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Creatures great and small

From fishing to slaughterhouses to bee-keeping, three MPs outline their recommendations for improving animal husbandry

 

David Amess is Conservative MP for Southend West

It is not easy to make a quick assessment of the UK fishing industry. At times, the big figures can seem gloomy; the industry has never been smaller. In 1938 there were 47,824 fishermen in the UK and as of 2010 there were 12,703. Certain fish stocks seem seriously depleted, such as the cod stock in the North Sea. Thankfully this is not the full story. 

The story on the ground is quite different. When I speak to fishermen in my constituency, Southend West, they tell me that fish stocks are high and market prices are low. They point to the Celtic Sea cod stock, which has grown rapidly in recent years, and the North Sea haddock stock, which is also strong; statistics taken from the Marine Management Organisation’s (MMO) annual report support their assertions. Plaice seems abundant all over the place, and there seems to be enough sole to feed many souls! Just this week in my local paper there was an article highlighting the renewal of shrimping in the area, something which has not happened for 12 years. This has been a “massive boost” to the local area according to The Leigh Times, diversifying and boosting business; especially helpful following on from restrictions in the cockle fishing business. 

Our brief survey of the industry begs the question as to what steps need to be taken to strengthen the industry further. Thankfully I know that in Richard Benyon we have an excellent minister who is always willing to listen to different opinions, who fights for the rights of UK fishermen and who cares about sustainability looking forward.

I would suggest that current EU-dictated policy is too inflexible. Fishermen are not able to react to changes in fish stocks and have their hands tied by rigid quotas which are, at times, out of date. Giving more responsibility and freedom to local fishermen would only benefit the industry. In a similar light, giving a quota to fishermen to enable them to land some stock which is currently discarded would be an excellent step forward; 1.3 million tonnes of fish are discarded each year in the North Atlantic which is a travesty. I am delighted that discard is set to end within six years, but a ‘landing quota’ may be a solution for the intervening years. Quotas are a controversial topic and the local fishermen I know feel that they are not currently shared out fairly between the fleets, with the under 10-metre fleet in particular being dealt a poor hand. This certainly needs to be addressed at the highest level.

Finally, I feel strongly that we need to be advocating the benefit of eating fish in the UK. People need to know that fish is back on the menu and that it is a very healthy choice. Promotions such as Sainsbury’s ‘Switch the Fish’ campaign are an excellent idea and I would like to see Government partnering with retailers, suppliers and the industry more widely to promote fish as a cheap and healthy alternative to meat.

 

Graeme Morrice is Labour MP for Livingston

I have long supported increased animal protection in the UK and spoken out about maintaining the UK’s position as a world leader on animal welfare standards.

Like other MPs, I recently signed the House of Commons motion (EDM 951) expressing concern over the issue and calling on the Government to bring forward legislative proposals for the mandatory installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) in British slaughterhouses.

I find it abhorrent that, in this day and age, animals are kicked, punched, beaten, thrown, goaded and burned with cigarettes, and thousands go to the knife having been stunned inadequately – a situation that is virtually unthinkable for the UK, but it happens…

I have joined the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and animal welfare organisations in recognising the positive role that CCTV can play in protecting and monitoring animal welfare in slaughterhouses.

Independently-monitored cameras could act as a security measure and deter or detect hygiene and contamination breaches. CCTV also provides other benefits, including acting as a tool for training for slaughter staff, vets and meat hygiene inspectors.

Research supports the case: in eight of nine slaughterhouses filmed using covert cameras, breaches of the welfare laws were found. Despite the fact that the FSA’s official veterinarians (supplied and paid for by the industry and taxpayer) are in all slaughterhouses whenever animals are being stunned and killed, legal breaches and additional suffering are not being detected and stopped.

One reason is that vets are not actually present at the time of stunning or slaughter. By law, the vet must only be on the premises, not necessarily where the animals are being ‘processed’.

