MP's maiden parliament speech
Burnham-On-Sea's MP has made her maiden speech in the
House of Commons over the past week.
Munt's first speech on Wednesday (June 30th) covered a range of
local issues, including the contentious one of huge electricity
pylons being built through the countryside near Burnham.
we publish the full text of her speech. You can also watch the
speech using the online video above by clicking the play button.
said: "First, I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, David
Heathcoat-Amory, who sat in the House for 27 years, a longer period
of service than that of any other MP for Wells since the Great
Reform Bill. He was, perhaps, best known as a passionate Eurosceptic,
and he voluntarily stood down from John Major's Government in
order to pursue his convictions in that area. Although I do not
share his views on Europe, I believe we should respect MPs who
put such a premium on their principles. Mr Heathcoat-Amory has
recently announced that he does not intend to stand for election
again. He is a man with other interests and activities, and I
wish him well for the future.
will be familiar with the names of many places in the Wells constituency.
It runs from the coast at Brean and Berrow, and Burnham-on-Sea
and Highbridge in the west, to Shepton Mallet and Chilcompton
in the east, and from Street in the south to Star and across the
Mendips to Ston Easton in the north. My constituency also encompasses
England's smallest city, Wells, with its glorious cathedral, and
the towns of Glastonbury, Axbridge and the villages of Cheddar
and Wedmore, and 170 other rural communities. I celebrate the
addition of the village of Stratton-on-the-Fosse within the boundaries
of the constituency at the last election, and recognise the service
of my hon. Friend Mr Heath in previous years.
is rural Britain at its very best. The Mendip hills, reaching
over 1,000 feet high, look down over the Somerset levels and moors,
much of which is below sea level. Somerset is well known for its
farming, its Cheddar cheese and its cider.
is heavily reliant on tourism, with 26,000 people employed in attracting
and serving tourists. Perhaps, in this of all weeks, it is most
familiar to the 145,000 music fans, 35,000 staff and over 20,000
volunteers who visited or worked in the village of Pilton for the
40th Glastonbury festival. Many people have enjoyed some or all
of Michael Eavis's 40 years of festivals, including those devotees
who watched some of the 60 hours of live BBC coverage-some of it
from yurts, I might add in reference to earlier conversations in
the House. People were living in teepees and in camps but this time
there was no rain, so we suffered not the mud. The BBC coverage
was even in competition with the World cup and Wimbledon.
weekend, I met people who first attended in 1970 at Worthy Farm,
when the tickets cost £1 for the whole festival, which included
free milk for the duration. The real benefit of the Pilton, or
Glastonbury, festival is long-lasting: the huge support that Michael's
festival brings to local communities and businesses and its promotion
of Somerset and all it produces.
constituency is a place of both great history and great legend.
People can trace the footprints of King Alfred and King Arthur,
as well as of our first tourist, Joseph of Arimathea, who reputedly
brought the holy grail to Glastonbury for safekeeping. However,
despite its long history, I would not want anyone to think the
area is anything other than a collection of thriving modern communities
sharing many of the challenges confronting the country as a whole.
have entered the House because of my shouting at the radio in
frustration for the past 20 years. I have spent most of my time
saying, "People should be able to see that things can be
done in a different way, and someone should do that." That
frustration led me eventually-it possibly led my father initially-to
think that that someone might be me, and that I should actually
stand up for what I believe in.
therefore stood for election, and I hope that in my time here
I will be able to bring a little more common sense. By way of
example of that, let me offer some of the issues that have struck
me over the past couple of weeks. One of my constituents has come
to me and said that her village has just replaced two bins at
a cost of £340 and that everyone accepts that. I think that
is an absurd amount of money to be paying for two bins, particularly
as they are to be used for dog poo. That sort of thing cannot
be sensible, and must not be done unquestioningly on behalf of
people. We need to check that we get value for money and insist
that our councils and authorities across the country ensure that
that is the case.
second example comes from Cross in my constituency. Again, the
local authority has accepted that something may need to be done
in that local community to alleviate some of the traffic problems,
but a roundabout might cost £600,000. I cannot see how we
can accept these things; we must ensure that in economically difficult
times we question what is happening right the way through our
land. I hope that I can bring a level of common sense.
