James Heappey weekly: No.15


Week 27 June – 3 July

In a week when Boris Johnson stunningly ruled himself of the race to lead the Conservative party following Michael Gove’s last minute decision to withdraw his support and run for the leadership himself, the Labour party fell into turmoil as Jeremy Corbyn lost a no-confidence vote by Labour MPs 172-40 following mass resignations from his shadow front bench team and then nearly a leadership challenge from Angela Eagle, and Wales beat Belgium 3-1 to make it into the semi-finals of Euro 2016, what did James Heappey do?

Speeches and written questions

James Heappey spoke at length in the House of Commons this week firstly asking a question during Defence questions and then leading a debate on bank branch closures later in the week.

Mr Heappey asked a question during Defence questions on Monday 27 June about expanding the number of school aged cadets. He expressed his gratitude for earlier comments made by Julian Brazier, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Defence with responsibility for the Reserve Forces, about the cadet expansion programme before asking if he would “tell us at what point, if at all, expressions of interest from schools in non-priority areas will be accepted if insufficient applications are made from priority areas?”

Mr Brazier replied to the Wells MP’s question by stating that he was reflecting on the problems of success. He added, “We have many applications from priority areas” but said “I cannot make any firm promises, I am afraid, for those who do not meet the priority criteria.” He finished on a positive note by affirming “We are firmly on track to deliver the schools we need.”

Later in the week on Thursday 30 June James Heappey led a debate on the issue of bank branch closures, something that has been a issue of great concern in Glastonbury in his own constituency. Mr Heappey spoke at great length throughout the debate. He opened his contribution to the debate by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate to go ahead and outlined the scale of the problem of bank branch closures by pointing to the 222 branches that closed in 2013, the 681 in 2015 and the 333 that have closed so far this year.

Mr Heappey pointed out the scale of the problem in his own constituency, “There have been closures in, for instance, Wells, Shepton Mallet, Burnham-on-Sea and, most recently, Glastonbury.” He added that due the recent Glastonbury festival, held just a few miles from Glastonbury itself, it seemed ridiculous that the area didn’t have a single bank branch, “Today’s debate is timely, because the following week there were 200,000 people in fields not far outside Glastonbury. The idea that the town does not have a single bank must seem quite remarkable to all Members.”

The MP for Wells affirmed how the issue should not be taken lightly, “Glastonbury contains only about 10,000 people, but it serves a much wider hinterland. How extraordinary it is that 750 businesses should reply to a survey entitled “Glastonbury Bank Closures”! That tells us just what an important issue this is.”

He took an intervention from Labour MP David Lammy who asked whether “the bank bother to consult him before making its decision, or was he presented with a fait accompli?” Mr Heappey responded that the banks did notify of their decision and did agree to meet him to discuss the issue. However he added that “It was more about assuaging my fears and trying to persuade me that various steps were being taken in mitigation.”

James Heappey also took and intervention from Labour MP Albert Owen who said the Wells MP was giving an eloquent description of his constituency’s situation. Mr Owen complained about lack of government action, “There is also a survey by Government to retain and regenerate town centres, which has been ignored, because the hon. Gentleman highlighted four empty buildings in his relatively small town.”

Mr Heappey then took an intervention from Gareth Thomas, a Labour Co-operative MP, who drew attention to the United States, “when banks take significant deposits from particular communities, they are required by regulators to demonstrate that they are offering significant financial services to those communities in return.” He asked Mr Heappey whether he thought “such a requirement might have meant that his Glastonbury constituents might have had some confidence that the banks were at least going to help a credit union or community bank to get up and running, to offer an alternative service if those banks were still determined to leave?”

Mr Heappey replied to Mr Thomas by saying he had read “Congress’s Community Reinvestment Act”. He said that many some of the things carried out in the United States, such as making a requirement for banks to “offer equal access to banking in less affluent areas” could be something for the government to consider.

Mr Heappey later moved onto the impact of bank branch closures on small business. He stated that “The reality is that the bank branch network is most valuable to small businesses” adding, “It is the small business community that has no other choice. Small businesses rely on cash, and sometimes they have no other staff.”

James Heappey continued to detail the reasons why convenient and accessible bank branches were so important before bringing his speech to a close. He finished by saying “This is a simple matter of fairness. People value their access to a bank. There are many reasons why the access to banking protocols need to be strengthened, and I am sure that the Treasury will take note of this debate today.”

Voting record

James Heappey voted eight times this week on matters relating to the Finance Bill.

On 27 June he voted three times on aspects of the Finance Bill. He voted: against a proposed opposition amendment to the Bill that would have made an exception for low emissions vehicles in changes to how diesel cars are taxed; against a proposed SNP amendment to the Bill that would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to conduct a review of the impact on workers defined as providing services through intermediaries of their treatment for income tax purposes; and against a proposed Labour amendment to the Bill that would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to conduct a review of the impact of the Climate Change Levy in reducing carbon emissions.

On 28 June the MP for Wells voted a further four times on matters relating to the Finance Bill. He voted: against a proposed Labour amendment to the Bill that would require a relevant group to include a country-by-country report in the publication of its tax strategy; against a proposed Labour clause to the Bill that would require the Chancellor to publish an estimate of the impact on levels of tax avoidance and tax evasion of extending the current requirement on UK-based companies to publish information about people who have significant control over them to companies incorporated in the Crown Dependencies and the Overseas Territories which have significant levels of trading activity within the UK; for a proposed clause to the Bill that would lower the rate of corporation tax for the 2020 financial year from 18% to 17%; for a proposed clause that would reduce the rate of capital gains tax; and against a proposed Labour clause to the Bill that would require the Chancellor to commission a review of ways in which the law could be amended to ensure that no element of the remuneration paid to an investment fund manager may be treated as a capital gain, and that such remuneration shall be treated for tax purposes wholly as income.

Mr Heappey voted with the majority and was loyal to the government on all eight voted this week.

Energy and climate change committee

The committee carried out two oral evidence sessions this week on the issues of progress towards the 2020 targets for renewable transport fuels and the impact of Government policy on confidence in the energy sector.

On 28 July the committee heard evidence for their inquiry into 2020 heat and transport renewable targets. Mr Heappey asked many questions during the session among which were questions about the rate of uptake in biofuels. He asked Dr Nina Skorupska, Chief Executive of the Renewable Energy Association, “It is predicted that if sterling continues to fall quicker than the price of oil petrol pump prices will become higher and, therefore, people might seek alternatives. Would you agree with that?”

Dr Skorupska replied that “I haven’t worked out the economics around the arguments about what would drive people—sorry for the pun—to make those choices” adding “Who knows how low the currency will sink?” Mr Heappey put it to Dr Skorupska that “It must figure that higher pump prices are a problem for the cost of living, of course, but they do make people think about what the alternatives are.”

She replied by saying “It does. Also a large proportion of what they are paying at the pump is fuel duty, so there are then choices for the Government whether to help negate those impacts if there is a perception that having bioethanol introduced into the price of the fuel would cause it to be higher.” She put forward the introduction of lead-free fuel as an example, “There was a great success in the past with the introduction of lead-free fuel, for example, through changes in duties.”

On 29 July the committee held an oral evidence session for their inquiry into investor confidence in the UK energy sector. Andrea Leadsom, Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change was questioned during the session. Mr Heappey was not present at the session and hence did not ask any questions to the Minister.

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