The current regulatory approach does not protect animals, but CCTV could help vets to detect these breaches. It could also help prosecute those who do break the law.

Sometimes people ask who would see the film. I agree films from CCTV should be made available to an independent panel, including an animal welfare representative and an independent vet, as well as the FSA’s enforcement and legal teams.

I believe that CCTV in slaughterhouses can play a substantial role in safeguarding and further developing high consumer confidence in our excellent British produce, both at home and abroad.

And I am not alone. My political support mirrors the mood of many of my constituents who want the Government to make CCTV mandatory for all slaughterhouses, and the 10 largest supermarkets – Morrisons, Waitrose, the Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Aldi, Tesco, Lidl, Asda, Marks & Spencer and Iceland – have agreed to deal only with slaughterhouses that have independently monitored CCTV cameras installed.

So what can be done? The first step is for the Government to stop pretending significant abuses are not happening. I appeal to the Government to listen to the arguments in favour of compulsory CCTV, recognise the strength of feeling in Parliament and in the wider population, and take the appropriate action – before even more animals suffer needlessly.

Sarah Newton is Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth and a member of the Science and Technology Committee

Since childhood I have been fascinated by bees, from collecting them to more recently learning how to keep a hive, something driven not only by a love of honey but also by the understanding of the vital role they play in our natural environment and the valuable service they provide to our agri-food and drinks industry.

The agri-food and drink sector contributes £85bn a year to the UK economy, provides employment for 3.5 million people and is vital for national food security. Without a strong workforce of pollinators we will not be able to fully realise the potential of this sector in the coming years. Bees pollinate better than anything else in our ecosystem. It is estimated that manual pollination, which is the only option if a catastrophic decline in bee numbers takes place, would cost British farmers up to £1.8bn every year.

The evidence is clear: managed and wild bee populations are declining fast in Britain. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has done much to try to understand why. The department is implementing the healthy bees plan, working with beekeepers to provide training and to respond to pest and disease threats. Within that plan, DEFRA’s national bee unit provides inspection, diagnostic and training services to beekeepers.
Responding to the increased demands on our farmland for homes and businesses, renewable energy, water management as well as more and affordable food for a growing population, farming practices have changed over the years leading to loss of habitat for bees. Changes to our climate are an important factor too. While work under the “Biodiversity 2020” banner aims to deliver more and improved habitats for all pollinators, it is time to introduce a holistic bee strategy across Government. Local authorities and communities have a major role to play in protecting and enhancing habitats.

DEFRA has joined some of the UK’s major research funders to fund projects aimed at researching the causes and consequences of threats to insect pollinators with the aim of identifying the best possible action to support the species. The initiative’s total spend is up to £10m over five years, to which DEFRA has contributed £2.5m with the results of those studies expected over the next two years. Given the EU’s recent decision to ban the use of neonicotinoids that protect cereal crops such as winter wheat, and the likelihood that farmers will have to use alternatives such as pyrethroids or organophosphates to keep the price of a loaf of bread affordable, it is vital that there is a step change in investment into this research.

Despite cuts in public expenditure, the Government has rightly recognised the power of British universities’ science and technology expertise in working with industry to create new solutions for today’s problems – in the process generating new jobs and prosperity – by ringfencing an annual science budget of £5.9bn. What better investment can there be than new bee-friendly crop protection products and technologies that will have large export potential.

Dialogue

Every issue two parliamentarians email each other with different ideas on a particular subject. This week Huw Irranca-Davies and James...

 

from: Huw Irranca-Davies
sent: 11 May 2013 18:19

Let me start with microchipping.

Microchipping of dogs appeals to many owners. It can help reunite a much-loved dog with their owner, and with tens of thousands of dogs lost or stolen or every year it is already a popular choice for many. But to date that’s been voluntarily undertaken, albeit with a small fee. Now it will be compulsory for all dogs (and by implication for all law-abiding owners). That changes the whole dynamic.