I was standing for election, I did not expect to find myself on
the Government Benches-that was a nice surprise. I was delighted
that when I looked at the coalition agreement I found that 27
different Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges had found their way
into it. I have been questioned on several occasions about what
it is like to be in the coalition team. I have told people that
it is not absolutely where I thought I was going to be, but that
a seven or eight-year-old child might dream about playing for
West Ham and then at the age of 21, having spent 12 years training,
they might suddenly get an offer from Fulham. What do they do
then? Do they say, 'No, no, I am going to hold on and wait until
West Ham spot me"? They are not going to do that, and it
is better to work with people and try to get spotted from somewhere
else. Therefore, I view the coalition as a positive opportunity
for Liberal Democrats to make progress in government and bring
some of our manifesto pledges to bear.
wish to take this opportunity to draw to the House's attention
some of the problems that I have experienced and that some of
my constituents have experienced in relation to the subject of
this debate, "Progress and prospects in energy efficiency".
National Grid has put forward proposals to plant a series of pylons
across the beautiful Somerset levels and the moors, and up through
the neighbouring constituencies of Bridgwater and West Somerset,
and North Somerset; the route goes from Hinkley Point to Seabank,
in Avonmouth. It covers a distance of some 40 miles, but National
Grid insists that it must transmit power from Hinkley Point through
cables on overhead pylons. It wishes both to upgrade the current
network and to prepare for some future transmission, which may
come from wind farms, from a possible use of the Severn river-the
barrage, the lagoon, the reef or whatever other method of transmission
may come from that-or from microgeneration.
people of Somerset understand that there is a need to transmit
electricity from A to B, but they surely have a right to some
say in how that is done and how it might come about. National
Grid sounds like a lovely beneficial or philanthropic organisation,
but people need to remember that it is nothing like the National
Gallery or the National Trust; it is a multinational corporation
with its shareholders' interests at its heart. I say to hon. Members
that it should be allowed-this House has a place in making this
happen-to bring modern practice and thinking into its research
and development functions. Pylons are a 1920s technology, and
they are not the solution to 21st century transmission problems.
pylons that the National Grid Company proposes will be 400,000
KV, they will be 46 metres high-that is 152 feet in old money-they
will hum, they will buzz and, most importantly, they will completely
destroy the tourism opportunities in my constituency. The Campaign
to Protect Rural England is trying to remove overhead lines and
make moves to ensure that National Grid does not put pylons through
areas of special landscape beauty, such as the national parks,
or areas of outstanding natural beauty, such as the Mendip hills.
It is also trying to prevent green belt land from being used.
However, in a rural area an awful lot of land is not designated
questioned, National Grid said that although a great deal of my
constituency is under consideration for the 17th world heritage
site in the country, since we had not achieved that status it
did not have to have any regard to that fact. It seems that those
who live in an urban area-the northern part of the line passes
through bits of Bristol and Avonmouth-get automatic protection
from this blight, because National Grid intends to put the power
underground as it is near housing.
problem does not just affect 38,000 people. There are already
22,000 pylons in this country and 4,370 miles of overhead lines,
and with the movement towards more nuclear power and, as I have
said, the other forms of transmission that will be necessary,
they will be coming to a place near all of us soon. So I come
back to the fact that National Grid insists that pylons are the
cheapest and most efficient means of carrying electricity. It
does that because the framework in which it exists and the decisions
that it is allowed to make fall within, as far as I can see, the
Electricity Act 1989 and various other rules, such as the Holford
rules, which date back to 1959. Those rules are stopping National
Grid from considering the other options.
that people in my constituency want is a choice, and as of last
October National Grid went out to what it called consultation.
People have a choice of three routes-just two in my area, really.
