Hain Votes To Abolish Callous Bedroom Tax

Peter Hain will today (12th November) vote to repeal the callous Bedroom Tax which is affecting 1256 people in Neath. Mr Hain has described the vote as a ‘vital opportunity to scrap the punitive Bedroom Tax’.

Labour Leader Ed Miliband has pledged to abolish the Bedroom Tax should Labour win the General Election in 2015 but today’s vote has been brought forward by Labour MP and Shadow Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pension, Rachel Reeves, in recognition that for too many 2015 is too long to wait.

Mr Hain said, ‘People in Neath and the surrounding valley communities simply can’t wait until 2015 with arrears building and people struggling to find the money to keep a roof over their head, they need this change now. For many they are at their wits end having to deal with the consequences of this vicious legislation.

‘Scores of constituents have been to see me about how the bedroom tax is affecting them, many of them in a horrendous situations, not knowing which way to turn and when I’ve taken their cases up with the Secretary of State whose response has been utter disdain. So this vote will resonate with thousands across the Neath constituency.

‘The reality of the situation in our communities bears no resemblance to the rhetoric peddled by the Government of ‘strivers vs skivers’, which has deliberately tried to demonise people living in social housing. They are using this to defend the indefensible policy that is affecting disabled couples who need the space or a parent who sees their children on weekends is then judged not to need the room. Often they have no alternative to downsize because of a lack of availability of one and two bedroom properties locally.’

Recovery Is Made In The South East For The South East

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I put it to the Secretary of State that all economies recover from all recessions at some point, but that our recovery has come three years after those of Germany and the United States because his Government’s savage cuts turned Labour’s growth and recovery from the banking crisis in 2010 into three years of austerity. The current recovery is made in the south-east for the south-east. In Wales, there is no housing bubble, long-term unemployment is dire, as is under-employment, and personal debt is high. We need investment in Wales. His Government should be supporting the Labour Welsh Government, not hindering them with budget cuts the whole time.

Mr Jones: It is rather rich for the right hon. Gentleman, who was a member of the Government who presided over the economic crash in 2008, to criticise this Government for the steps that we are taking to turn the economy around. Wales, as much as every other part of the country, is benefiting from the measures that we have taken. There are 67,000 more people in work than at the time of the last election. He should welcome that.

Selling The Severn Dream

Peter Hain stepped down from Labour’s backbench last May, but he’s very much on the front foot in campaigning for the Severn barrage to be built. Mathew Beech finds out why

Peter Hain cannot escape the Severn barrage, even if he wanted to.

“When I’m at the gym, I’m always having people come up to me in the shower asking me why it hasn’t happened yet,” says the Labour MP, who is becoming synonymous with the project.

Hain also gets questions on the progress of the barrage in his south Wales constituency of Neath, and on the train up to Westminster, where he is taking up the fight to get the barrage plans moving.

The Kenyan-born MP, who came to the UK after spending his youth in South Africa, has history when it comes to campaigning. In the 1970s he was a staunch anti-apartheid campaigner, and was the recipient of a letter bomb that failed to detonate in 1972.

Having stepped down as the shadow Welsh secretary in May last year, Hain was keen to make the most of his backbench freedom and pick up another challenge – the Severn barrage.

“I wanted to have the freedom to do my own thing and concentrate on where I really felt I could make a difference,” he says. “I thought that in this period up until the next election, the most important thing I can do is take forward the Severn barrage project – there is nothing to compare with it.” He is keen to highlight that the project would have significant economic ­benefits as well as generating renewable electricity.

The latest set of plans envisage an 18km barrage running from Weston-super-Mare across to Cardiff. However, there have been many proposals to build a barrage across the Severn Estuary – dating back as far as the 1920s – and all have failed.

This time, Hain insists, things will be different.

The key departure with the proposals put forward by the Hafren Power consortium, Hain says, is that the developers are not asking for any government funding.

“The rock on which the barrage has floundered in recent times was that the developers wanted government money, and that is not possible in the current climate,” he informs me.

With his sales pitch in full flow, Hain adds: “It is a private power station, so why would you expect government money? Hafren was clear it could do it without that.”

The Neath MP runs over what has become a well-rehearsed narrative, of how the barrage would help regenerate the south Wales economy, providing tens of thousands of jobs (many in his constituency), and also of the potential for massive regeneration for Port Talbot and Bristol Port.

He also knows how to tackle the thorny issue of the significant environmental impact a barrage would have on the Severn Estuary.

At the centre of the case for the defence is the design for a new, bi-directional turbine. The claim that these would be “fish-mincers” is “overblown rhetoric” because the turbines are designed to turn at a third of the speed of existing turbines, and on both the ebb and flow tides.

Hain acknowledges that the multi-billion pound scheme would affect the surrounding area, but he points out that the estuary environment is changing now, regardless.