But whether microchipping will deal with irresponsible ownership, and ultimately help reduce attacks by dogs, is a moot point. It partly depends on whether the Government sees microchipping as an aid to re-unite dogs with their owners, saving on the emotional and hard-cash costs of kennelling and euthanasia for the hundreds of thousands of stray, abandoned, lost and stolen dogs every year.

Or does the Government sees this as a way to identify and possibly take action against owners of dogs involved in attacks on people and other animals, dog-fights, and abuse and mistreatment. In short, will microchipping not just bring owners face-to-face with their missing pet, but potentially face-to-face with the magistrate?

Which brings me back to the question of “law-abiding owners”: what about those who avoid their responsibilities through ignorance (“I never knew I had to”), cost (“I couldn’t afford it, and didn’t want to give up my pet”) or outright criminality and desire to evade the law? What about the back-street breeders, the internet peddlers and the weapon-dog breeders who stick two fingers up at the law?

Many questions indeed, but compulsory microchipping is broadly welcome as it will help promote responsible ownership. But alone it won’t stop a single injury or death. That requires preventative measures, and this is where the Government’s current proposals fall badly short.

Huw

from: James Gray
Sent: 13 May 2013 14:50

Dear Huw, There is of course a real utility for microchipping of dogs in reuniting lost dogs with their owners, reducing the number which have to be put down, and in cutting the costs of dog control and identification. But irresponsible or criminal dog owners don’t microchip now; and unless there is a massive policing operation, it is hard to see why they will do so if it becomes compulsory. Horse Passports are compulsory, but only 50% of horses are recorded!

What’s more, the compulsory regime will be bureaucratic and burdensome. Even if it was possible for the UK’s 8m dogs all to be chipped, who is to force owners to pay a fee to have the details of ownership changed if the dog is sold, moves home, or dies? In a short time the database will be crammed with details of dead or missing dogs. Compulsory ID cards for humans have been dropped, yet now we are planning to do it for dogs!

Anyhow, if you’re a drug baron using dogs as weapons, how likely are you to trot down to the Dogs Trust to get your vicious animals registered? If you’re a street corner thug using your dangerous dog as a status symbol and to help you mug old ladies, how worried are you going to be about the new Defra regulation? If the problem the Government is trying to tackle is the use and ownership of dangerous dogs, the solution lies elsewhere in the Criminal Justice System. Microchipping will not only be wholly ineffective, but worse will give the illusion “that we have done something about it.”

Best,
James


from: Huw Irranca-Davies
Sent: 14 May 2013 12:35

Dear James, Microchipping is not a magic bullet, but it is definitely helpful as part of a package which promotes responsible ownership. Yet as I say, the Government have yet to make clear if they see microchipping as a simple “lost and found” service for owners, or something more. Moving from voluntary to compulsory chipping suggests a bigger agenda, but we’ll test the Government’s thinking as the proposals emerge. But the even bigger issue is how to actually reduce the numbers of strays and abandoned, to reduce the crippling kennelling costs for councils, police forces and charities, and end the scandal of thousands of euthanised dogs every year. This means tackling irresponsible dog breeding, as well as dog ownership. Taking action to curtail the supply-chain of back street breeders, illicit puppy-farms and internet traders is vital, otherwise we’ll be microchipping dogs just to kennel and destroy them.

It’s these “upstream” measures to restrict the breeding of ultimately unwanted or unloved dogs that are missing from current proposals. Let’s have dogs which are bred responsibly, nurtured and trained well, and go to loving homes – not the free for all which currently exists. Do you agree?

Huw.


from: James Gray
Sent: 14 May 2013 17:17

So what’s Labour’s policy on all this? Come on, Huw. You’re a nice fellow, and we agree on most things. But no-one would disagree with the woolly words in your emails so far. My argument is clear and blunt. Compulsory microchipping of dogs is a bureaucratic, ineffective and interventionist solution to a problem which instead demands the full weight of the criminal justice system. The database will not work; criminals will be unaffected by it; old ladies will still be mugged, postmen paid danger money and hoodlums gain status from snarling cross-breeds foaming at the mouth on studded collars and chains. But ministers will be able to sleep easy on the false promise that ‘they have done something about it’.

