My position on Life Issues ahead of the General Election

I have received the following request via a pro-life direct democracy site, www.wheredotheystand.org.uk:

Dear Dr Simon Platt,

I am a constituent of Preston and I’m writing to find out how you would vote on certain crucial issues.

The brief questionnaire below details hypothetical Bills. Each Bill allows for one of three possible answers: yes, no, abstain – the same three answers available to Members elected to Members of Parliament.

In each case I am asking you to declare how you would vote on the policy of the Bill, that is, whether or not you would agree with its stated aims in principle. Please respond to all questions.

I care very deeply about these issues and your answers may affect my vote.

Your answers and explanations may be published on www.wheredotheystand.org.uk. I would prefer an electronic response, if practicable.

Thank you,

I’m very happy to have been able to respond entirely positively, as follows:

Thank you for your email. I’m very happy to be able to reply to say that I am strongly pro-life. I’ve been a member of SPUC since I was 18 and have participated in many Life and SPUC activities over the years – leafletting, pro-life chains, White Flower Appeals, etc.
I’m answering the questions below in the most pro-life way I can. Where proposed bills are inadequate, I’m answering them with a pragmatic view of saving as many lives as possible – that’s how I’d vote in parliament.
If I am elected you can be sure that I would be a strong pro-life voice in parliament. I think I am the only pro-life candidate in Preston.
I should be very pleased if you would pass on my replies to as many people as you see fit.

My answers were given in the email and are available online at http://wheredotheystand.org.uk/t/preston/simon-philip-platt (green is good).

Hunting Act 2004

I’ve received the following standard petition, with the subject heading “A question from a local constituent: Will you #keeptheban on fox hunting?”

Dear Dr Platt,

I am concerned that Theresa May has promised a vote to repeal the fox hunting ban if the Conservatives win the general election. Please can you tell me:

If there is a vote to repeal the ban, how would you vote?

What is your party’s policy on fox hunting?

I am emailing you via this Care2 petition http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/798/498/031/

Sincerely,

(I actually received eight emails from this petition, all within ten minutes. That was an interesting example of the power of social media. A couple of senders added personal notes. I’ll respond to all eight, soon – it’ll be tomorrow morning, now – with personalised responses as appropriate.)

My standard response is as follows:

I believe that mankind has a responsibility to be good stewards of creation, and to promote animal welfare. It’s partly for that reason, and partly on grounds of liberty and tolerance, that I cannot support your campaign.

I haven’t closely followed discussion of the likelihood of repeal of the Hunting Act, although I am aware that there has been some speculation. I think that’s unlikely to be a government priority in view of the important constitutional matters that are bound to preoccupy parliament for at least the next two years and possibly longer. In a way I think that’s a shame; as Preston’s MP I would certainly vote for its repeal and for the legalisation of hunting once again. I’ve never hunted myself, and there are no hunts very close to Preston although I think there is or was one in Bowland and another based near Chorley. My own sport has always been fishing; and I’m looking forward to spending time on the bank again soon, once the election campaign is over and the coarse-fishing season begins.

And people shouldn’t be concerned about the prospect of a vote in parliament. That would be an example of our democratic system in operation. MPs would be able to review the operation of the Hunting Act, a little over a decade since it came into force. They would also be able to take representation from constituents and other interested parties and come to a consensus view. Surely that is not a bad thing? (As I say, I am sure that government time would not be made available for repeal of the hunting Act, but it is always possible for a suitable Private Members’ Bill to be introduced.)

I’m not aware of any UKIP policy on hunting. It’s certainly not a UKIP priority. If there were such a policy, however, it wouldn’t change my view: I would vote to repeal the Hunting Act. And this is something we can do in UKIP. Elected representatives and candidates from UKIP are encouraged to have their own minds; our councillors are not whipped, and we candidates were briefed recently “if there’s something in UKIP policy that you don’t agree with, don’t hide the fact”. I have few reservations about UKIP policy – our manifesto is superb – but I have no hesitation in speaking my own mind when I do. That’s the UKIP way; one of the things that sets us apart from the old parties.

