Jubilee joy, the EU and energy bills
The long Jubilee weekend was a time to celebrate the 60th year of Her Majesty the Queen's reign and thank her for her service to this country. She is probably the greatest expert on the Commonwealth. We, as politicians, like to think we drive this world forward, but the number of Prime Ministers the Queen has seen come and go is an example to us all.
The Diamond Jubilee also united communities and focused the whole nation's attention on what it means to be British. I saw this community spirit first-hand at the Hemyock Diamond Jubilee Celebrations and the Axminster Street Party. The fantastic effort put in by everyone showed Britain at her best.
The UK has scored a major victory against European Union bureaucracy in negotiating the ban on discarding of dead fish at a meeting of EU Fisheries Ministers. After 24 hours of tough negotiating, Richard Benyon, the minister responsible for fisheries, announced the European Union Council had agreed to a ban on discards.
The quota system imposed on fishermen by the EU means up to 2 million tonnes of fish throughout the EU are being thrown back into the sea before trawlers can return to port. . However, there has yet to be agreement on when this will happen. The provisional dates would see the discarding of mackerel and herring banned by 1st January 2014 and a ban on discarding whitefish wouldn't be fully implemented until 2018. I made this point in the Commons during the minister's statement on fish discards.
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Cod discards continue in mixed fisheries off the South West coast and must be stopped. Talks to end discards must begin if we are to save British fishermen from the Common Fisheries Policy.
Anyone now reading this will not be surprised to learn that the government's latest fuel poverty figures have revealed that the Tiverton and Honiton constituency is one of the worst 10 areas for fuel poverty in the South West. Of the 42,066 households in Tiverton and Honiton 7,712 is "fuel poor". That's a staggering 18.3% of all households in our constituency.
For the purposes of government statistics a household in fuel poverty is defined as one that needs to spend more than 10 per cent of its income on fuel for heating , whilst also meeting their lighting and cooking fuel needs. For an area where wages are more than 12% below the national average this is a huge problem.
The Government is trying to tackle fuel poverty in the face of rising bills. The Green Deal programme aims to help families by paying for energy-efficiency measures in homes, such as double-glazed windows. Most homes, especially the older ones, are draughty and use a lot more energy. Leaky buildings account for 43% of the UK's total greenhouse gas emissions. In total the Government is giving support worth around £1.3 billion a year to deliver energy-efficiency and heating measures across the country.
Encouragingly, the Department for Energy and Climate Change announced last week that the Green Deal will now see an increased focus on poorer and rural areas. This will benefit an extra 100,000 households in low-income households each year than originally planned. News that the Green Deal will tackle poorer, more rural areas is welcome, but it is important that all changes in energy policy must be "rural proofed" to ensure fairness is achieved for rural communities.