Olivia Richardson has kindly provided a detailed account of our recent Hustings in Teddington and it is set out below, together with an attached photo taken by Steve McCubbin.
In spite of last minute uncertainty about whether the event would go ahead, it was well attended and very successful.
We are grateful to the candidates who spoke, to Nancy El Shatoury who chaired the event and to staff at Teddington Baptist Church for their generous support.
We must also thank in particular Catherine Dolan, Hilary Evans, Mary Holmes, Paul Tippell, John Reekie and their hardworking team of helpers who planned, advertised and organised the Hustings. It was a great example of co-operation between the four local groups - UNA, Amnesty, TRAKNAT and FoE - and we very much appreciate the contributions made by all who were involved.
On Thursday, 25th May 2017 at Teddington Baptist Church, Church Road, Teddington, Twickenham constituents attended a meeting at which the 3 candidates standing for Parliament answered questions on internationalissues, human rights, the arms trade and the environment.
The meeting was organised by Amnesty International (famous for defending human rights), the Twickenham and Richmond Branch of the United Nations Association (a grass-roots organisation supporting the United Nations in its pursuit of world peace, world development and the protection of human beings and the environment), TRAKNAT (Twickenham, Richmond and Kingston Network against the Arms Trade) and Richmond and Twickenham Friends of the Earth (set up to campaign on environmental issues).
Four questions had been sent to the candidates in advance, one from each of the organising bodies, so they were aware of what to expect. The other questions had been sent in by e-mail or submitted on the night.
Ably chaired by Nancy El-Shatoury, the first question was on refugees, posed by Amnesty. Vince Cable of the Liberal Democrats said that Syrian refugees fleeing persecution needed to be granted admission, that young refugees should not be deported at the age of 18, that financial support for local government was necessary to enable care for refugees, that refugees needed to be allowed to work, and that 3,000 children was the very minimum number to be granted reunification with families in the UK. Katherine Dunne of the Labour Party agreed that acceptance of a mere 350 refugee children was appalling, that support for local government was essential and that her Party’s commitment to international obligations, working with the UN and the EU was the only tenable position to hold. Tania Mathias of the Conservatives said that she had challenged the Government on the lack of support for the Dubs Agreement. She had worked closely with Lord Dubs, ringing round local authorities to see how many refugees they could take and seeing that education and health care was provided for refugees in camps where they were held. In actual fact 8,000 refugee children came to Britain last year.
The next Question posed by Friends of the Earth elicited the response from Katherine Dunne that climate change was our biggest threat. It is vital that agreed targets are met though things look bleak with Donald Trump not interested in Climate Change and intent on dismantling what had already been achieved. Our own Government had not kept promises, closing the Department responsible. Labour is supportive of a low carbon economy, is determined to ban fracking and vowed to follow a three step process including nationalisation of energy and transport. Vince Cable said that the bare minimum the Government could do was adhere to the Climate Change Act. Energy costs are falling. Under the recent Coalition Government he set up the Green Investment Bank but at present management of waste and recycling had been sold to an Australian Company which was a retrograde step. The Swansea barrage and lagoon had been abandoned. On a more cheerful note, the Chinese Government is now engaging seriously in Climate Change control. Tania Mathias said that the Government is on track to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 80% by the target date, that offshore energy rather than energy supplied by coal was now the norm. On fracking she said she needed scientific evidence before she would make up her mind for or against.
Asked about support for the UN, Tania Mathias said she had to declare an interest since she worked for the Organisation for many years. She had been a member of a cross Party group of MPs and Peers on the UN. She believed the UK needed to take a greater role in UN peace-keeping. Schools had observed Remembrance Day and Holocaust Day, so support for UN Day on 24th October could be rolled out. Vince Cable said support for the UN could be encouraged in school assemblies. Like many multi-national organisations the UN is under assault from nationalisation. Governments need to ensure the UN blue berets are supported physically and financially. Katherine Dunne agreed that the UK needs to take a bigger role in peace-keeping but it needed to be within international law to avoid the mistakes of the past. For schools there is great pressure on the curriculum but there is scope for political engagement within the national curriculum.
Asked for a response, Mary Holmes said that moving the UN Information Office from London to the Continent had been a handicap. The UN needed to be given a higher profile.
Discussing the question put forward by TRAKNAT, Vince Cable said that sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia had been blocked by the Coalition Government but the succeeding Government had removed the restriction. He believed in proper control of arms brokering. The legislation exists but should be more stringent in control of arms to Saudi Arabia. Tania Mathias had challenged the Government since she believed in suspension of sales of arms to Saudi Arabia. She wants investigation of such sales, preferably by the UN, She is totally against use of cluster bombs, chemical weapons and depleted uranium bombs under any conditions. There must be a vetting of small arms use. She has discussed the problems with constituents on numerous occasions. There needed to be a debate in Parliament or a Private Member’s Bill. Katherine Dunne said she supported investigation since there needs to be more control on arms sales to governments. She felt a new Committee needed to be set up to monitor arms sales.
