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Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Friday, 27 August 2010

Ideally we should have grandchildren before we have our own children – that way we would eradicate basic errors and be much better parents. Jan and I are just getting our breath back having looked after our two ragamuffins for a mere 36 hours. We chased monsters through the woods, attacked stinging nettles with light-sabres and watched a ridiculous Scooby-Do film. We had to toss a coin to decide between MacDonald's and KFC and, I am very happy to report that the latter (my favourite) won. We loved every chaotic minute, but are now exhausted! This is not something we are designed to do in our mid fifties when the joints are just starting to complain and energy levels plummet towards zero surprisingly quickly.
Spare a thought then for the growing number of people of similar age who are bringing up their grandchildren full time. They cannot hand them back when the little angels start grizzling. There is no car pulling up outside to whisk them away when your favourite TV programmes start. These true champions have volunteered, not because it was their perfect life plan, but because their own child is somehow incapable. Sometimes this is because both natural parents have been killed in a car accident, but more usually because the adult child is rendered incapable by an addiction to heroin or a losing battle with mental illness. I have met many people in this unenviable situation, and they are all heroes.
We do not do enough to support them. If they had not stepped forward it would have cost the state a lot more and the children would have lost out. But because they are blood family our welfare system does not underpin their wonderful commitment with the financial support that would help them to do an even better job.
It is easy to see why this has been the case. Sadly we know that if the benefit system was more generous to relatives who step in to raise the children of family members, a lot more people, less well motivated than the heroic group of which I write, would restructure their arrangements just to be able to claim benefits. The welfare bill would go through the roof.
In the reforms currently being thrashed out behind the scenes, I hope we will find a new degree of flexibility. We have to be better at getting help to deserving people, the ones who really need it.

posted by Gary @ 16:59  



Thursday, 19 August 2010

There is not enough aid money being pledged to help the people of Pakistan, despite the appalling pictures of this truly shocking disaster. Intelligent people are scratching their heads and wondering why the response is so sluggish. Is it just compassion fatigue? I don't think so.
In these tough times people, rightly or wrongly, are sick of supporting people who won't help themselves. Whether it is now widespread anger over people ripping us off in the benefit system or intolerance towards corrupt governments around the world, good, responsible people have had enough. There is a feeling among many that Pakistan is still rife with corruption at every level of government and that it is ambivalent towards tackling the Islamic terrorism that percolates freely in that part of the world. In times of plenty, maybe we turned a blind eye to these shortcomings, but not any more. We want to see robust action on both of these fronts.
Many people are also concerned that too much militant Islam is exported to our shores from Pakistan with an agenda to change our culture and we don't like that much either.
The tragedy is that the ordinary folks on the ground, especially the children, are utterly innocent in these transgressions and they are suffering. They are not terrorists or asylum seekers or zealots. They are just people hurting. The sight of whole communities swept away is heart-breaking and the threat of disease is very real. It is wrong to punish the poorest in their society for the faults of the ruling classes and the religious bigots.
It would help if the British Government was taking a more robust line with the government of Pakistan and countries like it on our behalf. That is why I welcomed David Cameron's recent tough comments and why I am glad that much more of our overseas aid is now linked to performance and results. It has taken a harsher global economic climate for us to stop pussyfooting around with failing states but the change in attitude is now welcome.
So what should we do? First, we should give help generously to the people of Pakistan in this crisis. Second we should make all future aid dependent upon action on corruption and terrorism. Third, although we should reinforce the principle of religious freedom in Britain and celebrate the contribution that all communities make, we should also ensure that the tail does not wag the dog.

posted by Gary @ 08:32  



Friday, 13 August 2010

Should the United Kingdom reintroduce a new dog licence scheme? I hasten to add that this is not the latest idea from Westminster – as Parliament has risen and we are all at the seaside with our buckets and spades. No, it is a suggestion put to me (firmly and persistently) by a constituent who feels strongly that it would usher in significant benefits. I can see some merit in it and there is definitely a problem with irresponsible dog ownership. Or cats and dogs homes are full to bursting. The RSPCA put down over 550 abandoned but healthy dogs last year for whom they could not find new homes.
For most responsible dog owners who already care for their pets properly, I can however see that further cost and regulation would be about as popular as King Herod at a baby sitting convention. What do you think?
The main purpose would be to crack down on the number of unwanted dogs bought and then dumped by negligent owners. Alsatian puppies in eighth floor apartments, Rotweillers to welcome home the new baby, you know the kind of thing.
The argument goes that the requirement to obtain a dog licence and pay an appropriate fee would deter many casual puppy buyers and would result in far fewer dogs being abandoned. It gives the regulator a degree of control. It could be combined with a range of health measures (inoculations etc) that could improve the wellbeing of our four legged friends. The market would presumably shrink so fewer dogs would be bred by unscrupulous breeders.  It might also create a useful data base that would give greater control over the ownership of dangerous dogs.
On the downside, it is more bureaucracy of the kind that the coalition government is trying to get rid of, and would irresponsible people bother and would anybody enforce it? The police are struggling to cope already.
We used to have a scheme which I recall was honoured more in the breach than the observance, so it was scrapped in 1987. Interestingly, many other countries still have schemes – like Canada, Australia and most states in the USA, although my researches have not been able to discover how fully they are enforced. But the fact that these oft-admired countries still run such schemes suggests that there is some merit in it.
As I said, there is no proposal on the table, but I would welcome your views.

posted by Gary @ 13:41  



Sound money. An old fashioned expression, but one we need now more than ever. After years of over spending and reckless borrowing the nation needs to get its finances back onto a sound footing. I am guessing that many of us individually need to do the same thing. The sight of other countries teetering on the edge of bankruptcy has brought sanity once again to our door. Sadly this rebalancing of the scales cannot be done without pain. The next two to three years will be tough, but after that we should have a secure foundation on which to build again. If we do not stop the rot now the whole edifice will come crashing down.
These harsh realities are nowhere more evident than in the realm of defence. For years our armed forces have been at over-stretch and the procurement of future equipment has been chaotic, resulting in a huge black hole in the defence budget. I used to say that the MOD was the most inefficient organisation on the planet (until I encountered the CSA and HMRC).
So the strategic defence review now underway is necessary to rectify this shambles. First what threats do we face and what armed forces do we need to combat those future threats? Second, what resources are required to put those forces in place, properly equipped and trained? Third, as a result of those decisions, what assets can be released or closed down.
All of these weighty matters are currently being grappled with in the corridors of power by our military strategists. Aggressive turf wars between the Army the Navy and the Air Force are being played out behind closed doors, punctuated by sporadic leaking and counter-leaking. That is why we read one week that Portsmouth Naval Base is to be closed, then a few weeks later Devonport, then that the Royal Marines will be transferred from the Navy to the Army and so on.
None of us yet know what the outcome of these historic discussions will be, but you do not need a degree in futurology to know that the outcome will be significant for this region, which still relies heavily on defence spending. The future of the dockyard is secure, but the naval base less so. There will be much ill-informed speculation over the summer. Try and ignore it.
We will know soon enough in the autumn and then the political battles will begin in earnest.

posted by Gary @ 10:02