Peter Heaton-Jones MP
Working Hard for North Devon
News Update -
Date: 8th September 2018
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One of the issues raised regularly with me is the need for improvements in broadband and mobile phone coverage in North Devon, especially in our rural areas.
Yesterday morning I was out knocking on doors in Chittlehampton, and this subject was brought up by several people. Then in the afternoon at my constituency surgery, I met a resident from Loxhore who made exactly the same point.
I’ve pressed hard for progress and things are moving forward, but more needs to be done. That’s why, two days ago, I asked a question in the House of Commons focusing particularly on broadband coverage. I asked the Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Jeremy Wright, to work with me to deliver improvements. You can see my question and his answer here:
His reply was intriguing, talking about ‘local solutions’. You won’t be surprised to hear that I will be writing to the minister asking for specific details.
In our area, ‘Connecting Devon & Somerset’ is the body responsible for delivering the government’s broadband targets. They’ve given the contract to a company called Airband, who are installing a wireless network to serve premises in rural areas. The problem is that many people think the broadband speeds you get with this system are too slow, and the strength of the wi-fi signal is very dependent on local conditions.
BT Openreach, which used to hold the contract, is still on the scene, and they are offering to install broadband using the ‘fibre to the premises’ system. This provides faster broadband speeds, but isn’t available everywhere and can be more expensive.
We need to navigate our way through this. Fast, reliable and affordable broadband services are now a necessity, not a luxury. Rest assured I will continue to press this point very hard indeed.
The House of Commons returned this week after its summer recess. The first couple of days were dominated by two pieces of legislation which I’ve been working on in my role as Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) at the Ministry of Justice.
Meanwhile, next week, we’re discussing a very important new law with a specific North Devon connection.
I don’t often talk about this aspect of my parliamentary work in the newsletter, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to do so….
Civil Liability Bill
On Tuesday the House discussed this proposed new law at length – until 10pm, in fact. In a nutshell, the bill will overhaul the rules governing accident insurance claims.
There’s a lot of evidence to show that there’s a booming trade in fake claims for whiplash injuries after road accidents. In addition, the way compensation amounts are calculated is resulting in artificially high pay-outs. The combined effect is that the insurance premiums paid by innocent motorists are rising. The Civil Liability Bill changes this, and as a result it’s estimated the average motorist could save £35 a year on their insurance.
Let’s be clear, there are many perfectly genuine claims for whiplash and other injuries caused by road accidents and in other circumstances. What we need to do is make sure those people are properly compensated, while those who seek to play the system find it more difficult to do so.
Getting that balance right will be difficult, and next week I am serving on the committee which will analyse the bill line by line to make sure we do just that.
On Wednesday, my Department took centre stage again with the Voyeurism Bill, better known perhaps as the ‘upskirting’ law.
For those who don’t know, ‘upskirting’ is the name given to the secret use of a mobile phone to take a photo looking up a person’s skirt in a public place. These photos are sometimes then shared on the internet on pornographic websites. It’s a vile practice, but it’s not adequately covered by any of the existing legislation on sexual offences, so this new law aims to remedy that.
Earlier this year, Wera Hobhouse MP introduced this as a Private Member’s Bill. You may remember the huge fuss when one backbench MP prevented the Bill moving forward by shouting ‘object’ at the end of the original debate.
This resulted in the government adopting the Bill so that there is sufficient parliamentary time to get it passed. On Wednesday, the Commons moved it forward significantly.
But it’s not as straightforward as you might think. On the face of it, it’s fairly obvious that this is a sensible measure. But as soon as you look at it in detail, you realise there are some complications. For instance, suppose a 12-year-old boy in the school playground takes a photo under the skirt of a girl of a similar age, without realising the seriousness of what he’s doing. Should that boy be covered by this new law so that he receives a criminal record and is put on the Sex Offenders’ Register for life?
And what is the definition of a ‘skirt’? For instance, can a man wearing a kilt be a victim of ‘upskirting’? That is not a joke – it has been raised in the debate, and if you think about it, it’s a perfectly sensible question which needs to be resolved.
It’s a good example of why legislation has to very carefully drafted to make it watertight, and to ensure that clever defence lawyers can’t use legal loopholes to get offenders off the hook. That’s why the Bill will now be analysed very carefully as it moves forward to make it as good as it can possibly be. Again, I’ll be involved in that in my role as PPS.
Organ Donation Bill
Not all legislative work I do in Parliament is because of my position at the Ministry of Justice. For instance, next Wednesday I’ll be serving on the Committee analysing the Bill which will transform the system of organ donations.
It will introduce what’s called deemed consent, meaning people will be required to ‘opt out’ of the donor register, rather than the present system where people ‘opt in’ to offer their organs for transplant. There are many safeguards built into the Bill to ensure nobody’s wishes will be ignored, and there’s strong evidence from other countries that such a system really does save more lives.
Here in North Devon we have a strong connection with this issue because of the case of Keira Ball. Keira was the nine-year-old girl who tragically died in a car crash on the Link Road last summer.
Her Dad, Joe, took the courageous decision to allow her organs to be donated so that lives could be saved in the midst of this tragedy.
Keira’s heart was transplanted into nine-year-old Max Johnson, who has become the figurehead of the campaign to get this law passed. Altogether four people received Keira’s organs, and with them a chance of life. You may remember I told Keira’s story in Parliament when the House of Commons first debated this Bill earlier in the year.
I’m delighted that the government has agreed to support this measure, which began as a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Geoffrey Robinson MP. Mr Robinson has kindly asked me to serve on the committee on Wednesday, and I look forward to moving this forward to becoming law.
There could be no better tribute to Keira.
Peter Heaton-Jones MP
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