Microchipping has a real utility, and will always be done by decent law-abiding responsible dog owners like you and me. The RSPCA in Bath will always be grateful for their microchip as any of my seven dogs shows up there as they do from time to time. But that is my choice. And if I chose not to do so, there would be no legal compulsion. I don’t want to have to carry a personal ID card, although I do so to get me into Parliament; I don’t want to have to have a passport for my horse, but choose to do so because it allows me to take part in competitions; and I want the right to choose to have my dogs microchipped.

Woolly thinking and a vague hope that we are doing the right thing and that we need to be seen to be doing so is a poor basis for lawmaking. And it is no substitute for laws which will truly address the problem – in this case prohibitive criminal sentences for the use of a dog as a weapon.

Best,
James


from: Huw Irranca-Davies
Sent: 14 May 2013 23:12

Dear James, I think you’re a lovely chap too, but I’m afraid the only woolly thinking is in the heads of Government ministers. Whilst some proposals are welcome (especially after waiting three long years!) others just don’t go far enough. Creating a type of ASBO for dogs is not welcomed by police, home visitors, the RSPCA or anyone frankly: DOGBOs are a pretty sad excuse for not bringing forward powerful new Dog Control Orders which could prevent attacks by putting restrictions on dogs and their owners. To make it worse, the plan to abolish the existing Dog Control Notices are – perversely – a step backwards.

The Government has nothing to say about early intervention, education and awareness-raising to change the behaviour of dog owners, as demanded by all the campaigners who have waited so long for this Government to act. As for proposals to tackle irresponsible dog breeding which I raised in my last email, I simply ask, where are they? Extending the ability to prosecute owners for attacks which take place on private property is something we campaigned for alongside the CWU and others, so we’re delighted to see it. Likewise, making an attack on another dog an offence is welcome.

Now James, there’s something to get your teeth into! I know you’re a great guy, with some lovely dogs which you look after well. I’m sure they are chipped and pampered, their vets bills are paid and they behave impeccably well in company. But not all owners – nor their dogs – are always like that. So don’t get too hung up on microchipping as the be-all and and-all. Think more widely how we protect people and other animals from attack, and how we promote responsible ownership to everyone. That’s where the Government needs to think a bit harder.

All the best,
Huw


from: James Gray
Sent: 15 May 2013 08:22

Dear Huw, Some ministers are the woolliest of the lot. And most go to lengths to try to find – or be seen to be finding – solutions to problems, even if it’s the wrong one. And guided by Sir Humphrey those solutions are nearly always bureaucratic – like the national register of eight million dogs which they are proposing.

I absolutely agree with you about Dog Control Orders to muzzle the worst potential offenders alongside tough penalties for criminal activity. And allowing prosecutions for attacks on private property makes good sense so long as we are also very careful to avoid unnecessary breaches of civil liberties. And let us not forget that most attacks, for example on postmen, are by dogs which are normally perfectly harmless. Most of the very serious attacks on children have been by their own, or very often neighbours’ or relations’ dogs. We are not talking about vicious dogs here – it’s perfectly ordinary household pets. So we must beware of the law of unintended consequences, or perhaps Gray’s law of ministerial dictat wholly missing its target.

As to promoting responsible dog ownership, again I wholly agree with you, although believe the onus of responsibility for that should be on the animal charities. Perhaps the RSPCA should spend more of its time doing that sort of thing instead of idiotic and politically motivated prosecutions which are abandoned at the last minute at vast cost to their members and to the public purse.

