Thursday, 26 June 2008

Life Insurance Troubles – Are you affected?

This week I joined Vince Cable and other MPs at a briefing held by Which? in Westminster. I heard from customers of Norwich Union and Prudential who hold ‘With Profits’ policies like endowment mortgages, savings plans and pensions – there are 6 million of them altogether – are you one of them? Local resident Andrew Edgington has been taking a leading role in the campaign on this issue, and he writes:

The big insurers hold billions of pounds in ‘inherited estates’ within their With Profits funds. They want to transfer these funds away from ordinary policyholders and pass them to shareholders, under something called ‘reattribution’. It’s a complicated process and the Financial Services Authority has the job of regulating it to protect customers. But last week the FSA came under some very heavy criticism from the Treasury Select Committee who have said they have been seriously deficient and that their arrangements are ‘barmy’. In particular they have failed to stop the companies using policyholders’ money for unacceptable things like meeting the costs of their own mis-selling.

All Northavon residents who hold with-profits policies with Norwich Union or the Pru should find out more about this. I believe their plans are unfair and people could lose out badly if they are allowed to get away with it"

Policyholders should go to the following link; or contact Which? to find out more. I have been watching developments and will continue to take a keen interest in what happens, so please write to me about it if I can help.

When the left hand doesn't know...

This time last year the news programmes were full of stories of terrible flooding problems across England. A Government-sponsored report out this week said that the scale of the flooding was such that they 2007 Summer floods were "the most expensive floods in the world" that year. Several people lost their lives, tens of thousands lost their homes and - a year on - nearly 5,000 householders are still not back home.

This week the Government published the 'Pitt Review' into the floods which contained 92 recommendations. One of them was a strong presumption against building in flood risk areas. Sir Michael Pitt said this should be "absolutely exceptional" and only in housing shortgage areas.

Yet the same Government has handed down a central target to build 3 million new houses by 2026 which for many local authorities can mean only one thing - you've guessed it - sites in flood risk areas. In our area the Council is consulting on putting thousands of houses in the North Yate and Chipping Sodbury area, which are both areas identified as being at significant flood risk according to the Environment Agency. When I challenged the Secretary of State about this in the House of Commons yesterday he simply said that it was up to the Councils and that they had the power to say no to applications. But what they don't have is the power to say no to another Government minister who is forcing them to find sites for thousands more houses.

You would almost think they didn't talk to each other.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

At the cutting edge?

I'm going to be part of an experiment!

Next week we start the standing committee discussion on the Climate Change Bill. This is the bit where about 20 MPs spend a few weeks doing detailed line-by-line scrutiny of the legislation, tabling detailed amendments etc., all in an upstairs committee room out of the glare of publicity.

What is going to be different is that on a 'pilot' basis we are going to be allowed to have laptops in front of us! There will be temporary power supplies put in, and instead of having sheafs of notes we can simply refer to our screens. The Hansard reporters will be part of the process, so instead of passing them copies of our speaking notes after we have spoken (which is the usual practice) we will be able to e-mail them across the room!

There was some discussion of internet access, and we'll all be checking out whether we can access the nearest Starbucks WiFi hotspot, or perhaps use our phones as bluetooth modems.

Although the traditionalists will be turning in their graves - and we've already been warned not to use our laptops for 'other purposes' during the committee - there is a chance that this could improve the scrutiny. Just imagine that the Minister makes a statement and you can quickly surf the net and find a statistic that disproves his argument - mind you, if it works, the Government will probably find a reason to ban it...

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Stop the Drop

Attended a worthwhile reception at Parliament this evening in support of the CPRE 'stop the drop' campaign against litter and flytipping. As the Lib Dem environment spokesperson I spend a lot of my time debating the big global environmental issues like climate change and energy policy, yet when we undertake surveys locally probably the biggest environmental issue that gets raised is litter. Locally the perception is that the Council seems to have cut back on litter picking and this has not gone un-noticed.

The campaign is calling for tougher enforcement action when people are caught fly-tipping or littering, as well as incentive schemes to reduce littering such as bottle deposit schemes. More than 20 countries and a dozen US states have such schemes. Bill Bryson, CPRE president, who spoke at the Reception, said that in Iowa the introduction of such a scheme had more than halved bottle waste. He warned that we were in danger of ending up with a countryside that was '..beautiful from the ankle up'. In reply the Minister was reluctant to commit to a deposit scheme, even though a DEFRA report from a few years back said it would work and many other countries use them successfully. I can feel a campaign coming on....

Monday, 2 June 2008

Ten Green Bloggers...

This evening at Westminster I hosted a meeting of 'ten green bloggers' which may start a movement which may change the future of our country.

The idea of the meeting was to bring together people who care about the environment - supporters of all political parties or of none - to think how we can use the power of the internet to mobilise people to get effective action on climate change.

Our particular focus was on getting the Government's climate change bill amended so that the target for cuts in CO2 emissions by 2050 was not the current rather modest 60% but a bolder 80% - the least that most people think is needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.

We spent the evening brainstorming and have come up with lots of ideas which we will now whittle down into some practical campaigning actions. One idea is to launch a 'canvass your MP' site where people can get their own back on politicians who knock on their door - we plan to get people to go and meet their own MP at their surgery and press for effective action on climate change. We will record on the site the responses that people are getting and identify which MPs are on board, which are sympathetic and which are hostile. We will put real power back in the hands of the people, and seek to ensure that MPs know how passionately people care about the environment.

Watch this space!

UPDATE - you can read what some of the bloggers had to say here and here;