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Britain in the World

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:07 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 6:07 pm, 13th January 2020

You are very welcome. The war of the roses started on the doorstep of The Boot, and Oliver Cromwell stayed the night at the inn now known as Ye Olde Fighting Cocks. These two pubs and many more in St Albans and around the country are under threat like never before. They have suffered a crippling rise in business rates, and the measures announced in this Queen’s Speech to help small retail businesses will not benefit those pubs whose business rates are calculated differently and which have a higher rateable value. In St Albans and around the UK, there are pockets of pubs that have had rate increases of between 100% and 2,000%. They need urgent help if they are to survive the next few months, let alone the centuries to come. It would be a cruel end indeed if these pubs, which have withstood the English civil wars, were finished off by a broken, outdated and unfair system of tax.

To keep our pubs going, the Save St Albans Pubs campaign has mapped out many pub crawls. These crawls will take you through the 100-acre Verulamium park, with its Roman walls and ruins, and to the abbey, home to medieval art hidden for 500 years, until now. Visitors and locals alike can walk through the Sopwell ruins. More alarmingly these days, we can also walk along the often dried-up riverbed of the River Ver, one of the most precious chalk streams in the world. Indeed, my predecessor, Anne Main, warned in her maiden speech in 2005 that the River Ver was in danger of drying up, and yet here we are. I would like to say, despite our many political differences, that Anne contributed 14 years of public service to St Albans and to Parliament. I would like to pay a sincere tribute to her for that.

St Albans is not just a place of history; it is a place of international innovation. St Albans is in Hertfordshire, the county of opportunity. Around the city, we have a number of beautiful villages. Bricket Wood is home to the world’s leading building-science centre, the British Research Establishment, and dotted in and around are many other villages that are home to tech and research businesses. These cutting-edge British-based businesses are harnessing technology and knowledge to produce new products, new jobs and new solutions. Technology offers great potential to tackle many of our modern global challenges, and modern technology, science and research are international. British business requires the easy movement of people and skills across borders. This country has benefited from its EU membership, and our research and development sector is just one example of that. My fellow residents in St Albans do not wish to lose the benefits of such close collaboration and alliances.

Close international collaboration and alliance between Britain and our international cousins is essential if we are to tackle the biggest threat of all: the climate crisis. My fellow constituents in St Albans want tough action to avert climate disaster, including a complete moratorium on airport expansion, including at nearby Luton airport. We want to protect our local natural environment. In St Albans, a significant chunk of our green belt is at risk from the monstrosity of a rail and lorry freight terminal. Our chalk streams, including the River Ver in St Albans, are now in crisis, from both over-extraction and the changing climate. Some 85% of the world’s chalk streams are located in England, and most of those are in Hertfordshire. They are known as England’s Amazon for a reason. These precious ecosystems are a unique global asset. Even without further harm, it will take decades for them to recover.

As hon. Members can see, St Albans is blessed with a rich cultural history, cutting-edge businesses, wonderful pubs—did I mention the pubs?—and beautiful green belt. You can see why St Albans is often described as a wealthy, leafy, commuter town 20 miles north of London, but, like many places across the UK, we only have to scratch the surface to see that some people in St Albans are really, really struggling. There is a rising use of food banks and a growing presence of homelessness. There is palpable frustration at how public services, including the NHS and schools, are chronically underfunded and alarm at the rapid increase in crime from county lines. The St Albans-to-London commute should be easy but is often an unreliable, uncomfortable and increasingly unaffordable ride.

To conclude, St Albans has a lot of history to draw upon, but our outlook is to the future. Over the centuries, our magnificent history has continued to inspire. From martyrdom to Magna Carta and the uprising of Iceni’s Boudicca, St Albans has a timeless tradition of being at the heart of our country’s fights for greater democracy, liberties and freedoms. We believe in St Albans that Britain should be open and internationalist. We believe we should work with our closest international neighbours to tackle the global climate crisis. We believe in our responsibility to take in those fleeing persecution and war, as Alban himself did and as St Albans has continued to do, taking in children and families from 1940s London to 21st-century Syria. I am honoured to represent my fellow residents of St Albans here in Parliament and fully intend to honour our traditions and values during the months and years ahead.