Huw, disappointing as it may be to the confrontational and tribally inspired readers of the House magazine, we’re pretty much on the same side on most of this – so you can expect my general support across the Chamber the next time it comes up.
All the best,

James

Running mates

After completing the London Marathon himself, John Ashmore caught up with the seven parliamentarians who this year took on the 26.2 mi...

 

On April 21 seven of Parliament’s hardiest souls lined up in Greenwich Park to take on 26.2 miles of road-pounding pain. Thankfully all of them survived to tell The House their London Marathon highlights.

The intrepid (or foolhardy) parliamentarians certainly did not have it easy preparing for the big day, battling through bugs, viruses (Ed Balls), drunkards on the streets of Glasgow (Jim Murphy) and the bane of many a marathon-runner – shin splints (Murphy again). All of this alongside having to do a significant chunk of training in one of the chilliest winters in years.

Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney battled manfully through his training schedule, but even he had to shelve one jog when the pavements were piled high with snow.

All of the MPs struggled to juggle their parliamentary work with the demands of a full training programme. Murphy and Alun Cairns both said they ended up on training runs well past midnight, while Nicky Morgan had to squeeze in training in the early mornings before work.

Barnsley Central’s Dan Jarvis admits to having found it “impossible” to fit in a proper training programme around his other commitments. Luckily for him he has 10 years as a paratrooper to draw on – and he still managed to come in the third fastest MP with a creditable 3h 45 finish.

Being recognised on the streets seems to have been a mixed blessing –Tory MP Alun Cairns describes his Barry constituents’ horn-pumping as “very encouraging”, while some of Murphy’s late night jaunts meant running into freshly turfed-out drinkers shouting obscenities about the Pope – a feature of Glasgow’s unique political microclimate, he quips.

For Balls, donning the bright yellow running gear was a rare chance to go incognito.

“If you wear yellow gloves and a grey hat people think it’s just another crazy runner so my strategy is just to keep my hat on, I wear a fluorescent hat and gloves round Regent’s Park and no one ever recognises who I am. People don’t tend to connect fluorescent hats, gloves and tights with politicians.”

On the day, most of the MPs say the crowd were a source of inspiration, except perhaps for Murphy, who confesses to getting more riled the longer the race went on.

“Initially everyone who shouted ‘come on Jim!’ I said ‘thank you’ to – I thought it was polite. But the last 10 miles I wanted to shout back ‘what the bloody hell do you think I’m doing? I’m trying my hardest!’”

Balls also got a bit of flak from one spectator when he tried to take a breather. “At about mile 18 I did stop for a walk for a bit and some guy yelled ‘Come on Ed Balls, get on with it you wuss!’”

Murphy cannot have too many complaints, however, as he came in the fastest MP by a fair distance, pipping Cairns and Jarvis to finish in just over 3h 30. He still has some way to go to beat Commons record-holder Matthew Parris, who managed an Olympian 2h 32 back in the 1985 race.

Whatever their times, each of the MPs did a sterling job of fundraising, with donations coming from some surprising sources – George Osborne and Nick Clegg both sponsored their political tormentor Balls, while David Cameron, William Hague and “most of the Cabinet” sponsored Murphy.

Even the famously combative Balls agrees that “running the marathon and raising money for these charities completely transcends any issues of party politics”.

Alun Cairns was particularly pleased with the generosity of the Tory Whips.

“I had a good number of donations from other MPs, even from some whips, including the Chief Whip, Sir George [Young], and some of the other whips. Bearing in mind they will get requests on behalf of so many causes from various MPs, people have been exceptionally generous.”

But all the runners reserve the highest praise for their constituents and members of the public who chipped in. Jarvis, who was raising money for Cancer Research UK, had a particularly touching encounter when he was spotted walking around Barnsley.

“I was walking through the town centre and this bloke came up to me and said ‘my mum died of cancer, here’s 25 quid for the marathon’. I’d never met this bloke before, he just walked up to me, thrust it into my hand. It’s kind of hard to know what to say.”

