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Chris Bowers addresses Wealden new members meeting in Uckfield, Nov 2019Your FAQs answered - by Wealden Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate Chris Bowers

Ahead of the General Election on December 12th, constituents and campaign groups have been contacting parliamentary candidates to get their views on specific topics.*

In order to respond as fully and clearly as possible to all those who've been sending him questions, Wealden's Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate Chris Bowers is preparing written answers on the topics that multiple people have already asked him about.

*Please note: As of November 11th 2019, the Liberal Democrats' general election manifesto has not yet been released. Once that has happened, we will update this page to include pertinent links.

QUESTION: What are you personally pledging to do to help protect the environment?

Chris Bowers has authored a chapter of this new bookA number of people have written to Chris asking him to use his voice to protect the environment. This was an initiative started by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds called Let Nature Sing in the General Election, but covers a number of environmental topics and asks candidates to answer three questions amounting to a pledge.

CHRIS BOWERS ANSWERS: Not only are the Liberal Democrats dedicated to tackling environmental crises with the appropriate urgency, but our explicit aim of stopping Brexit is vital to protecting nature. This is because so many environmental protections come from the EU yet Boris Johnson's Brexit deal actually waters down the clause from Theresa May's Brexit deal that had committed the UK to keeping all EU environmental standards.

We are the only party with a radical, credible and detailed plan to tackle the climate emergency without delay. Instead of getting distracted by a fake auction of when we can achieve zero net carbon emissions, we need to stave off the tipping point by taking urgent action to reduce greenhouse gases now. Our new and updated climate change strategy, on which I worked, does just this. LibDem Climate Change policy Sept 2019

In addition, our platform includes commitments to transform our government to place the environment at its heart, and to reverse the damage we've done regarding climate change, air, sea and land pollution, depletion of resources, and other environmental topics. For example, we will set targets for the recovery of our natural environment - tackling the climate emergency goes hand in hand with nature recovery. The Liberal Democrats would make Britain the world leader it should and deserves to be.

The Conservatives have shown an alarming lack or urgency on the climate emergency, and seem not to value the loss of biodiversity that's happening around us. They are not on track to meet the UK's climate targets and their 25 Year Environment Plan is just warm words that have not been delivered. At a political debate at Uckfield College earlier this year, the veteran Wealden Conservative councillor and former MP Roy Galley showed appalling complacency about global warming when he said we should wait for technology to deliver a solution. The Conservatives are simply unfit to be entrusted with the fight against climate breakdown.

Now to answer the three specific questions posed by the RSPB letter...

Q1: Will Liberal Democrats build on existing nature protection laws, ensuring they remain at least as strong as they are now?

A: Yes. Liberal Democrats will always advocate for strong nature protection laws. Backtracking on existing legislation would be unwise and harmful. By stopping Brexit, we will ensure our existing nature protection laws remain at least as strong as they are now, and a Liberal Democrat government will strengthen them.

Q2: Will Liberal Democrats set binding new targets for nature's recovery?

A: Yes. A Liberal Democrat government will pass a new Nature Act modelled on the Climate Change Act to see binding targets and interim targets for nature's recovery. Nature recovery and tackling climate change go hand in hand so, as well as implementing measures for immediate substantial cuts in warming emissions, we will also set a new legally binding target to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2045 at the latest, and implement a comprehensive climate action plan, cutting emissions across all sectors.

Q3: Will Liberal Democrats establish a world-leading environmental watchdog to ensure nature is truly protected?

A: Yes. Liberal Democrats have long been committed to the establishment of an Office of Environmental Protection that is fully independent of government to ensure the UK is truly taking steps to protect nature. This body will be able to hold the government to account on its targets for both nature recovery and climate change.

All Liberal Democrats are committed to building a brighter future for this world and future generations - and indeed, have an active environmental subgroup within the party, the Green LibDems. I passionately believe that we must all take the recovery of nature and the climate emergency seriously and act now. Green LibDems

QUESTION: Where do you stand on the contentious issue of the "Loan Charge"?

