overwhelming (!)
Tory MEPs are having a battle royal with the new Portuguese Presidency of the EU over the invitation it has extended to President Mugabe of Zimbabwe. This dreadful little man, who is wrecking his country and imperilling the lives of its citizens, has been prevented from visiting any EU state and his personal finances and those of his thuggish cronies have been frozen. However, the Socialist Prime Minister of Portugal believes that Mugabe ought to be present at an EU/Africa Summit in Brussels to discuss human rights and has extended him an invitation. It must be withdrawn.
That saintly and delightful man, Archbishop Tutu, attended the Foreign Affairs Committee last month and was as forceful and charming as ever about Africa and its problems. I do not agree with him on everything and sometimes he can be infuriating but he does have a way with him! He pleaded the cause of his continent, especially in relation to clean water and AIDS, and if anyone can influence EU opinion in this regard, it will be the Archbishop.
Chester in Europe
I was invited by Chester’s Tory Leader, Margaret Parker, to speak at a session of the city’s “Europe Week” and decided to talk about sustainable transport. The conference included many experts from equivalent cities throughout the EU and was highly specialised in content. It was a splendid initiative by Chester to set this up and the leadership deserves every credit.
Almost the last action of former Party Chairman, Francis Maude, was to visit Lancashire recently and I met him at a lunch in Darwen. The Tory Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, Colin Rigby, was there and the Chairman was as delighted as we all were to hear about the Minority Administration that Colin and his team have managed to implement. Now the only Labour-controlled Council in Lancashire is the County Council.
DC in the NW
At my suggestion, David Cameron is paying great attention to the North West and I was present at two recent functions in Liverpool and Kendal. Both events were a great success, with business patrons and neighbouring Associations in Liverpool and Cumbrian and North Lancashire members at Kendal. The Leader was well received and took the flak as well as the many plaudits in his stride. As I have written before, not every Conservative will agree with Cameron’s vision and philosophy but the more he puts himself about the better understanding and support he achieves.
It being the cricket season, I was enticed out of retirement to play in a friendly charity match two weeks ago - in YORKSHIRE. It was, however, at Hovingham Hall, ancestral home of the Duchess of Kent and her brother, Sir Marcus Worsley, a former Tory MP for Chelsea and President of the MCC. Predictably the match was rained off in the early afternoon but not before I bowled half a dozen overs and took a wicket! The lunch was excellent and I shared a reminiscence or two with the 85-year old Sir Marcus, who expressed his complete support for David Cameron.
What a classic action!
So the Recess is upon us and I take this opportunity to wish you a relaxing summer and an enjoyable DRY (!) holiday. The Newsletter will be back in late September.
PS Don’t forget to sign the Referendum Petition