Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Israel and Palestine

Any conflict and loss of life is deeply regrettable. The loss of 2000 lives of any country is a cause for deep concern.

However, I recognise and respect Israel’s right to exist in peace and to defend its own people. Regrettably at times defence of your own people can lead to loss of life from the aggressors. It is clear to me, that while I would not necessarily defend every action taken by Israel, whose response at times does appear to have been disproportionate, the main aggressors do seem to be Hamas who regularly seek to fire rockets into the Israeli settlements.

An assessment of whether Israeli actions in Gaza complied with international law and its obligations under the Geneva Conventions requires an investigation on the ground. The United Nations Human Rights Council has set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the Gaza Strip since the conflict began on 13 June 2014. The UK Government supports a balanced and independent inquiry.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is a longstanding, complex and deep rooted issue. I do not believe there are any easy answers. My general position is that all parties need to work towards a lasting peace whereby Jews and Arabs, Israel and Palestine, along with the other nations in the Middle East, are able to exist peaceably and respect each the other. Other, far greater men and women than me, have sought over many years to achieve this. Sadly to date it often appears to be 1 step forward, one step back. But we should not give up. We should continue to do all we can to bring about a lasting peace. I believe this should include supporting Israel’s right to defend itself but also being prepared, when necessary to criticise and challenge.

Additionally we should do all we can to support the Palestinians who are largely the innocent victims of this conflict, through humanitarian aid.

I hope this  gives you a picture of my position. I do not in any way claim to be an expert of this major issue but I have sought to answer in an straight-forward and open way.

Tax Evasion

As a local businessman who has worked hard my whole life I know how difficult it feels to pay the tax due on our income, only to watch as other far wealthier people appear to be able to avoid paying their fair share.

However, this Government, led by my Conservative colleagues has been addressing this issue for the past 5 years. In fact we have done far more to close the tax loopholes that are being exploited, than the previous Government did during their 13 years in power.

I am someone who believes passionately in low taxes – hard working people should be allowed to keep as much of the money they earn as possible to decide what they wish to spend it one. But I also believe these taxes should be paid.  I am pleased that this Government is making sure everyone pays the taxes that they owe – securing a stronger economy and a better future for Britain.

We have cut taxes as a key part of our long term economic plan to build the most competitive corporate tax system in the world – but not everyone is paying their fair share.

That’s why we’re tackling aggressive tax avoidance and evasion – of both some large companies and individuals. We have led the world on changing international tax rules and are implementing those changes in Britain. We have gone further than any previous government, closing more of the loopholes we inherited every year, and raising £85 billion in compliance activity. We are committed to recouping an additional £5 billion by clamping down in the next parliament at the same rate as in this parliament.

•         HSBC’s tax arrangements. It is for HSBC to explain what they did to ensure their clients complied with tax law. Since 2010 we have closed many of the loopholes exposed and specifically taken action to get back money lost in Swiss Bank Accounts. We have systematically worked through the 2010 ‘Lagarde’ list of tax avoiders and brought in more than £135 million, increasing the maximum penalty for hiding money in tax havens to 200 per cent of the tax evaded. Over 90 countries last year signed up to new international Comprehensive Reporting Standards, further shutting down the options for tax cheats who pursue this increasingly high risk practice. To date our agreements with Switzerland and Liechtenstein alone have brought in around £2 billion in previously unpaid tax.

•         Cracking down on aggressive avoidance and evasion in Britain. We have made over 40 changes to tax law, closing down loopholes and introducing major reforms to the UK tax system. In particular, we have introduced a General Anti-Abuse Rule which will deter the creation of abusivetax avoidance schemes, clamped down on Stamp Duty avoidance with an Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings and we’ve stopped hedge fund managers using partnerships to avoid payingtax on their income.

