election candidates take part in lively town debate
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
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.
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.
of elderly care
first question came from Tony Bruce, who asked for the candidates'
positions on the spiraling costs of caring for elderly people.
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.
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."
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."
next question asked whether the UK's current 'first past the post'
electoral system is fair to the electorate.
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."
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."
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,"
candidates were asked for their views on whether a barrage should
be built across the Bristol Channel.
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.
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."
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.
three candidates were asked for their views on what criteria are
needed to determine whether British troops should be removed from
Merryfield said: "It would be crazy to withdraw from Afghanistan
at the moment - we are starting to get it right."
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
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."
candidates were asked whether they would support the controversial
introduction of assisted suicide.
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."
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."
Merryfield said he is "personally opposed to it" although
he said he can understand why it is sometimes considered.
questions were asked regarding Bovine TB, the job of tackling
the budget deficit, overseas financial aid and the need for education
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.