I opposed the ban on hunting in 2004 – I was a member of the Countryside Alliance – and I oppose it now. I think that fox hunting is a humane way of pest control; the best for the welfare of the fox population as a whole and of individual foxes, too. (The concern is usually about fox hunting, although the Hunting Act has wider scope than that.)  Although I have never hunted myself, and although I am seeking to represent an urban constituency where nobody hunts, I have absolutely no objection to those who take pleasure in doing so. I want to live in a society that is tolerant enough to take the same view as me.

I think the ban on hunting should be repealed.

People are welcome to contact me in this way; I’ll do my best to respond, whether or not I agree with the petitioners, and post my responses here, for all to see.

What I will do for the environment if elected

I’ve received the following standard petition, with the subject heading “What will you do for the environment if elected?”

Dear Dr Platt,

NB this email is sent when somebody in your constituency signs this petition: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/en-gb/429/898/151/

The environmental threats we face will change life on Earth for millennia, and may leave our children and even ourselves struggling to survive as many already are elsewhere. These issues make others seem almost minor yet our MPs rarely refer to them let alone prioritise them as is urgently needed:

Loss of species and the habitats they depend upon: It is reasonable to consider that our fellow species have an intrinsic right not to be carelessly made extinct. Even from a selfishly anthropocentric perspective, a strong biodiverse natural world is vital to support the environmental services that we depend upon. It has become clear that the loss of even some obscure species can cause a domino effect resulting in dramatic environmental change. Consider corals that shelter the young fish that many fish stocks depend upon.

Climate Change: This issue is well covered by the media, and no-one serving the public has any excuse not to be familiar with it and determined to reassess all other policy in relation to it. It brings into question the GDP growth basis of policy, and suggests that we need to re-focus on less environmentally destructive values. We also need government to put policy and funding on a ‘war footing’ to de-carbonise our economy. This means abandoning the misplaced and backward looking support for fracking.

Agricultural soils: Tilling the soil, leaving it bare, and extracting organic materials in ever larger amounts (‘higher efficiency’) has dramatically degraded many farm soils. Mineral content has dropped by as much as, eg: 50% (for iron) over 60 years, which is reflected in the food produced and the fact that these soils only have 60 years of cropping left in them.

In the UK, that means losing the ability to feed ourselves – a dire security risk, in a world where international supplies will likely become severely restricted over the coming decades.

Elsewhere, where wilderness still exists, it will likely be destroyed in desperation as farm soils fail, exacerbating the other issues mentioned. Solutions to this are harder with such a large and expanding world human population, but include switching to perennial crops, intercropping, no-till, the returning of nutrients to close the cycle ( and change sewage as a problem into a solution), and a determined research push.

I would like to hear what you intend to do to address these issues urgently, and can promise that many will be watching as these disasters unfold (if not addressed), reflecting back on who did and didn’t do what. If you’re on the side of a genuinely safe, healthy and equitable future where these matters have been addressed seriously with the full force of the British state, then I wish you good luck on June 8th.

Sincerely,

My response was as follows

Thank you for your email. UKIP is committed to direct democracy and bottom-up politics, and it’s good to get interaction even from petition sites and even if I have to give the answer “yes and no”.

Care for our environment is absolutely, literally, vital. And that’s been something dear to me from an early age, ever since I started fishing as a young lad and spent many days in the country by canal, river, and lake, and grew concerned about pollution (and not just water pollution). And, growing up in what was then Preston North constituency, just off Lightfoot Lane, in the time of the Central Lancashire New Town, I became aware of the damage that can be done by development projects. How can I forget the campaign “Cows not Concrete for Cottam”?

So let’s consider your points one by one.

It is important to maintain biodiversity. Although I believe very strongly that mankind is more important than other life on earth (is that selfishly anthropocentric?) that’s because of the great value of individual human lives, not because other species are unimportant. We’ll never stop extinctions completely, of course, and there must have been uncountably many extinctions before mankind ever began to have a significant effect on Earth’s ecology – and lost habitats galore, too. I don’t think it makes sense to impute rights, intrinsic or otherwise, to species, however.