Those routes go near schools, they go across open land and they
go near housing. We should not only consider economic efficiency
and financial cost, as the Electricity Act 1989 insists. Views
of efficiency must have changed since 1989. We must consider the
whole-life costs of the construction of pylons. Surely we should
be considering the environmental cost and the cost to land and
farmers, such as those who are prevented from running organic
farms because of the proximity of pylons. Most importantly, we
must consider the issues of health, specifically that of children's
health. Finally, we must consider transmission losses.
Grid faces opposition from thousands of local people. Some 38,000
are considered to be directly affected by the Hinkley to Avonmouth
line alone. National Grid admitted that it was surprised by the
number of responses that it received from people in Somerset and
along the line. Up until now, it had received only 247-the maximum
number of objections that it had ever had to any proposal. Now,
after this so-called consultation, it is trying to respond to
the 4,106 responses that it has received. The objectors notably
include Griff Rhys Jones and Carol Vorderman. Bill Bryson, the
CPRE's president, is on record as saying: "This is crazy-more
pylons do not equal progress."
me draw attention to the issue of health, in particular. There
are illnesses-among them cancers, childhood leukaemia and depressive
conditions-that are believed to be a health effect of living near
high-voltage power lines. Studies at Bristol and at the university
of California rate other illnesses and conditions as directly
associated with electric and magnetic fields.
particular, I want to draw the Minister's attention to a huge
study in Sweden, in which the effects of overhead power lines
have been measured on 500,000 people over a period of 25 years.
That study found overwhelming evidence that electrical fields
generated cancer in children at four times the normal rate and
at triple the rate in adults. Sweden now lists electromagnetic
fields, which is exactly what we find with overhead lines, as
a class 2 carcinogen along with tobacco. I could also quote from
studies in Russia, India and the United States, and our Department
of Health found a link between proximity to power lines and childhood
leukaemia that was sufficient to warrant a precautionary recommendation,
including the option to lay new power lines underground where
possible and to prevent the building of new residential buildings
within 60 metres of existing power lines.
should consider the framework in which National Grid must exist
and think carefully before we force overhead power lines on to
people in Somerset and across the country. What local people want
is choice. It would be sensible and logical for them to be told
the costs, risks and benefits of all the different types of transmission
that could be used. It is clear from practices across the world
that power can be put overground, as is proposed, but also underground
and undersea. Surely, the most logical way of joining Avonmouth
to Hinkley would be undersea. That is what people require. People
should have the opportunity to say what they want having received
all the information that they should have received. National Grid
is running a new consultation, which involves it shouting at local
people what it has already said: all it is doing is explaining
in more detail why it is right and why people should not have
purely at the economic argument, even that can be dismissed because
although National Grid says that underground routes might cost
10 or 20 times as much, its counterparts in Denmark and Germany
have been able to use underground lines at between two and a maximum
of five times the cost. Undersea lines are also being used, and
there are grids around Europe and across the world. National Grid
even admits that that would cost a fraction of a penny per kilowatt-hour.
I and some of my electorate have costed its £1.2 billion
plan, if there is such a thing-its proposal if it wanted to go
undersea-and it comes out that the cost, over 50 years, would
be but 33 pence per person per year. We should consider Bill Bryson's
comments on progress and the very bleak prospects for the people
of Somerset in terms of this proposal and energy efficiency.
ask the Minister to consider the draft national policy statement
and to retrieve it from the black hole into which it may have
disappeared before the election. I hope that he will look again
at how we might make it work-for example, we could reconsider
the Holford rules. Various paragraphs could be replaced by more
balanced and neutral commentary on the pros and cons of undergrounding.
Perhaps we should ask Ofgem to commit, in the next five years,
to undergrounding a percentage of its network and to removing
all the old pylons. We should also consider amending the Electricity
Act 1989, particularly schedule 9, to require Ofgem and electricity
companies to mitigate the landscape impact of electricity network
infrastructure and to lay reports before Parliament on achievement.
thank the Minister for considering the issues I have raised and
for realising that the threats to rural communities are real,
particularly in relation to tourism, which is our lifeblood in
Somerset. Thank you for allowing me the luxury of time to speak,
Mr Deputy Speaker. I promise to be an active and enthusiastic
Member of the House in representing the people of Wells and Somerset."