Nearly 200 attend our election debate and quiz three NE Cambs parliamentary candidates

PUBLISHED: 18:57 28 April 2010 | UPDATED: 09:37 02 June 2010

Editor and host John Elworthy talks to Steve Barclay, Lorna Spenceley and Peter Roberts before the hustings.  5114BP410

Editor and host John Elworthy talks to Steve Barclay, Lorna Spenceley and Peter Roberts before the hustings. 5114BP410

NEARLY 200 people turned out to quiz three parliamentary candidates at a special election hustings night held by the Cambs Times/Wisbech Standard. Here are some of the questions - and the candidates' answers.

NEARLY 200 people turned out to quiz three parliamentary candidates at a special election hustings night held by the Cambs Times/Wisbech Standard.

NE Cambs Conservative candidate Steve Barclay, Labour candidate Peter Roberts and Liberal Democrat Lorna Spenceley faced 90 minutes of questions from the audience and from questions submitted to this newspaper by readers.

Here are a selection of the question candidates faced - and their answers.

Jump to State Pensions & Free Bus Passes | Christianity | Civil List Payments | House of Lords Reform | Gordon Brown | Punch and Judy | Financial Crisis | MP's Salary | Public Transport | Wind Turbines | Third World Aid | Global Warming | Village Life | UK's 'State of Disarray' | Education | Surgeries | Legacy | Out of Hours GP Care | Immigration | YOUR COMMENTS

State Pensions & Free Bus Passes

What is each of the party's policy towards (a) State Pensions and (b) free bus passes?

REG KEMP, March

LORNA SPENCELEY: "We will restore the link between pensions and earnings and uprate the pensions every year in-line with either the raise in earnings, in prices or by 2.5 per cent, whichever is the greatest of the three.

"On free bus passes, we were the party initially at the last election that called for free bus passes for pensioners and that quickly, during the campaign, became Labour party policy. I see no reason why to end that."

PETER ROBERTS: "We will link pensions to earnings by 2012. We introduced bus passes and we will keep the scheme."

STEVE BARCLAY: "Our pension policy is to return the link to earnings. But a third of pensioners' disposable income goes on council tax and they are further impeded by fuel costs which are high. It's not just the fact the Conservative party will support pensions; we will try and make the most of what pensioners get out of their income. We will help by reducing costs."

Christianity

Are you a practicing Christian?

ROBERT WEST, Wisbech

PETER ROBERTS: "I went to a Christian school, but no."

LORNA SPENCELEY: "I used to be, but I am not any more."

STEVE BARCLAY: "I attend church but I am not a practising Christian, so no."

Civil List Payments

THE Royal family's Civil List payment is currently being reviewed and a new settlement must be laid before parliament by July 2010. Do you intend to increase the payment, keep it at the same level or reduce it?

JOHN HOLMES

PETER ROBERTS: "I would vote to maintain it at its current level. However, as it currently stands, a lot of it goes on the upkeep of the buildings. I would ask for separations on what goes on the Royal family and what goes on Civil spend for the future upkeep of Britain."

LORNA SPENCELEY: "The country as a whole is going through difficult times. We have all been asked to make savings and the Royal family should not escape that. They should expect cuts like the rest of us."

STEVE BARCLAY: "The Queen does a fantastic job and is very good value for money. There are some big issues to focus on and this is not the biggest one."

House of Lords Reform

SINCE all the candidates have said they are not practising Christians I trust that, if elected, when the question of the reform of the House of Lords comes up they will not give priority to the Bishops? Particularly in getting rid of a bill that had every other hope of being passed on dignity and dying.

CAROL JONES

STEVE BARCLAY: "It is an issue people quite rightly feel passionately about and we have seen some difficult decisions made. People in that situation should get all the support possible, but we don't want to see the situation in which people are pushed or driven by the family into taking their own life. It is a complex issue and not one I can give a quick answer to. The constitution should be addressed and I would welcome a vote in Parliament."

