October 26th 2020
The reason for not converting Archbishop John Sentamu`s seat in the House of Lords to a Life Peerage upon his retirement as the Archbishop of York and Primate of England is, we are told, because there is a need to slim down the Upper House. But “given retirements and other departures some new members are needed to ensure that the Lords has the appropriate expertise to fulfil its role in scrutinising and revising legislation” according to a “Government spokesman” quoted in the Sunday Times.
That explains, of course, why the Prime Minister`s brother, Jo, and a clutch of prominent Brexiteers were amongst the 36 life peers announced in the dissolution honours list. The Upper House clearly needed the expertise of a former and prominent England cricketer and a redundant (since Brexit) former MEP to assist them in their deliberations.
Don`t misunderstand me: I like Jo Johnson a lot. As an MP he was an able Minister and arguably the nicest and one of the cleverest of the whole Johnson clan. He also brings youth as well as political experience to the Upper House and that is a commodity that is needed. The fact that he just happens to be the PM`s brother is an unfortunate act of birth and should not be held against him. Similarly, I am a huge admirer of Ian Botham. I first met him years ago when he was a rising star of the Somerset cricket team and I was working on the “We Are The Champions” BBC TV series in which he was appearing. I have been a fan ever since. My producer had a knack of spotting sporting talent and he was so right with “Both” who went on to become rather better known for his work with bat and ball than as a Brexiteer. I watched his investiture and thought that he looked truly splendid in ermine. He earned and deserved his `K` and as Baron Botham he will no doubt make a spirited addition to the House of Lords.
John Sentamu, though, is in a different league from many of the rest of the elevated retinue. He was born in Uganda, rose after university to become a Supreme Court Advocate and, as such, a fierce critic of the dictator and President Idi Amin. The life expectancy of those who criticised the mass-murderer Amin was limited and so John Sentamu fled to the United Kingdom, along with thousands of other refugees from his country to whom we gave succour and asylum. The man who was ordained in 1979 as an Anglican priest was consecrated by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey in 1996 and served as the Bishop of Stepney and the Bishop of Birmingham before becoming Archbishop of York and Primate of England, a post he held with distinction for fifteen years from 2005. A skilled and qualified lawyer, he also acted as an adviser to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and chaired the review into the murder of Damilola Taylor.
It is customary although not mandatory for the most senior of those who have served as the twenty six `Lords Spiritual` to be offered life peerages when they hang up their mitres and their shepherds’ crooks. We have to hope and expect that the `oversight` in the case of The Right Reverend Jon Sentamu will be corrected at the earliest opportunity. A `slimmed down` Upper House ought to be able to find room for a man of his calibre.
The good news is that with effect from the 1st January 2021 travellers to the European Union, once again restored to its status as a foreign country, will be able to enjoy the fruits of duty-free shopping. The less good news is, of course, that restrictions on the quantity of duty-free goods brought back into the UK will be imposed. The bad news is that the Government is at present minded to abolish Value Added Tax relief on goods bought in the UK and taken or shipped overseas because it does not want the benefits of this scheme extended to residents in the EU. The European Union, on the other hand, will continue to offer VAT relief to visitors to its nation states and that puts UK Limited at a considerable disadvantage. Our airports and the Eurostar terminus in London together with many and famous stores throughout the country and not just in the capital city have benefitted hugely from their spending of those with fat wallets who have come from far-flung places to buy the luxury goods for which Britain is famed worldwide. Upon the production of those goods rest hundreds of jobs in this country. So just before we export those jobs to Paris or Rome or Berlin or Athens or Madrid as canny shoppers take their trade and their spending power to other destinations I hope that the Treasury may be persuaded to think again. The majority of the visitors who use these tax-free services do not come from Europe but from the United States, from the Middle East, from Africa and from the Far East. It would be sheer folly to sacrifice their business.
It is a widely-publicised fact that I did not vote for the Opposition Motion to extend the availability of Free School Meals.
I have nothing but concern for those of my constituents and most particularly the elderly and children who are in need. This Government has mortgaged the country`s family silver for generations in an endeavour to alleviate the hardship wrought by the pandemic and I trust that we will, as necessary, continue to do so. I supported the extension of the school meals scheme, via vouchers, into the summer holidays and I have no particular problem with seeing the scheme extended through to next Easter if required. What became apparent though, during the debate that most critics did not of course follow, was that the Labour Party would like to see “Free School Meals” extended in perpetuity which is why I did not support what was and remains a piece of naked political opportunism.
The name is on the tin: “School Meals” were never intended to be used as an income support mechanism. They were designed to ensure that young people received, during term-time, at least one square and nutritious meal a day to help them to study and progress. There are other fiscal measures including, but not exclusively, Universal Credit, for helping to ensure that there is a safety net through which families cannot fall.
It is apparent, though, that unemployment is going to rise and with that unemployment will come financial difficulties and a whole new tranche of people needing help. I had hoped and anticipated that the Government`s practical response to that further anticipated need that would be expanded upon by the Secretary of State during the debate. It was because that reassurance was not immediately forthcoming that I abstained from voting.
I am pleased to note that since the debate the Leader of Kent County Council has made it crystal clear that KCC will entirely properly use the funding made available by the Government to continue to make sure that during the pandemic and beyond support will be available for those in need so that, to use Roger Gough`s words “vulnerable families and children should not suffer hardship or hunger throughout this half-term week or at any time in their lives”.
The Kent Together Helpline has already provided huge support during the pandemic and through the Emergency Assistance Grant that help remains available. If you know of anyone who falls into the vulnerable category I and my team are, as we always have been, ready and willing able to seek to ensure that they get the assistance that they need.