The Teddington Action Group question was answered by Katherine Dunne saying she was opposed to expansion of Heathrow since noise mitigation was necessary and pollution levels needed to comply with laws on the environment. Heathrow is necessary for our economy but does not need to be bigger. Tania Mathias said she was 100% against Heathrow expansion since science is against it and medical knowledge is against it due to the air pollution and the noise pollution of up to 80 decibels which would result. The Davis Commission had no scientific basis for its approval of the plans. Vince Cable said the Coalition Government was completely against Heathrow Expansion. However there were other air pollution concerns such as diesel engines which needed a proper scrappage scheme. The Mayor is concerned about under-utilised airports when talking about expansion.
Asked about preservation of open spaces within the Borough, Tania Mathias said she was against development of Udney Park, felt that the St. Mary’s consultation would result in abandonment on the grounds it was not sustainable and the River Crane proposal would come under RFU plans. Vince Cable said the River Crane plans for development had been stopped. He opposed the Udney Park development and felt St. Mary’s need to be careful about development, reining back on expansion plans. Katherine Dunne felt planning applications need to be legal. They should be handled by local commissions, not politicians. Private schools take control out of the hands of local councils. The Crane Park Scheme has not yet gone to the Committee stage.
Hilary Evans asked about the UN Conference on Nuclear Disarmament. Vince Cable said he believed in Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament. He felt the Trident programme was excessive in cost. We need fewer missiles. Proliferation is the problem. Katherine Dunne felt we need to push for multilateral nuclear disarmament. We should lead by example. Tania Mathias said we need to urge Government Ministers to attend the UN Conference on Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament in June.
A question on managing population growth led to Katherine Dunne saying we need to find solutions to the problem. There is a concentration in the South-east of the UK but response to immigration must not be simplistic. Tania Mathias said she enjoyed her cross-Party work addressing housing and transport. We need to live life well as we increase in numbers. There are many volunteer groups in the Borough – all living well. Vince Cable said there are challenges as population grows. We need to get things in proportion. We need to be open to immigration. The questioner said he was not against immigration. He was pro-immigration but population growth was pushing our species to extinction. Katherine Dunne said the answer lay in education and the proper use of material. The developed world needs to move towards sustainability. Public health is important. Vince Cable said there had been a massive reduction in global poverty and an advance in rising living standards. Tania Mathias said much work is being done in Asia and Africa by volunteers with good ideas in sustainability.
A question on Local Government and Healthcare Funding was answered by Tania Mathias saying we need to apply to local groups and we need to brainstorm to find solutions. Katherine Dunne said we need to put more funding into healthcare and into the housing market which is broken at the moment. Vince Cable said Councils should be flexible but the NHS are straining at this moment and we need to recognize that we should support healthcare by increased taxation.
A question on how we should stop the spread of racism and what should be happening to preserve human rights was answered by Vince Cable saying he was an optimist. He had grown up in a society of intolerance but things have improved. We have to resist racism. The vast majority of Muslims in this country abhor the violence. Tania Mathias said tolerance starts with us as individuals and communities. Katherine Dunne said the violence in Manchester had been met with a fantastic response from the community. There must not be a backlash demonising Muslims. There is cause for hope. We must stand our ground, not letting rights be eroded away. After BREXIT rights must be retained within British law, and perhaps working through the UN.
On a question about Indefinite Detention in the country, Katherine Dunne felt it was a cause for concern Vince Cable felt we should commit to ending prolonged detention. Tania Mathias said she had worked on cases and would take it to Government Ministers.
On other questions, Vince Cable spoke about working to stop corruption in countries like Nigeria, Tania Mathias spoke about the need for safety for observers when she worked for the UN in Gaza and Katherine Dunne about the need to legislate against inappropriate fuel such as coal being widely sold. Vince Cable would ban the sale of noxious substances. Tania Mathias said the Clean Air Act needed to be invoked against particulate problems.
The final question of the night was on leaving the Single European Market as a cornerstone of leaving the EU. Vince Cable felt it was not sensible. If it was aimed at reducing immigration and managing our borders, leaving the Single Market would still damage our economy. Tania Mathias said we should make the best of leaving the EU but should give a Unilateral Right to Remain to EU citizens. Katherine Dunne said the economy depends on it. Education, research, students projects would all be affected. Switzerland reached a compromise on movement with no cap on EU migrants. We have shared values. We should not go in all guns blazing. It is in our best interest and we should protect our rights.
At the end of the Meeting the consensus was that it had been very successful – well attended and with candidates who responded honestly and truthfully to difficult questions.
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