I must also disagree that Climate Change is well covered in the media. Far from it! At least, it is very poorly covered in mainstream media. Did you know, for example, that climate models that are used to influence political decisions, such as the disastrous Climate Change Act 2008, have been shown not to replicate real trends in climate (see, for example, here, https://youtu.be/6GzNATrGH7I?t=1h39m45s for evidence presented to parliament on this issue). Nonetheless, even though our economic activity is having very little effect on global climate, I think you are right that an almost exclusive emphasis on GDP is not healthy; I think it is not sustainable.

I’m afraid that “decarbonising” our economy is a terrible idea. We rely utterly on energy, and hydrocarbon fuels are currently the only practical and environmentally friendly source of such energy. (I think that will be the case until we have successfully met the fusion challenge.) For example, the Climate Change Act 2008 is extremely damaging to the lives of poorer people, raising fuel bills significantly, to energy security, and to the environment. Did you know, for example, that Britain’s biggest power station, Drax, now generates power mostly from wood pellets, a form of biomass, a development which is considered “decarbonisation” because of the relatively quick regrowth of trees (at least, on the geological time scale). Drax, which is built on top of a coal field, ships these pellets in from across the Atlantic. As an environmentalist, that doesn’t seem sensible to me. But the people at Drax are forced to do this by misguided legislation.

Our hydrocarbon resources are very important. Shale gas is the obvious example, and very important in Lancashire. There are good reasons for being concerned about fracking, in my view, but these are to do with infrastructure development and with the perceived risk of pollution. If these concerns can be overcome, we must exploit shale gas, for energy security and to provide the low-cost energy needed by families and the economy. I think Lancashire County Council approached this issue very well in its recent consideration of the planning application from Cuadrilla, balancing the need for a prompt answer with the need properly to consider the evidence received. They said: “Wait. We’re not sure yet.” The shale gas isn’t going away, and we should have taken longer to consider the environmental evidence, not just for Lancashire but for the sake of the whole country. I think that for the County Council’s decision to be overruled by the government in London should not be acceptable. The government’s response was unnecessarily gung-ho. And to add insult to injury, we in Lancashire now have to police the protests at Weeton out of our limited police budget.

UKIP would do things differently, balancing energy security with environmental protection and listening to local voices.

And food security is as important as energy security. It is difficult for a country like Britain to feed itself; we have a large population density and the least populated areas are in many cases not very productive. So we must take care of our farmers and fisherman, of our farming land and our fishing waters. These are serous issues, although I am not aware of evidence of the reduction in mineral content that you state – perhaps only because it is not my specialist field. Nonetheless, I agree that caring for the soil is very important, and support organic farming and buy organic produce where possible for that reason, and I agree that agricultural land ought not to be built upon, at least not for the kind of large-scale developments we see around Preston. This is UKIP policy, too. And, of course, once we are free of the EU and free of the damaging Common Agricultural and Fishing Policies, we can set our own sensible, environmentally friendly policies.

I’m sorry to send such a long reply. As you can see, environmental policy is something about which I care a great deal, but don’t often get the chance to talk about. Thank you.

People are welcome to contact me in this way; I’ll do my best to respond, whether or not I agree with the petitioners, and post my responses here, for all to see.

My pledge on protecting animals

I’ve received the following standard petition, with the subject heading “Will you pledge to protect animals?”

Dear Candidate,

On June 8th, like many millions of other people, my vote will be influenced by a desire to see Parliament better protect animals. I am writing to ask whether, if elected as my MP, you would be a positive voice for animals, both locally and in Westminster.

Specifically, I would like to ask if you are willing to pledge the commitments set out by leading animal protection groups at www.animalprotection2017.org.uk:

1. Defend animal protection laws and regulations, and to strengthen them where appropriate, including the Animal Welfare Act, the Hunting Act, the Protection of Badgers Act, the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and the Welfare of Farmed Animals regulations; and

2. Send a strong signal about your commitment to protecting animals by supporting the introduction of an official national database of convicted animal abusers, and an increase in animal cruelty sentences to up to 5 years in jail.

