Published: April 29, 2010
Burnham's election candidates take part in lively town debate

Burnham-On-Sea's three main general election candidates answered questions on topics ranging from the economy to assisted suicide and the Severn Barrage during a public debate in the town on Wednesday evening (April 28th).

Almost 200 people attended the special 'Election Hustings Meeting' in Burnham's Baptist Church in College Street, where Conservative David Heathcoat-Amory, Liberal Democrat Tessa Munt and Labour's Andy Merryfield faced 90 minutes of questions.

The evening was overseen by Reverend Graham Witts and was organised by churches from across the Burnham and Highbridge area, while the questions were posed by members of the public.

Cost of elderly care

The first question came from Tony Bruce, who asked for the candidates' positions on the spiraling costs of caring for elderly people. Mr Merryfield said he is very aware of the ever-increasing costs, and added that the NHS is "fantastic" and that an extra care service for the elderly is being planned by Labour.

Mr Heathcoat-Amory said the cost of elderly care is a "very important one" for Burnham given the high number of retired people living here. He added: "A new government is needed to grasp the issue and take it forward."

Mrs Munt added that the spiraling costs of elderly care represent "a very serious problem" and that "the only way forward is to have all parties working together on a solution."

Electoral reform

The next question asked whether the UK's current 'first past the post' electoral system is fair to the electorate.

Mr Heathcoat-Amory said he is against any change. "No electoral system delivers what everyone wants, but the current one is tried and tested and has been in place since democracy began."

Mrs Munt disagreed, telling the audience: "We need to change the current electoral system to make it fairer - it's not good enough to say 'it's been in place for so long so let's keep it'," and she added: "It's not fair that with the current system 23,000 voters out of the 80,000 in this constituency choose the MP, meaning many voices go ignored."

Mr Merryfield said he does not believe the current system is fair. "People need to be encouraged to vote in elections and one way of encouraging them is to introduce a system so they feel listened to," he said.

Severn Barrage

The candidates were asked for their views on whether a barrage should be built across the Bristol Channel.

Mr Merryfield responded that the barrage is "an extremely sensible idea" and added that he is surprised it is taking so long to put in place. He mentioned that he is also in favour of other renewable energy sources, such as wind farms.

Mr Heathcoat-Amory said that while he believes "there is a case" for a barrage in the Bristol Channel "we don't enough about the potential movement of the millions of tonnes of silt in the estuary and whether this would create an environmental disaster. More research is needed on this."

Mrs Munt said she would prefer a tidal lagoon or offshore reef to be considered rather the barrage. "The risk of flooding here is potentially high and I feel the lagoon or reef would lessen the risks and also be less intrusive to wildlife," she said.

War in Afghanistan

The three candidates were asked for their views on what criteria are needed to determine whether British troops should be removed from Afghanistan.

Mr Merryfield said: "It would be crazy to withdraw from Afghanistan at the moment - we are starting to get it right."

Mrs Munt added: "History shows it is difficult to embark on military action there. I agree that it is not clear why we are there - is it oil, Pakistan, drugs or even terrorism? We need to talk to the Taliban and reach a position where we can bring our troops home."

Mr Heathcoat-Amory responded: "Our troops need to have clear war aims and a clear exit, but they have neither. It was irresponsible to send troops there without this. We need a clear strategy."

Assisted suicide

The candidates were asked whether they would support the controversial introduction of assisted suicide.

Mr Heathcoat-Amory said he has voted against the introduction in previous Commons votes on the matter. "It is a very difficult issue involving ethics and morality. I hope we never get to the position where the elderly feel they are a burden and are under pressure to sign a piece of paper. It is a very contentious issue."

Mrs Munt added: "I can understand the pain and difficulty that people go through and why this would be considered, but I don't think I could vote for assisted suicide because I can't see how we would protect the vulnerable."

Mr Merryfield said he is "personally opposed to it" although he said he can understand why it is sometimes considered.

Other questions were asked regarding Bovine TB, the job of tackling the budget deficit, overseas financial aid and the need for education reform.

Candidates from UKIP, the BNP and Green Party were not invited to the event as organisers wanted to focus on the political parties that will have the most influence in the next Parliament.


Bookmark and Share

Search|Add to your Bookmarks|Send a mail from|Print this page|Back to previous page|Discuss this article|

Burnham-On-Sea Seafront Webcam
Burnham-On-Sea Webcam
24-hour live pictures
See live images of the seafront and beach with Burnham's Webcam. Click here

Burnham-On-Sea What's On
What's On In Burnham-On-Sea
Things to see and do
Check the constantly updated calendar for what's happening. Click here

Burnham-On-Sea Shops
Burnham-On-Sea Shopping Guide
Buy in Burnham!
Support local traders by shopping in town - see our A-Z index of businesses. Click here

Burnham-On-Sea Video
Burnham-On-Sea Video
Burnham video news
Watch video highlights of events across Burnham with these video clips. Click here