•         Tackling aggressive avoidance and evasion internationally. We have led efforts within the G20 to reform the international corporate tax rules through the OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project and the Prime Minister put tax transparency at heart of his presidency of the G8, promoting the development of automatic information exchange. This standard was developed over the last two years and now, thanks to UK leadership, over 90 countries – all major financial centres (including Switzerland), all the G20, all the EU and all of the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories – have committed to begin exchanging this information by 2018. 

•         Making sure multinationals pay their fair share – tackling the so-called ‘Double Irish’. Some of the largest companies in the world use elaborate structures to avoid paying tax. To make sure they contribute we’re introducing a 25 per cent tax on multinationals’ profits where they’re artificially shifted out of the country. This will raise over £1 billion over the next five years.

•         Investing in HMRC to deal with aggressive avoidance and evasion. We have invested £1 billion in HMRC since 2010 to tackle tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance. HMRC have recovered more than £31 billion in tax as a result of interventions with large businesses since 2010. HMRC’s High Net Worth Unit has collected £852 million from the UK’s wealthiest people. Between 2010-11 and the end of March 2015, HMRC will have collected more than £100 billion in additional compliance revenues.

•         The amount raised from compliance has increased to a record high under this Government and the tax gap has been reduced. It is forecast HMRC will raise £26 billion this year from compliance, £9 billion more than in 2010. The tax gap has fallen from 8.5 per cent in 2005/06 to 6.8 per cent in 2012/13.

Sustainable Farming

Firstly let me say that I am married to a farmer's daughter and my in-laws still farm on the Isles of Scilly. They used to be dairy farmers and supplied the whole islands with milk for most of the year. However the quotas put an end to that as my farther in law was pouring milk down the drain while milk was being brought in on the ship.

Whilst I would not claim to be an expert I am very supportive of our local farmers and aware of many of the challenges they face. I have met with a number and will continue to do so in the coming weeks. I have a meeting with the local NFU arranged and recently hosted a dinner with Liz Truss, Secretary of State for DEFRA to meet local farmers.

The issue of milk prices is a major concern that I know is effecting many dairy farmers. I am clear that we need to do all we can to support our farmers and ensure they are paid a fair price that ensures our dairy farms are economically viable. I am a free market Conservative at heart but if there is one area where I would support Government intervention it would be in protecting farmers from the unreasonable behaviour of supermarkets. 

​As you are probably aware, the Government encouraged farmers and milk processors to agree a Dairy Code of Practice on contracts. Since its launch in 2012, this has helped improve contractual relationships between farmers and milk buyers. However I appreciate milk prices remain problematic for dairy farmers and if elected I would work to ensure the Government does all it can to support the dairy industry. 

Whilst there is clearly an immediate crisis that needs to be addressed, and we need to act to ensure we do not lose dairy farms for the future, we also need to work with the agriculture industry to make sure farming of all types has the support it needs to ensure it is sustainable for the long term.

I am also pleased that the Government has urged Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to be sympathetic when dealing with dairy farmers. Importantly, in the most recent Budget the Chancellor announced that all farmers will be able to average their incomes for tax purposes over five years, which should make a tremendous difference. In addition DairyCo, part of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, has set up a special unit offering financial advice.

Friday, 20 March 2015

My views on the NHS

I have been asked a number of times on Twitter and other Social Media forums for my views on the NHS. The difficulty is that this, like many issues, is complex and it is impossible to give the comprehensive answer the question warrants in 140 characters.

Therefore, below I have set out my views and position on some of the key issues relating to the NHS.

Our NHS is one of our nation’s greatest achievements. It remains among the best health care systems in the world and despite some of the current challenges it faces is still the envy of most countries. The vast majority of people receive an excellent service.

I believe we should never take for granted how fortunate we are to live in a country that has free world class health care available to all. Our dedicated doctors and nurses are a credit to our country and should always be respected and honoured for the work they do.


I have been asked a number of times if I will fight to save the NHS from cuts. However, the truth is that there are no cuts to save it from, at least not from the Conservative Party. This government has ring fenced NHS spending throughout this Parliament, something the Labour Party would not have done. We have put £12 billion more into the NHS Budget and this year the NHS in Cornwall has had over £15 million extra  – more money than it has ever had before.