A Party’s policies for animals can be a good reflection of how it views vulnerable members of our society. I hope that you will commit to speaking out for those without a voice.

Sincerely,

My response was as follows

I’ve been an animal lover since a very early age; I think probably starting with my first pet rabbit, but reinforced especially once I started fishing, as a young lad, a pastime which took me out into the country and gave me the great pleasure of quietly observing and interacting with farm animals and wildlife of many kinds – not just fish. As I have grown up, I have come to realise that all of creation is precious, and that mankind’s duty is to be good stewards. For example, my family always avoids eating food from intensively farmed livestock.

I am familiar with some of the legislation your campaign supports, I know of no objection to the Animal Welfare Act or the Welfare of Farmed Animals regulations and I think the Protection of Badgers Act is uncontroversial and widely supported. I strongly support the aims of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Perhaps you are aware that it is UKIP’s policy that all legislation deriving from EU directives will be retained in the first instance and only considered for repeal or revision subsequently. I don’t think it’s likely there will be any attempt in the foreseeable future to repeal or weaken animal protection legislation, and I can’t imagine my supporting any such attempt.

But the Hunting Act is different. I would certainly vote to repeal it. I think it is illiberal and counterproductive.

I suppose my reply will not please you. Thank you, nonetheless, for taking the trouble to contact me. One of my main concerns in this general election campaign is that politicians are failing to engage people, especially in Preston, and so I welcome interaction. I see that your email comes to me via a campaigning website, and I know that some MPs resent that (probably they get more email than me), but I’m very happy with it: perhaps you know that UKIP stands for more direct democracy.

I can assure you that my difference of opinion with your campaign is not because I don’t care. Animal welfare is very important to me.

People are welcome to contact me in this way; I’ll do my best to respond, whether or not I agree with the petitioners, and post my responses here, for all to see.

Responding to online petitions

UKIP is well known for championing the voice of ordinary people. We stand for direct democracy. And one social media phenomenon that parliamentary candidates will be familiar with is the growth of democracy sites (is that the right term?) making it easier for ordinary people to get in touch with MPs and with candidates, often hosting petitions on topic of interest.

I promise always to try to be responsive to interactions like that, even when I can’t give the petitioners the answers they really want to hear. I want to take my cue from people like Audrey Wise, with whom I rarely agreed but who in my recollection was always polite and forthcoming in correspondence, and John Redwood, who provides an excellent example of two-way communication with constituents and others.

It seems a good idea, especially when standard emails come in from several sources, to draft standard responses and post them here, in addition to replying to the petitioners directly. So that is what I will do, using a new post category “Response to petitions”.

Response to questions from the bishops of England and Wales.

Yesterday morning, at Mass, I spotted this leaflet from the bishops of England and Wales. It includes some questions that the bishops suggest voters might ask their candidates. Here are the questions, and my answers. I can answer most of the questions. My answers nearly always refer to UKIP policy; often they refer to my own opinions and ways in which I would finesse UKIP policy or take it further. I hope that fair-minded readers, including bishops, will agree with me that UKIP is the natural home for Catholic voters like me.

LEAVING THE EUROPEAN UNION

Q: Where do I stand on the future of EU citizens in the UK and reciprocal rights for UK citizens in the EU?

A: UKIP will allow law-abiding EU citizens living in the UK before Article 50 was triggered the right to stay here indefinitely. We expect the same concession to be granted to British citizens living overseas within the EU. EU nationals who entered the UK after 29th March 2017 will not have the automatic right to remain and when we leave the EU will lose access to all benefits, including non-urgent healthcare. No benefits will be paid for any dependants living overseas when we leave the EU.

That’s a direct quote from the UKIP manifesto; I am happy to give it my personal endorsement.

Q: What issues do I think should be the top priority when forming new international partnerships?

A: The context of this question is negotiations for trade deals on leaving the EU. Otherwise, I would answer that the top priority is peaceful relations among nations. But in the specific context of trade; I say that the top priority should be mutual respect and goodwill among friendly trading partners.