LORNA SPENCELEY: "We do not live in a place where one denomination should tell everyone else how we should live. My moral concern is that these issues are always difficult and sensitive. There is the potential to make assisted suicide more widespread and I worry about the potential for undue influence that may be placed on people and families.

"With the House of Lords, our party has been very clear and will replace the existing House of Lords with a fully elected House of Lords."

PETER ROBERTS: "This category is very similar to the issue of abortion. We have to recognise that ease of travel sees people go to Switzerland to die with dignity. Also, the legal ramifications are huge. The state owns many things, but it doesn't own your body.

"We would be in favour of an elected House of Lords, replacing a lot of the Lords that were hereditary."

Gordon Brown

PARTICULARLY to the Labour candidate, if by some miracle you get elected and Gordon Brown gets enough seats what would you do to get him removed from his seat?

MICHAEL BENTLEY

STEVE BARCLAY: "Gordon Brown is an unelected leader even by his own party. I am looking forward to the British people having their say. It has been put off for a long time."

PETER ROBERTS: "If I am fortunate enough to be elected I will not start a campaign to remove Gordon Brown, unsurprisingly. I support him."

LORNA SPENCELEY: "If by some miracle Mr Roberts is elected then there will be no question of Gordon Brown hanging onto his job because of a thumping swing."

Punch and Judy

IF elected, will you try to stop the Punch and Judy antics in the House of Commons?

KEN SAUNDERS

LORNA SPENCELEY: "The slanging match is the most desperate thing to witness. I hope we move on from that."

PETER ROBERTS: "Punch and Judy is part of the process of the constitutional system in the House of Commons, and is to the benefit of the British people."

STEVE BARCLAY: "It is healthy to have a good debate on issues where common ground can be sought. It is part of politics. It is naïve to think that's going to stop."

Financial Crisis

THE Labour party has chosen to sort the financial crisis by spending vast amounts of money supporting the banks. I would like to know how the candidates think this money should be repaid to balance the books again and how much you will tax us in doing so?

DUNCAN BOUGHTON

PETER ROBERTS: "National Insurance tax is one area we propose a tax increase. It needs to be more in coming years."

STEVE BARCLAY: "We need to cut waste. In Cambridgeshire vast sums have been wasted like on the fire service headquarters at Waterbeach - a £20million building standing empty costing £118,000 a month to keep.

"Increasing National Insurance will be a disincentive for the economy to grow."

LORNA SPENCELEY: "We propose a banking levy until a time banks can be broken up. They are too big and too powerful and need to be split up. The casino banking that goes on needs to be separated from the high street banking we use as individuals so we are not subject to their playing around."

MP's Salary

FENLAND is well known as a low-wage economy, with salaries significantly lower than the national average. According statistics supplied by the Office for National Statistics, the average wage of a skilled worker in Fenland is around £400 a week.

"I would therefore like to know if the three candidates, if elected as our Fenland MP, will live on the average wage of a Fenland skilled worker, with the surplus being donated to community projects?

JOHN SMITHEE, Wisbech

PETER ROBERTS: "I propose to give 25 per cent of my wages will go back to the community. After tax my net pay will be about £44,000 so I will give back £11,000. It's a personal pledge and I wouldn't expect all MPs to do it."

STEVE BARCLAY: "They say politicians don't give a straight answer - so no is a straight answer."

LORNA SPENCELEY: "We need to be careful about letting ourselves into a situation where people expect us to do the job for nothing. It is a grinding and gruelling job and some people travel a long way to do it and MPs do a tremendously hard week's work."

Public Transport

WHAT can you do to improve public transport?

PETER ROBERTS: "In Fenland we have serious transport issues across the board and there hasn't been any joined-up thinking between the Highways Agency and councils. Campaign groups in Fenland are doing a good job but change is slow and there are a number of questions we need to answer. For example, a couple of days ago I was talking to a taxi driver who asked why there were no barriers on riverside roads in Fenland."

