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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.


Thursday, 26 September 2013


Would you like some good news? Every month we get from the House of Commons library the unemployment figures broken down per constituency. This area has long been in the top ten percent top of the list, but last month's figures were exceptional.

The number of unemployed claimants in South West Devon constituency in August 2013 was 583. This represents a rate of 1.3% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, the 636th highest of the 650 UK constituencies. In other words only 14 other constituencies have a lower unemployment rate.

The number of claimants is 245 lower than in August 2012 and 57 lower than in July 2013. I realise that 583 people looking for work is still 583 too many, but clearly our local economy is doing well.

The number of people unemployed in the whole country was 2.49 million people in May-July 2013, down 24,000 from the previous quarter and down 105,000 from the previous year. The unemployment rate is now 7.7%.

In Plymouth the unemployment percentage is about 5%

So Plymouth is doing considerably better than the national average, which is not always the case, and at 1.3% Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge are doing exceptionally well, recording what is (when you take usual turnover into account) effectively full employment.

How is this happening? Over recent years we have seen the gradual diversification of our business sector and the arrival of some new cutting edge technological firms, usually set up by bright young people, sometimes students from Plymouth University.

We also have a rich nexus of small local firms and some of them are getting busier after some very tough years.

Some of the small and medium size enterprises I visit in the constituency, typically employing 60 to 100 people and making high precision gadgets that I usually do not understand, are experiencing strong exports and just beginning to feel more confident about the future.

It is the hard work of our local businessmen and women, the risk-takers, the entrepreneurs, that has produced the excellent statistics I have set out above.

There are still some potential shocks along the way, notably more euro-zone instability, but it might just be that we are turning the corner. With more people in work and fewer people claiming benefit, maybe we can get the deficit in public finances under control more quickly than the 5 to 7 years slog that I have predicted. I certainly hope so.

posted by Gary @ 09:15  



Thursday, 19 September 2013


The current debate about whether Muslim women should be entitled to wear the full veil in public is healthy. It is a delicate example of the clash between religion and law and religion and culture. It raises strong emotions on either side of the argument. However, the very worst thing we should do is to sweep it under the carpet and say that we are not able to discuss it. There must be no taboo subjects, even though we should all be careful about our tone when discussing sensitive subjects.

There are about 2.7 million Muslims in the United Kingdom, roughly 4.8% of the population. Many of them hold their religion very lightly these days, but a minority remain devout. For too long we have been afraid to raise our concerns about arranged and forced marriages and I am glad that these practices are now coming under the spotlight. Where religion and law clash, it is important that the law, which is part of the glue that binds us together, should prevail.

It is estimated that about 2000 of the 1 million Muslim women in the UK wear the full-face veil or niqab. France and Belgium have banned Muslim women wearing this veil in public. A judge in England has this week decided that although a woman can wear a veil in the court room she must remove it while giving evidence so that her evidence can be properly weighed. Was the judge right?

In the UK we have long prided ourselves on religious freedom. This must be so for both our indigenous beliefs and for those practised by more recent arrivals. Although there have been a few high profile court cases in recent years Christians are broadly free to display their religious symbols (eg wearing a cross)  and proclaim their beliefs in safety.

So where do minority religions fit into this framework? Should we not afford them the same rights? Even if some of us cannot understand it, wearing a veil in public is part of a sincerely held spiritual conviction for some Muslim women.

Muslims should be free to practice their religion freely, unless it clashes with British law.  I agree with the decision this week that anybody giving evidence in court should remove their veil. This is also obviously necessary for security and identity checks of all kinds.  But what about just walking down the street?

What space should we give for precious religious freedom?

posted by Gary @ 09:35  



Thursday, 12 September 2013


The activity of the past few weeks, where so many of you have fed in your views on Syria and the Lobbying Bill has challenged me.

A Member of Parliament is a representative, not a delegate. This means that he or she is elected to represent constituents at Westminster by exercising personal judgement, not to vote in a particular way mandated by them. In any event, how can you discover how constituents would like you to vote? I think back to a Saturday years ago when the issue of docking dogs' tails was being debated, I opened a letter from one vet urging me to vote for the bill, and immediately afterwards, a letter from another vet urging me to vote against.

Our system is clear: voters elect a representative, that person exercises his or her own judgement and if the people don't like it they have the ability to remove that MP at the next election. The British people have shown themselves to be ruthlessly adept at MP removal. In 1997 178 of my colleagues were swept away on one night.

But even if we are expected to exercise our own judgement, it is a foolish MP who does not listen to his constituents and seek to reflect their views. This begs the question: how to consult properly with constituents and how best for constituents to make their view known.

It helps to live in the constituency. I have never found people shy of approaching me and letting me know what they think. Sometimes even walking down the Ridgeway can take twenty minutes. A trip to the pub usually elicits some opinions, often colourfully expressed.
But it has to be more methodical than that. Sending in cards or clicking on campaigning websites is of little value, although individual letters or e-mails are always respected.

I have decided to try and formalise the consultation process, using technology that we virtually all use. I am going to compile a data base of constituency e-mail addresses and then periodically consult those people by seeking views and wisdom on various topics as they arise.

If you would like to be consulted by me as issues arise, please simply e-mail me over the next week or so on: and you will be added to my list. This will not be passed onto anybody else. It will simply be used to consult you on policy issues.

Get typing. The more the merrier.

posted by Gary @ 13:39  



Thursday, 5 September 2013


Last week's botched vote over Syria raises the thorny question of Britain's role in the world.

There are now plenty of people who think we should step back from the world stage and simply focus on our own affairs. The example of Sweden or Switzerland is often cited. The argument goes that we no longer have an empire, are no longer a global super-power and we cannot afford our current military might that we have the price-tag of the seat at the top table of world affairs.

I know that many of you will agree with that, and it is a respectable view. Ducking out of potential military intervention in Syria has provoked a call to review our place in world affairs.

But I take a different view. We are still the sixth largest economy (although Brazil will soon overtake us), leaders of the Commonwealth, a powerful member of the European Union, a member of G8, and a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
We benefit from a special relationship with the world's remaining Super-Power , the USA (although China is coming). Unlike other former colonial powers we still enjoy respect from our ex-colonies and many other parts of the world. We have a stronger military than most countries, a high reputation for diplomacy and what is often called soft power. Our democratic stability, intrinsic fairness and commitment to human rights are respected around the world. In short, we are good at it.

In taking our seat at the top table I do not consider us to be punching above our weight. I consider us to be playing the historic hand that has been dealt to us. In so doing we are acting in the national interest by helping to make the world a better safer place for our children and grandchildren.

I realise we got it wrong over Iraq. Parliament was misled over weapons of mass destruction. We are all scarred by that event. This does not mean we should simply retire to the corner and let the others get on with it.

There is an unforeseen consequence of limping off to the shadows.  If those who advocate a Sweden-style vision for Britain prevail, we will not have the need for the armed forces we have today. No need for a naval base or dockyard in Devonport. Fewer marines stationed in our midst. Plymouth would become a ghost town.

Be careful what you wish for.

posted by Gary @ 09:22