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Dragon Interview: Sir Paul Beresford – Mole Valley’s MP

Guildford Borough overlaps four different parliamentary constituencies, all with Conservative MPs. As well as Anne Milton’s constituency of Guildford, there are parts of the borough in the constituencies of Surrey Heath represented by Michael Gove, Woking, represented by Jonathan Lord, and in the east of the borough, Mole Valley, represented by Sir Paul Beresford, who, as well as being a politician, is a practising dentist.

Dragon reporter Chris Dick who lives in Effingham, part of Sir Paul’s constituency, managed to steer clear of the dentists’ chair long enough to ask him some questions…

Sir Paul Beresford

You are a New Zealander. How did you come to be an MP in the UK and why this area?

I left New Zealand in the very early 70s and worked in East London as an NHS dentist. London was an exciting place to live. Cosmopolitan, loads to do and a fantastic social life plus professional education. In those days not all areas were seen as safe but if you are a larger Antipodean and unaware, no place was really risky and everywhere was open

What motivated you to join the Conservative party and get involved in politics?

In the mid/late 70’s I moved to a mixed NHS/private dental practice doing a lot of cosmetic restorative dentistry and living in Putney. In East London, I had found the area terrible with very poor social housing, bad NHS services, high crime, appalling transport and big local taxes.

When I moved to Putney all of these were worse so, together with a young go-getter neighbour barrister, I decided to do something about it. She and I teamed up and realised the only way to be effective was to join local politics.

Putney was in Labour-controlled Wandsworth. Huge and rising taxes – appalling services. The “Direct Wandsworth Labour Force” was Wandsworth Council’s workforce, supported by local taxation, but in those days it competed in the open market so local firms moved out and losses were carried by the local taxpayers.

Very many children were stuck in the many council children’s homes with no prospect of adoption or fostering. It was very Dickensian. Social housing was a disgrace, rubbish collection and street cleaning were haphazard and any effort to improve meant the unions called a strike.

The local council had no Liberals, 50 or so Labour and 10 or so Tories. We looked at the Liberals who were lost souls. The local Tories were mainly elderly in their thinking if not in age. The two of us started campaigning and recruiting. We wanted young forward thinkers some, like us, were in their late 20s – others were in their 60s or 70s but with bright ideas and ready for change.

We took over the local Tories and won the next election – just. From then on Wandsworth has been Conservative with the best services and lowest local tax. I was then nominated and won the, then, Croydon Central parliamentary seat, moving to Mole Valley when the Boundary Commission split up Croydon Central.

In addition to representing Mole Valley, what other roles do you have in Parliament?

I was a government minister for four years and then on the 1922 Committee Executive and latterly chairman of the House of Commons Administration Committee which has the huge task of running the House of Commons. This includes catering, banqueting, the chamber and committee rooms, aspects of security and so on.

I also used the backbench to bring in about 15-18 changes in the law, particularly on protecting children. (See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19565388 and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19994660)

What are your political ambitions now?

I hope to continue my various campaigns, pushing for benefits for Mole Valley and get back to improving the House of Commons machinery as chairman of the Administration Committee. I have cut the subsidy to MPs by two-thirds – it would be good to turn it right around.

You were a Remainer during the referendum campaign. What are your views now about Britain’s exit from the EU and the Brexit negotiations?

It was a shock result but, in a democracy, one takes a deep breath and deals with the situation. The Brexit negotiations were expected to be hard and are proving to be, but they need us as trading partners just as we need them. However, the UK has great standing in the rest of the world and we will be better off out if we work at it.

Can a parliament made up predominantly of Remainers successfully deliver Brexit or will they find ways to reverse the referendum decision?

MPs should be democrats. The UK voted out, the Section 50 letter has been delivered and negotiations are underway. There is no way the referendum decision can or should be reversed.

Isn’t the Conservative Guildford Borough Council’s intention to plan for several large “strategic” housing developments, such as Wisley Airfield on Guildford’s green belt and the “insetting” of some villages, the inevitable consequence of national planning policy, created and pursued by a Conservative government?

I am very protective of the green belt and find the “draft” and “draft, draft” Local Plan of GBC an appalling attack on the green belt.

Where do you stand on the question of building 295 new homes in Effingham to fund a new 2,000 place school?

I felt that the number of homes in the plan was too high. I and many people from Effingham and the surrounding communities, especially parents, want the new Howard School built.

What are the main constituency issues in your in-tray?

Planning, green belt, tax and many small but complex individual issues.

What should be done about illegal Gypsy and Traveller encampments? Shouldn’t more official sites be provided?

There should be more sites and both GBC and Mole Valley are looking for sites for their Local Plan. However illegal encampments should be subject to the criminal law as in Ireland and the planning legislation tightened where there is traveller abuse of planning laws.

How do you monitor public opinion in your constituency? Do you feel it is your job to represent the majority view or to rely on your own judgement on issues?

Monitoring public opinion comes from the public in letters, emails, phone calls, meeting on the streets. I run an on-street surgery virtually every Saturday in the constituency. Even so, an MP represents his constituents but is not delegated by them.

Are you a supporter of Theresa May? Do you think she will survive as Conservative leader until the next general election?

I supported Theresa for PM and still think she must – at least for now remain. Until the next election – whenever that will be.

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