“The thing that frustrates me the most is a dialogue with the deaf, with critics saying there is a choice between some kind of present paradise and a completely changed future – whereas the present is being changed all the time.

“For example, the Dunlin wading bird – the iconic wading bird of the Severn Estuary – has been in catastrophic decline over the past ten years because of global warming,” says the MP.

What Hafren Power has done to mitigate the impact any barrage would have is a proposed partnership with the RSPB and the Angling Trust to work out the best way to spend the £1 billion the consortium has set aside for habitat compensation.

With the financial and environmental side of the Severn barrage puzzle discussed, there remains one significant issue – political backing.

The battle-hardened – or should that be battle-weary – Hain is convinced he can get this government to support the project, especially, he adds with a wry smile, as “not a penny of Treasury money is required”.

“The government needs to support it in principle and it needs to take a hybrid bill through Parliament, which I’ve offered to help with, but they need to make time to do that,” says Hain, obviously making a nod toward the last Queen’s Speech, which critics labelled an “empty legislative programme”.

“There’s got to be significant movement this year,” says Hain, whose main concern is the project’s opponents will try to “kick it into the long grass” and wait for the funding to dry up. If Hain is to be believed, this won’t happen.

The prime minister, chancellor, energy secretary, and Welsh secretary are all said to be interested in the scheme, but Hain says they “should be welcoming it with open arms” because it is a “bigger investment than anything on the horizon” and will provide tens of thousands of jobs.

Even energy and climate change minister Greg Barker, who lambasted the lack of detail in Hafren Power’s five-page executive summary for the project, “still thinks the project very positive”, says Hain. So why did Barker mock the documents at the select committee, and why were the plans lacking in detail?

“Frankly, he was very mischievous on that,” says Hain, once again aggressively defending the barrage.

He says the document submitted was 130 pages long, its written evidence is “quite extensive”, and that there is “masses of information out there”. In addition, Hain insists there is further, commercially sensitive information available that could be provided once the government gives the scheme conditional approval.

Hain admits he has taken flak for championing the barrage but virulently denies he stands to benefit financially from promoting it.

As for his image, he also denies he is using the scheme to boost his political profile.

“I don’t need that. I’ve been in politics for over 40 years, I have one of the highest profiles of any politician, why would I need to increase that?” he says.

In a reminiscent tone, he adds: “Throughout my time in politics I’ve fought for the anti-apartheid cause, and various other causes.

“In my experience, all good causes attract criticism and then people look back and think, actually there was merit in that case after all.

“When the Severn barrage is built, people will turn around and say why on earth wasn’t this done generations ago,” he adds.

As for what is needed to get the project going, Hain is clear: political will.

“If you look at the two big things that have been done in recent times – the huge construction projects of the Channel Tunnel and the Olympics – they were both heavily criticised but they were right.

“Nobody criticises them now.

“There are too many pygmies in politics and public administration that would have been put to shame by the Victorians and the great construction giants of the past.

“We need some big decisions by big ministers for a Britain that thinks big, not parochial and petty. It’s time we thought big.”

This article first appeared in Utility Week’s print edition of 7th June 2013.

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Hain Reacts To Minister On Severn Barrage

Speaking after Energy Minister Greg Barker’s evidence to the Energy & Climate Change Parliamentary Select Committee former Cabinet Minister and Neath MP Peter Hain said:

‘If we’re now unlikely to see the hybrid bill required for the Severn Barrage in this parliament that will mean two more years delay for a gigantic £25 billion investment creating 50000 desperately needed jobs.  Sadly confusion and division in government now means we’re working to a longer timescale. I will keep making the case for the Severn Barrage because in my view it is a no brainer and the Minister’s curious statement is at variance with the constructive meetings I have had with his boss the Secretary of State for Energy, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, Infrastructure Minister and the Secretary of State for Wales. These meetings are being followed up and extensive documentation provided. Britain urgently needs the clean green energy and the economic boost the Barrage uniquely offers.’

Neath food bank is now seeing more people in work—many part time and desperate—than out of work

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the economic effect on people working in Wales of reductions in tax credits and other benefits for working people.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr David Jones): The measures announced in the autumn statement will mean that working households are on average £125 per annum better off in 2013-14.

Mr Hain: Is the Secretary of State aware that Neath food bank is now seeing more people in work—many part time and desperate—than out of work? One hundred thousand working people in Wales are now being hammered by his welfare cuts, some among the 230,000 households in Wales that will be forced by the Government to pay council tax for the first time in April. Will he now take down from the Wales Office website his promise that people will be better off under this Government in work and admit that some cannot even afford to eat?

Mr Jones: Certainly not. In fact, people who are in work are considerably better off. The average earner on the minimum wage who works full time will by next April be paying half as much in tax as he did at the beginning of this Parliament, in the wake of the right hon. Gentleman’s Government. If he is not willing to tackle the appalling legacy of the welfare shambles that he left, we will be prepared to do so.