Peter Heaton-Jones MP
Working Hard for North Devon
News Update -
Date: 14th October 2019
Thank you and welcome to my latest Newsletter. Please do forward this on to someone who you think may be interested, and urge them to sign up.
Queen’s Speech, Brexit and Super Saturday
As I write, the pomp and ceremony of the State Opening of Parliament has just finished, and the debate on the Queen’s Speech is getting underway.
Brexit was at the centre of the government’s programme for the forthcoming session, with several bills announced as part of the process. To quote from the speech, “We remain committed to securing a deal with the EU and negotiating an ambitious future relationship”. There will be Brexit-related bills covering Agriculture, Fisheries, Immigration and Financial Services.
This will be a crucially important week – although we seem to say that on a regular basis nowadays. Negotiations on our Brexit arrangements are ongoing, with a view to reaching an agreement in time for the EU summit at the end of this week. The House of Commons is then very likely to sit on Saturday to discuss the deal – the first Saturday sitting since the Falklands War in 1982.
I sincerely hope we can reach a deal so that the UK can leave the EU on 31 October. I have voted for a deal at every opportunity, because my view is clear: we need to get on and deliver Brexit, and then move on to other vital issues.
That’s why I was pleased that the Queen’s Speech included many other measures for domestic policies. These include the NHS, which will be front and centre when it comes to future investment. Justice issues were also at the forefront, with the announcement that a Sentencing Bill will change the automatic release point from halfway to two-thirds for adult offenders serving sentences of four years or more for serious violent or sexual offences.
Two Bills which I worked on when I was a ministerial aide at the Justice Department will continue to be progressed through parliament. The Domestic Abuse Bill and the reforms to our divorce laws will both be reintroduced in the new session, and I look forward to continuing to support them.
There was also a focus on the environment and climate change. A new landmark Environment Bill will help protect our planet for generations to come, including the creation of a new Office for Environmental Protection.
There will be policy initiatives too on education, infrastructure and science, and – as the Queen told us – ‘Other measures will be laid before you’.
It looks like being a busy session of parliament…however long it lasts.
Last week, as the photo shows, I convened a meeting on Braunton Marshes to discuss how best to protect the landscape from future flooding. The meeting was prompted by two recent incidents when high tides and strong winds led to water over-topping one of the defensive banks.
The Environment Agency, the Drainage Board and the Marsh Inspectors were among the organisations at the meeting, which was held on the marshes as more strong winds hit the area. Also present were local councillor and chair of the Drainage Board, Cllr Jasmine Chesters, and Braunton Flood Warden, Ben Byrom.
There was clearly a great deal of community concern following the recent incidents. I wanted to see the situation for myself, and to talk to the various organisations responsible for managing this area.
The overall message that came across was that the recent incidents, although worrying, were not as serious as first thought. In particular I have been assured that even if the breach of the bank had been worse, there is no question of this causing a flood risk to Braunton village itself. I think it's important that the community is reassured of this true position first and foremost.
There has been significant investment in flood prevention measures in the village, where the principal risk is from the river rather than from any over-topping of the defensive banks on the marshes. However, there are environmental concerns around the effects of salt water inundating the marshes and the consequent loss of agricultural land, which could happen if the banks ever suffer a more serious breach.
For this reason I have asked the various organisations involved to meet me again – this time out of the wind and rain – to discuss a long term management and maintenance plan. There's a complex web of bodies with various responsibilities, and the situation is further complicated by the fact that some of the flood defences are on private land.
I want to ensure that everyone works together so that we have a sustainable plan for the long-term management and protection of the marshes which are such an important and much-loved part of the local landscape.
Barnstaple Work Club
The Barnstaple Library Work Club launched last week, and I was delighted to pay them a visit and then take the opportunity to promote their work in parliament.
The Club is based on the success of the Bideford Library Work Club, whose work will now expand to offer services to Barnstaple and the towns and rural communities of North Devon. It’s designed to help people with job applications, provide interview training, and boost the confidence of those who may have been out of work for some time, maybe through disability.
I met the organiser earlier this year when the ambition to launch the Barnstaple Work Club was still in its infancy. So it was a real pleasure to have visited Barnstaple Library on Friday and see the Club up and running. I know it will make a real difference to so many people, and I'll continue to support it.
I'm also really pleased that the Club has found a home at Barnstaple Library - it's a perfect example of how our libraries can really be a hub for so much good work in the community.
Barnstaple Work Club is open every Tuesday in the IT suite of Barnstaple Library from 10.00am-13.00pm. It is a drop-in service and offering free, friendly, independent advice.
I was so impressed, I raised the Club in Parliament at the first opportunity – you can see my question and the minister’s reply here:
Devon and Cornwall Police will get more officers than any other force in the South West under the national programme to increase police numbers.
I join the Police & Crime Commissioner, Alison Hernandez, in welcoming confirmation that her force can recruit an additional 141 officers in the first year of the scheme, which will see a total of 20,000 extra officers nationally over three years.
In Devon and Cornwall the 141 officers will be in addition to the 126 extra officers that have been funded since Alison became the Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016.
This is great news for our communities and for anyone wanting to start a career as a police officer. We are in a better position than other forces in that we were already recruiting before the Government announced this uplift, so there are newly trained officers lined up and plenty of potential recruits.
We will continue to campaign for a central government funding mechanism that recognises the challenges faced by Devon and Cornwall Police due to the huge influx of visitors in the summer months. A couple of weeks ago I arranged a meeting with the policing minister, Kit Malthouse, and we’ll keep fighting our case.
Peter Heaton-Jones MP
Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/PeterNorthDevon
Like me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PeterNorthDevon
Mail: 1st Floor Office Suite, Church House, Church Lane
Barnstaple, North Devon, EX31 1DE
Telephone: 01271 327990