LORNA SPENCELEY: "I don't drive and it is a very spread out and rural constituency, but not being able to drive and having to use public transport is a good down to earth experience for a public representative. I am able to see what many people go through every day. I also want to see the market towns reconnected to the rural network."

STEVE BARCLAY: "I have held meetings with Network Rail to see if we can get more trains stopping at Manea and Whittlesey to take pressure off the A605. The issue of reconnecting Wisbech to the rail network is a strategic aim.

"Another issue I have been dealing with is bus timetables being changed at short notice. We need to fight for passengers and get the service they are missing out on at the moment."

Wind Turbines

WHAT are your views on the large number of wind turbines already located in the Fenland district area and, if elected, would you support more to be built or do you consider enough is enough?

TREVOR WATSON, March

STEVE BARCLAY: "Maybe."

LORNA SPENCELEY: "If sited appropriately, but we also need to look at microgeneration."

PETER ROBERTS: "I am in favour of them."

Third World Aid

WOULD the candidates like to tell us what they consider the most important third world aid programme and whether they support an increase or decrease in the budget?

CHRIS HOLT

PETER ROBERTS: "Poverty in Britain is relative, but in third world it's absolute - life or death. I would like to think it would be increased. I am in favour of projects which educate women. They tend to be the workers on the farms who suffer the most with poverty."

STEVE BARCLAY: "We would ring fence overseas aid. I don't think one can pick out from the various sufferings of the world."

LORNA SPENCELEY: "It is something we are committed to. I cannot pick out a particular project."

Global Warming

HOW do you plan to combat global warming?

LORNA SPENCELEY: "There are huge amounts that need to be done. We have got to look at our own actions. I am not in favour of building a new generation of nuclear power stations, we have got to look at sustainable energy."

STEVE BARCLAY: "We need a balanced approach. I disagree with Lorna, to rule out nuclear power blows a hole in any strategy to address it. Dealing with climate change without nuclear is a huge mistake."

PETER ROBERTS: "Fenland is unique because we put more energy back onto the grid than we take off. We should be congratulated. We have to be serious about how we deal with the problem though. I am in favour of nuclear."

Village Life

I LIVE in a medium-sized village and we have lost our library, lost a couple of shops because of economic reasons and lost our post office. Two pubs are both struggling particularly because of the increasing tax on alcohol. What plans do you have to maintain our villages?

LORNA SPENCELEY: "A lot of villages are affected by the big out of town shopping developments often passed by planning authorities without due consideration for the impact on village life and existing village businesses. It needs to be looked at. We would also safeguard our post offices."

STEVE BARCLAY: "Rural communities have faced a truly tough time. Cambridgeshire is one of the worst funded police forces in the country, there are massive rural crime issues here and police are hampered by red tape. We have got to free up police to get out into the villages and be more of a visible presence.

"Our pubs, like the Carpenters Arms in Coates, face an ever growing burden in red tape making life more difficult. We need to get villages to grow and become more sustainable."

PETER ROBERTS: "Labour has identified £5billion to protect rural communities. This government also put more money into the Post Office than any other previous government, but it is affected by demographic changes like 80 per cent of people buying their road tax online. I would be in favour of increasing the banking side of the Post Office."

UK's 'State of Disarray'

CAN members of the panel give their views on whether this country is in a worse state of disarray than when Labour left in 1979?

CLLR JONATHAN FARMER

PETER ROBERTS: "No surprise to you, I will defend the government. This is a global recession - America, Germany, Spain and others are all suffering just like us. Gordon Brown's decision to bail out the banks was not a popular decision, but we couldn't let the banks go bust."

LORNA SPENCELEY: "Thinking back to when Tony Blair was first elected, there was a feeling of hope for the country. I'm really gutted to see how that's been squandered in the 13 years since then."

STEVE BARCLAY: "The gap between the rich and poor has got wider. That is a big issue.