The Conservative Party has committed, if we are in Government, to protect NHS funding in the next Parliament, and to provide real terms year on year increases. The only way we can have a properly funded health service is if we have a strong economy. The biggest risk to the NHS is in fact that our country returns to the borrow and spend policies of the Labour Party.


I have again been asked if I will protect the NHS from privatisation. This is again a false question.

There is no privatisation of the NHS. What we do have is specific services being outsourced to private  and charity sector contractors – but the NHS is not being ‘sold off’. Those that talk of privatising the NHS prove that they do not understand the difference. This method of delivering health services was in fact started by the previous Labour Government. When they left power in 2010 4.9% of our health service was delivered by private and charity sector organisations. Under this Government this has only risen by 1% to 5.9%.

I believe that the private sector has a part to play in delivering certain health services. As long as services remain free at the point of delivery, something the Conservative Party is absolutely committed to protect, it makes little material difference who provides the service.

As an example, most GP surgeries have been private sector, partnership businesses that contract with the NHS for many years. What is important is that the service providers deliver high quality health care at a value for money cost to the tax payer. What we need is the best services delivered at the most efficient cost by whichever sector is able to provide it best. Whilst I expect mostly this will remain within the Public Sector, we should be open to the fact that sometimes that will be private sector businesses or charities.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the NHS

There has been a lot of speculation about the impact of TTIP on the NHS. However, TTIP does not require us, or any other country to open up their national health systems to private providers. These accusations of privatisation are unfounded scaremongering.

Instead, this free trade deal will lower trade barriers, boosting growth and creating more jobs, as well as lowering prices. It will help provide much-needed security for hardworking taxpayers. Making sure Britain continues to be an open, trading economy is part of our plan to build a healthier, more balanced economy, so we can secure a better future for Britain. This is especially important when the warning lights are flashing over the global economy with weak growth in Europe and a slowdown across Asia.

•             TTIP does not require countries to open up their national health systems to private providers. Accusations that it will cause privatisation of NHS services are unfounded scaremongering. As the government have made clear, TTIP will not affect how public services are paid for.

•             Decisions about NHS care will remain in the hands of local doctors, who will continue to act in the best interests of patients. The NHS is something to be valued and protected – and decisions about the commissioning of NHS care will not be affected.

•             The agreement will help patients get the most effective new treatments. We want patients to be able to benefit from the very latest diagnostic devices and drugs. The US is a world leader in medical technologies and this agreement will help patients get access to those treatments on the NHS faster. 

•             This agreement is not new and the UK has over 90 similar agreements in place. The rules on investment protection and Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) will preserve the right of the government to regulate in the public interest.

Current NHS Pressures

There is no doubt that our NHS is facing growing demand for the services it delivers and this has caused a high level of pressure on certain areas of the health services. We have seen this here in Cornwall especially at A&E level.

But let us be clear the main cause of these pressures is the increase in demand. We have a growing, aging population. People are living longer than ever before and whilst this is good news and evidence of the success of our NHS, it does create its own pressures.

NHS Reform

Much has been made of some of the reforms this Government has brought to the NHS. It is quite clear that an organisation the size and as complex as our health service will need to be reviewed and reformed regularly.

The reforms this Government have implemented have sought to reduce the bureaucracy and top heavy management – we have greatly reduced administration costs, and put more responsibility in the hands of clinicians.     

Any change in an organisation the size of the NHS will bring challenges. But the result is we now have more doctors (6000) and nurses (7000) and less middle managers.

The Future

Whilst we will see demand continue to increase we will need to continue to work to ensure our NHS is well run, efficient and cost effective. I will always protect the principle of ‘free at the point of delivery for all’. But in order to do this we will need to explore all appropriate methods of delivering health care ensuring whoever delivers these services is held to account by the highest standards possible.

Steve with Cornwall Blood Bikes