While all of the MPs ran for organisations close to their hearts, it was particularly personal for the Shadow Culture Minister, whose first wife passed away from bowel cancer in 2010.

Despite the camaraderie among MPs of all stripes, the race does seem to have provoked a few rivalries. Balls says the “absolute highlight” of the day for him was finding out that Murphy was in “no fit state” to go on Sky News after crossing the finishing line.

“The fact that I moved seamlessly and gracefully into a live Sky interview was compensation for his faster and fitter time,” the Shadow Chancellor jokes.

Jarvis also has a warning for the Shadow Defence Secretary – “Jim played a canny political game and I think was better prepared than me…but let’s just say if we line up together in the future it might be a closer race.”

If there is a contest, Tory MP Graham Evans (4.49.00) is firmly on the side of Murphy, a regular team-mate at parliamentary five-a-side football. “Jim’s as fit as a butcher’s dog, my money’s on Jim”. Perhaps he has not reckoned with the athleticism of Jarvis, whom Balls calls “the Bionic Man”.

And what has the hectic pace of political life taught them about the long, hard slog of endurance running?

Loughborough’s Tory MP Nicky Morgan, who finished just behind Balls in 5h 15, can definitely see some similarities.

“You have to be reasonably fit to keep going in politics because it’s quite a demanding job and I think they both share the need for persistence, you have to have an end goal in sight and keep working towards that,” she says.

For Jason McCartney getting geared up for the marathon was reminiscent of the long, hard struggle to get selected for a run at Parliament.

“Being a candidate for three-and-a-half years while trying to hold down a job, having all the casework starting to come in before I’d got an office and having to do it all myself, that was very, very hard. But if you set your mind to something, be positive, and work hard there’s no reason you can’t be successful.”

Evans compares it with securing his marginal constituency in 2010: “You don’t win a seat like Weaver Vale overnight, you have to plan and prepare very hard, what’s the saying... it’s a marathon not a sprint.”

Perhaps surprisingly, all the MPs say they will at least consider giving the race another go. Balls is determined to break the five hour mark, while Jarvis has that tete-a-tete with Murphy to consider.

In what some might call an act of masochism, Murphy is also contemplating taking on the Cateran Yomp – a 52 mile, 24 hour race in the Perthshire highlands – in mid-June, to raise money for the Army Benevolent Fund.

When it comes to getting their nearest and dearest involved, views are mixed. Evans says his wife and six-year-old daughter Sophie are now enthusiastic converts, but Balls says Yvette Cooper is “implacably opposed” to ever running a marathon (“she think it’s too far for anybody to run”). Cairns also says securing his wife’s agreement is crucial to him running a third successive marathon in 2014.

And any putative runners should bear in mind Balls’ number one tip for next year, courtesy of the Children’s Minister.

“My advice to future House of Commons marathon runners is to take seriously the advice of Edward Timpson who is an experienced marathon runner.
“He said take a bit of Ibuprofen before you start, to deal with the inflammation. I didn’t take his advice last year but I did this year, I definitely adopted the Edward Timpson marathon plan and it worked.”

Taxing issues

There’s a clear link between tax dodging and global poverty – and this must be addressed, says Baron Williams of Oystermouth

 

When I was Archbishop of Canterbury, I regularly found that it was work in the area of international development that most engaged and inspired me. I was delighted when Christian Aid invited me to become its new Chair and gave me a chance to carry on this involvement.

Supporting people in developing countries and fighting the causes of poverty and injustice demands sustained dedication, perhaps now more than ever, when people in rich countries are themselves struggling with austerity.

Christian Aid has been helping people in poverty since just after the Second World War and Christian Aid Week – from 12 until 18th May – is the UK’s longest-running door to door fundraising event.

The week is financially crucial for the charity. But it has other benefits too: it brings neighbours and churches together in a common cause and encourages people to take a global perspective. Most simply, it gives them a chance to make a concrete difference in the lives of people less fortunate than themselves.

