I spent Tuesday afternoon in Chesham, or possibly Amersham. I was campaigning, fruitlessly it turned out, for the Conservative candidate in the by-election held on Thursday. We lost, badly, with the Lib Dems overturning a 16,000 Tory majority from 2019 to beat us by 8,000 votes. Many and various are the explanations given for this blow. The main one, though, is surely the threat of excessive and unwanted housebuilding. Here in Wiltshire we have our own concerns about planning. I hope the Chesham and Amersham result will make the Government think in more detail about the way national housing targets are received at the local level.
On a happier note I had a very positive meeting with the new Cabinet Member for Transport at Wiltshire Council, Mark McClelland. Wiltshire has won £1.2 million from the Government’s Rural Mobility Fund for investment in the local bus network and Mark has a series of big plans to expand the system - including a direct service between Marlborough and Devizes, and new ‘on-demand’ buses that pick you up from your village when you need it. The viability of rural communities is partly about new housing - see above - partly about broadband - see many past and future newsletters - and partly about public transport. I’m glad the council is being innovative and ambitious in this area.
Farming is and must remain the foundation of the economy of Wiltshire. I am deeply concerned to ensure that any trade deals we strike using our newfound freedoms do not lead to domestic food producers being undercut by cheap imports made to lower standards than our own. In the Commons this week I suggested to the Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, that we already import too much food - three quarters of what we eat comes from abroad - and that I hope we don’t see imports on a huge scale. I am assured we won’t, not least because we will insist that imports meet our own, best-in-world standards for animal welfare and food safety. Given this assurance, I am pleased with the Australian trade deal that the Government struck this week, not least because it helps to open up the vast Far Eastern market for UK exports. You can watch my exchange with Liz here, and read my post on the Australia deal and its implications here.
Laura Farris, MP for Newbury, and I met Richard Benyon, the Environment Minister, this week to discuss the state of the River Kennet. Richard, now in the House of Lords, is Laura’s predecessor as Newbury MP and has long championed the cause of the Kennet. He explained to us that a lot has and is being done to save the river from over-extraction and from pollution, but a lot more needs to happen. Laura and I are hosting an online public meeting at 2pm this Thursday 24 June for any constituents with an interest in this vital chalk stream, ahead of further meetings with Thames Water, the Environment Agency and DEFRA. If you would like to attend please email me at email@example.com.
You may be aware that I am helping lead the Parliamentary resistance to the campaign to legalise assisted suicide. This is a very contentious topic and I know many constituents disagree with my stance. I am firmly convinced, however, that we should not take the step of licensing doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to vulnerable people. Instead we should ensure that everyone has access to excellent care at the end of life - which sadly too many people currently do not. This week the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dying Well, which I chair, hosted the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, to meet senior doctors who work with dying patients, to discuss the implications of assisted suicide and to explore the state of end-of-life care in the UK. You can watch the session here.
I’ve just written a foreword to a re-issue of a wonderful book about Rendell and Sons, the Devizes housebuilder that flourished between the 1840s, when young William Rendell arrived from Devon to work on the new Assize Court, and the 1990s, when the firm was swallowed up by Renelec Ltd.
I read with interest that Rendell’s supplied the locks and hinges on the door of the Wiltshire Museum in Long Street. They might thus fairly be said to have secured the history of our county. In the coming years the Museum is moving premises, to the very Assize Court where Rendell’s started, and which is due a total restoration. ‘In my beginning is my end’, wrote TS Eliot in East Coker (not far away). ‘In succession Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended, Are removed, destroyed, restored…’.