"Also, 80 per cent of prisoners let out early reoffend. This is another area where the government has failed."

Education

HOW will the candidates work to maintain improvements in education?

MARTIN FIELD, March, a geography teacher at Neale-Wade Community College

HOW will you encourage students from low income backgrounds into university and what financial support will be given to them?

LORNA SPENCELEY: "The debt students incur is a huge worry, particularly for poorer families who have been careful with money. To expect a next generation to start out in life with huge debts is a tremendous disincentive. We need to look at how to fund young people to open up opportunities to them without the huge cost."

PETER ROBERTS: "We have seen some serious improvements in education. David Cameron said that out of 80,000 students who have free school meals 43 go to Oxbridge. I am one of those and I had to work my way there. University costs a lot of money."

STEVE BARCLAY: "A lot more money has been spent on education, but when it came to the crunch the College of West Anglia didn't get its funding (for its new campus in March). The money went to 13 colleges in Labour constituencies. We also have to look at the role of Ofsted which is far too out of control and placing huge burdens on teachers and creating a huge amount of paperwork."

Surgeries

IF you were elected how accessible and how frequently would your surgeries be and how would you ensure you have the views of the electorate to represent our views correctly?

STEVE BARCLAY: "I would have a surgery every week, something our current MP does, and I will carry on that tradition. But also, the role of MP is to be a powerful voice in Westminster."

LORNA SPENCELEY: "Weekly surgeries are a useful model for people to come and see us face to face. I would certainly continue that. But we have to move towards additional modes - contacting MPs by email, by phone and by letter. We need to be accessible by all modes."

PETER ROBERTS: "The MP I used to work for held five surgeries a week. I am offering five surgeries a week, barring one week per year."

Legacy

WHAT legacy do you want to leave behind at the end of your term in government?

STEVE BARCLAY: "Driving forward the infrastructure, which I see as the key issue for prosperity in this constituency."

LORNA SPENCELEY: "Key to really improving the economy is education. I am absolutely passionate about every child having a fair start in life. Higher attainment levels will be my legacy."

PETER ROBERTS: "Raised aspirations in the Fens."

Out of Hours GP Care

HOW will you campaign for GPs on weekend cover?

STEVE BARCLAY: "The case about David Grey is a key continuing issue. There was also an issue in Whittlesey, where GPs will be required to come to Doddington. We need to make sure the GPs are the gatekeepers to whomever their patients need. If they are not providing the out of hours cover, they need to provide the gateway. We also need to ensure doctors speak English."

LORNA SPENCELEY: "We need to make sure doctors speak the language of their patients. We also need to think about access to GPs out of hours.

"People in rural areas also work a long way away from home but have their GP where they live, not where they work. We need a system where you can have your GP near your place of work, not necessarily where you live."

PETER ROBERTS: "I am in favour of expanding hours. It has already happened at 14 GP practices in the county, which open later at night and at weekend. There is still room for improvement but it is a step in the right direction."

Immigration

DO you think immigration is under control or out of control?

PETER ROBERTS: "Non-EU migration is under control. But more British people are working abroad than there are Eastern Europeans here. The Poles were fighting for my grandfather during the Second World War and I will fight for them now.

"Many of our sectors - including care and agricultural - would collapse without the migration labour that comes here. We need to recognise the benefit that comes to this area and what's keeping us afloat."

STEVE BARCLAY: "Our public services have not had the funding to cope with the pace of change that communities have faced. Some areas are not under control and we do need a cut in numbers. We also need to ask questions of local people who are not choosing to take jobs which some of the migrant workers are filling."

LORNA SPENCELEY: "“We should consider a one-off amnesty for illegal immigrants who have already been here for at least ten years, have a clean record and have learned English. I am not calling for unlimited ongoing immigration into Britain, which is very far from the case.

“ I support the reintroduction of entry and exit checks, and the creation of a national borders agency with police powers to police our borders.”

YOUR COMMENTS

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