But this means we have to ask, ‘What will do most to make such a difference in the long term?’ Ambulance work is never enough. And Christian Aid’s major campaign in recent years has been on a subject now gathering tremendous political attention across the world. That subject is tax.

 If people are to be helped out of poverty and enabled to take some control of their lives, they need effective government, reliable public infrastructure, health care and education; and this depends on fair and effective taxation. When companies fail to pay their fair share in tax in developing economies, the results are even more serious than they are in a still relatively secure economy like ours.

Christian Aid highlighted the tax problems facing people both at home and in developing countries last year when, along with Church Action on Poverty, we sent a Tax Bus on a tour of the UK. Christian Aid supporters met with MPs up and down the country, including the leaders of all three main parties, to declare their solidarity with the poor and their hope for a fairer global tax system.

And tax evasion and avoidance are particularly devastating for developing countries, because their tax authorities are even less able than our own to compete for the costly services of tax lawyers and accountants who advise multinationals. As a result, poor countries collect far less tax than rich ones, relative to the size of their economies.

The shortfall in tax revenue can make the difference between life and death. It weakens already shaky public services such as clinics and hospitals, reduces support for small farmers and harms or destroys safety nets for people who would otherwise face extreme poverty and hunger.

Christian Aid is one of some 180 organisations making the link between tax dodging and hunger this year as part of the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign. We are arguing that IF multinationals and wealthy individuals paid their taxes, governments would have vastly more funds available to tackle the hunger and deprivation that still afflict so many.

The world produces more than enough food for everyone. Yet there are still some 868 million men, women and children who go hungry, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). That is one-in-eight of the world’s population.

With tax justice, governments could end such suffering. The FAO cites an estimate that the cost of creating a world free from hunger is $50.2bn in extra spending every year between now and 2025. The money would need to be invested in fostering rural development and self-reliance in food production, creating sustainable patterns of land use making responsible use of natural resources, and securing social safety nets for people suffering from hunger.

But tax evasion by multinational companies drains away some $160bn annually from the economies of poorer nations, according to a Christian Aid estimate. That sum is far more than these nations receive in aid.

In a new report released on Sunday, ‘Who Pays the Price? Hunger: The Hidden Cost Of Tax Injustice’, Christian Aid pinpoints the disturbing levels of hunger and malnutrition in India, Ghana and El Salvador and examines the staggering amounts of corporate tax that all three countries lose as a result both of tax dodging and of the use of official tax incentives to attract foreign investment. This report includes new research on multinationals with operations in India, indicating that those with links to tax havens paid 30% less in corporation tax than those without such links.

The report concludes by urging political leaders worldwide to put an end to the financial secrecy which serves the interests of tax evaders and avoiders everywhere. And it is important to remember that it is financial secrecy that fuels corruption as well, and so holds back good governance in many countries.

 The UK is especially well-placed to do so this year, as chair of the G8. I’ve been encouraged by the energy and attention that ministers and other Parliamentarians are devoting at the moment to tax-related investigations and reforms.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee and International Development Committee have made excellent recommendations on domestic and international tax problems. Ministers have made some significant progress in tackling the financial secrecy on sale in UK-linked tax havens such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. At European and OECD levels, there is valuable work on improving corporate transparency and taxation.

But the crucial remaining task is to ensure that these reforms involve and are of benefit to poor as well as rich countries. For instance, when tax havens are required to share information about foreign taxpayers’ bank accounts, they should have to share it with all governments – not merely the most powerful ones.

Some will argue that individuals and companies should be free to reduce their tax liability wherever they can: after all, they are not breaking the law. It will be important to ask hard questions about how the law can and should work in this connection. But the crucial thing is to recognise that mere legality doesn’t guarantee moral credibility. After all, the trans-Atlantic slave trade was once legal.