Those who have not already done so might like to watch Brexit: the Movie, to see how EU protectionism damages the prospects of poorer countries, fuelling the migration crisis we see unfolding especially in the Mediterranean. There seems to be an assumption among some people, perhaps even some bishops, that the EU is a force for good in the wider world. Almost nothing could be further from the truth.

ISSUES ON FAMILY AND LIFE

Q: Will I uphold parliament’s 2015 decision to protect society’s most vulnerable people, by preventing the legalisation of assisted dying? Will I support measures to promote the intrinsic value of life at every stage?

A: I believe that human life should be protected from conception until natural death. You can take it for granted that I will support measures to promote the intrinsic value of life at every stage.

Q: What policies do I propose for the flourishing of family life?

A: The family is the very basis of society. Government policies have undermined family life for at least a generation. What government must do most of all for families specifically is to enable parents to care for their children and children to care for their parents through easing the tax burden. When my wife and I were first married, 25 years ago, we had the benefit of a married couple’s tax allowance … for a few months. It was already on the way out, even under a so-called “conservative” government. That’s not good enough. It has been UKIP’s policy for many years to raise the tax-free allowance for income tax (currently, our policy is to raise it from £11,500 to £13,500); I would go further and argue for fully transferable tax allowances between spouses. We will remove both VAT on household fuels and also the carbon levy that artificially inflates fuel bills. These policies would save lower-income families significant amounts of money (well over £1000 a year for a typical two-earner family); my own proposal for a transferable tax allowance between spouses would save typical families much more and enable parents to stay at home to care for children, rather than forcing mothers into the workplace.

But families also need affordable places to live, and there is a housing crisis. UKIP’s outstanding housing policy is to create half a million factory-built modular homes, affordable (at under £100,000) on the average wage (c. £26,000), to provide secure homes especially for young families. That’s the only credible policy I have heard for solving the housing crisis, and I congratulate UKIP’s housing spokesman, Ray Finch, for his excellent work.

Many other UKIP policies, for example on education and social care, are particularly important for families.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Q: Do I support urgent prison reform and better resourcing?

A: I’m lucky not to have any experience of the prison system, either personally or in my family, but I know that prisons are overcrowded, dangerous places. UKIP’s policy to solve these problems is focussed on the provision of additional prison places and additional prison staff. We will continue with the current prison building programme, but would not close the existing prisons that the new ones are supposed to replace, thereby increasing capacity. We will restore the 7,000 prison officer places lost since 2010, to recover adequate staffing levels.

MIGRATION

Q: How will I ensure that we operate a fair migration system for people wanting to enter and work in the UK?

A: UKIP argues for a fair, balanced migration system. We support the Balanced Migration movement, and propose an Australian-style points-based system. Mass migration such as we have seen in Britain is recent years is hugely damaging both to countries of origin and to destination countries, and is not morally justified.

REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS

Q: Will I work to ensure that current UK commitments to resettle refugees is kept and options to expand the scheme are considered? Will I promote a welcoming society and stand against hate crime?

A: UKIP will comply fully with the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees and honour our commitment to genuine asylum seekers.

The bishops refer to the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme. Neither UKIP nor I support this programme. It is at least preferable that the British Government is taking refugees directly from Syria, not least because it reduces the risk from unsafe sea crossings. But we think this scheme is bad for the long-term interests of Syria; a counterproductive gesture. Resettlement of refugees should be a last resort. I prefer to support charitable activities aimed at maintaining and supporting communities without unnecessary and damaging migration, such as the work of Aid to the Church in Need.

I am sorry to see the bishops use the term “hate crime”, which I think has quickly become discredited, but I agree that all people living in Britain, whatever their origin, should abide by our laws and social conventions to respect others irrespective of the others’ backgrounds.

FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND BELIEF

Q: How do I intend to promote freedom of religion or belief for all, and what steps could be taken as a priority in UK foreign policy to protect religious minorities, including Christian minorities?

A: The dignity of the person demands that people should not coerced into religious belief, also that people must be free to live their lives according to their religion so long as that does not undermine society in a serious way. This is perennial Church teaching. It must be made true in Britain, too. So, for example the Sexual Orientation Regulations must go.