Both our personal actions and those of global companies impact directly for good and ill on our fellow human beings. The person giving at the door to Christian Aid is making a vital difference to the lives of others; so is the tax lawyer. As Government continues to legislate and negotiate internationally on tax reform, I hope they will be seeking consistently to make the right kind of difference for the most vulnerable.

Reviews

Lord Lexden reviews "Edwardian Requiem: A Life of Sir Edward Grey" By Michael Waterhouse, Biteback, £25

 

The lamps are going out all over Europe. We will not see them lit again in our lifetime”. It is for these famous words, uttered on the outbreak of the First World War, that Sir Edward Grey will always be chiefly remembered. They reflect the overwhelming sadness felt by the British statesman who had carried almost alone the heavy responsibility of trying to avert the catastrophe.

Asquith, a brilliant peace-time Prime Minister, left policy in the hands of his Foreign Secretary to an extent that would be inconceivable today. The reputation of the entire Liberal Government rested with him when he rose in the House of Commons on 3 August 1914 to give a full account of the events that had shattered the peace of Europe. A leading Conservative opponent wrote: “Grey’s speech was very wonderful – I think in the circumstances one may say the greatest speech delivered in our time.”

Grey was Foreign Secretary for 11 years, a longer unbroken period than either Palmerston or Castlereagh. Does he match them in greatness? Opinion has always been sharply divided. Grey’s critics have been numerous and persistent. This book gives them short shrift, insisting that Grey belongs at the very forefront of the diplomats’ pantheon.

Michael Waterhouse, an accomplished and experienced writer, admires his subject profoundly. Grey was indeed an estimable person. Few successful politicians can honestly exclude ambition from the motives that brought them to Westminster; Grey was one of the select few. “I was really always miserable and out of place in public life,” he confessed in old age. He found true fulfilment only in the countryside for which he felt a deep spiritual affinity akin to Wordsworth’s. He produced beautifully written, bestselling works on fly-fishing and ornithology, on both of which he was a leading expert. As Waterhouse observes, “no other public figure wrote with such colour, passion and knowledge on the countryside as did Edward Grey”. No other public figure would have preferred to have devoted his entire career to the countryside.

High ideals of public service overcame his innate distaste for political life. Arthur Balfour, the Tory leader, regarded him as a remarkable combination of  “an old-fashioned Whig and a Socialist”. He wanted to transform Britain as radically as Lloyd George. He advocated the compulsory purchase of land by local authorities to cover England in small farms of 50 to 200 acres. He condemned the House of Lords even more vehemently than Lloyd George. Whereas the Welsh wizard was content to clip its wings, Grey wanted to abolish and replace it. In 1910 he proposed “a new Second Chamber, much smaller in size than the House of Commons, based upon the elective principle, with, if desired, a minority of distinguished life-members”. What a pity that Nick Clegg has no interest in history. Grey ought to be his hero.

A paragon in public, Grey was much less virtuous in private life. His wife insisted that they live together as sister and brother. He sought other company. Waterhouse has examined closely his dalliances with various women. He matched, perhaps even exceeded, Lloyd George in the frequency of his conquests. A bevy of illegitimate children is attributed to him, plausibly in every case, as Waterhouse shows, though there is no absolute proof.
This book provides a remarkable portrait of a double life. Famed for his calm public rectitude, Grey emerges here as a man of great private passion, promiscuously indulged.

Could this complex man have stopped the lamps going out? No one could have done more for the cause of peace. Waterhouse concludes that “he prepared his country for what many saw as the inevitable conflict and, although exhausted and half blind, he was the only European statesman who fought hard for peace during the July crisis” – the supreme moment in Grey’s career which is described here in all its complexity with brilliant clarity. The odds against him were too great. As Grey himself wrote, “Germany has the most powerful army in the world and it is at the command of a madman”. The Kaiser and his military commanders who were thirsting for war, put the lamps out. Grey’s patient diplomacy in the cause of freedom is rightly and eloquently applauded in this important book which must rank among the finest political biographies of recent years.

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