Christian people also suffer persecution overseas, especially in communist and Moslem countries. I support efforts, for example by Aid to the Church in Need, to support them. But I do not know what the government can do directly. A generation ago, the Labour Party came to power promising an “ethical foreign policy”, which has left the world, especially Christians in the middle east, in a far worse condition than before. So that’s a failed idea, and I do not have the expertise to know what we can do politically. I can only pray, and support charitable initiatives. (Did I say how much I admire Aid to the Church in Need?)

HELPING THE WORLD’S POOREST

Q: Will your candidates commit to protecting and enhancing the international development budget?

A: The bishops think that aid provided by the UK saves lives and helps people out of poverty. I think they are wrong. UKIP and I think that trade, rather than aid, is the long-term, sustainable way that rich countries like Britain can help poorer countries, and that our aid is counterproductive – worse than useless, keeping poor countries and poor people in a state of dependence. International aid is only justified as short-term activity in response to emergencies. UKIP and I think that the UK’s international aid budget is badly spent, that the Department for International Development should be abolished (its residual functions transferred to the Foreign Office) and that targets for foreign aid should be scrapped.

Recent figures (for 2015)  show an annual aid budget of £12 billion. Instead, UKIP will spend more each year (£12 billion by 2021-22) on fixing the crises in NHS and social care.

CARING FOR THE VULNERABLE

Q: Where do I stand on helping the poorest, in terms of health, social care and housing? How will I support people with mental health problems? How will I finance these services?

A: Human life is precious from its earliest stages, to be protected, cherished, nourished. When people fall ill, or are otherwise in need, they need additional support from family and society. People close to me have at times both been given such care and given it to others. I think that is a common experience. So think we nearly all have some knowledge of this subject.

UKIP’s top spending priority for the next five years is health and social care. We will establish a Department of Health and Care, to manage the two aspects jointly, especially to ease the transfer from hospital to social care. We will fill the gap in doctors’ and nurses’ positions, both in hospitals and GP clinics, though an expanded training programme aimed at excluding no suitable candidates who wish to work in medicine, surgery, or nursing of all kinds. We recognise the significance of mental health problems, and propose special care for children,young mothers, and ex-servicemen. We will reverse recent cuts in care budgets, supporting residential and non-residential care for the elderly and infirm.

Our annual budget for this will rise to approximately £12 billion by 2021-22; our cost-neutral programme covers this and other spending items from a range of sources totalling nearly £40 billion by the same financial year and including a Brexit bonus of nearly £10 billion, savings on damaging foreign aid of £12 billion, and savings of over £5 billion made through cancelling the HS2 rail link.

EDUCATION

Q: Will I support parental choice for the education of children? Will I support Catholic schools as part of this choice for faith-based education?

A: Parents are the primary educators of their children, as the Church teaches us. UKIP is committed to true diversity of provision at secondary level, providing the widest possible choice. I hope that the bishops will respond to this policy by restoring high-quality academic education in our voluntary-aided schools and by supporting our efforts to enhance on-the-job education through a scheme similar to Germany’s successful Dual Vocational Training system.

There ought, of course, to be a voucher system. That would really put parents in control of their children’s education. Unfortunately, that’s not UKIP policy. Yet.

We will end sex education in primary schools.

I fully support Catholic schools’ position in the current state education system. (Of course, a voucher system would give Church Schools more freedom and be much batter in other ways. too.) Proposals from some quarters to abolish Church schools on grounds of irreligion are intolerant and unacceptable. I trust, though, that the bishops will do their bit and re-establish the integrity of Catholic education in Catholic schools.

MODERN SLAVERY

Q: How will I give political support to the fight against modern slavery and better assistance for its victims?

A: I understand that by “modern slavery” is meant the phenomenon by which people, often brought into Britain from overseas and sometimes on false pretences, are trapped into menial work, prostitution, or crime. I don’t know what to do about this scourge specifically, in isolation from policy on immigration, integration, and crime and punishment. UKIP doesn’t have explicit policy on modern slavery.