Many people have already contacted Chris about the issue of "Loan Charges". In summation, this is an attempt by the government to clamp down on tax avoidance that can result from payment arrangements for self-employed people who have been paid through a loan that was never paid back, rather than a salary, and have therefore avoided paying tax. Sounds fair enough, except the Tory government has authorised HMRC to request individuals affected must now pay "retroactive tax" going back as much as two decades - crippling amounts that they are also saying are due by the end of this tax year. Tens of thousands of people are affected by this and Liberal Democrat MPs have been leading the fight to oppose and overturn the government's unfair and draconian demands. More information on the Loan Charge issues can be found on the All-Party Parliamentary Loan Charge Group (APPG) website and on the Freelancers' Action Group website Sir Vince Cable is one of the LibDem MPs who's been campaigning to change the Tory's Loan Charge

ANSWER FROM CHRIS BOWERS: This is a situation where the intent behind what the government has done seems reasonable, but the way they have gone about it - together with the heavy-handed approach of our national tax authority HMRC - has created misery for thousands of people and even, tragically, led to several suicides. The Liberal Democrats in Parliament - notably Ed Davey and Stephen Lloyd - have been fighting hard against the Tories' attempt to introduce retrospective taxation that is both unfair and draconian.

When the government announced the Loan Charge scheme in late 2018, it effectively reclassified a large number of contractors as 'disguised employees'. Many of the affected people - some of them facing twenty years' worth of 'unpaid' tax which HMRC told them had to be paid in full by the end of the 2019-20 tax year - lobbied their MPs. One of those MPs, Liberal Democarat Deputy Leader Sir Ed Davey, was so shocked by what was happening that he set up an all-party parliamentary loan charge group (APPG) to investigate the Loan Charge.

The APPG group found that, by October 2019, a third of those affected still hadn't been notified by HMRC, and of those notified, one in six had still not received any settlement figures, and nine out of ten felt the settlement HMRC had proposed was unfair. The effects of this have been horrendous, with 90% of those affected saying they are now living with acute anxiety, a constant state of stress with panic, and 40% having considered suicide. Many of those affected - both directly and family members - are now on medication for the stress.

In October, Lib Dem MP for Eastbourne Stephen Lloyd started an Early Day Motion (EDM) which garnered support from 152 MPs across various parties. It called on the government to pause all payments, and then to amend the Loan Charge rules so that they only apply from after the Finance Act was passed (in 2016) and not retrospectively.

Despite this, the government seemed scandalously ignorant of the fact that calling another snap general election would result in the review of the Loan Charge legislation having to start from scratch in the New Year (January 2020). Yet Johnson's government has still not paused the requirement for any retrospective tax to be paid by next April. This is adding to the stress and hardship of those affected, and threatening many hard-working families with bankruptcy.

To be clear, I do fully support the wish to stamp out 'disguised remuneration' as part of efforts to stop tax evasion - of course we all have to pay our fair share of tax, and it's wrong that people could misuse a loophole to get round it. But at the same time I do not believe that a government should be able change the law and then go after people retroactively for all the years they were acting in accordance with the law before they changed it! And not for the first time, HMRC is hounding people at the lower end of the income scale without bothering to check on their circumstances. This situation is wrong, and I'm pleased and proud that two Lib Dem MPs have been leading the fight against the Conservative government's wrong-headed and unfair retrospective approach.

On a more personal note, as a self-employed person myself I truly empathise with those affected, and can assure all Wealden constituents that I am committed to fighting against any unfair retrospective taxation, and ensuring that any future payment regime imposed for any tax that is deemed legitimate is both fair and manageable for each individual tax payer.

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QUESTION: What is your view on the 'Value of Shooting' - i.e. the role shooting sports should play both in terms of the economy and as part of countryside management?

ANSWER FROM CHRIS BOWERS: I support measures that help our rural economy, improve the environment, and enhance the quality of life for people living in the countryside, including shooting where it is used for humane pest control and the protection of farm animals and crops. I also welcome the sizeable economic benefits brought about and the contribution that shoot providers make towards conservation, the protection of natural habitats and biodiversity.

It is of course vital that we differentiate between firearms used for sport and recreational purposes, and firearms used for crime. I know that the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) continues to play an incredibly useful role in helping to educate people on these matters.

Please check this page regularly for updates. If you'd like to ask Chris a question, you can email him at: chrisbowers@wealdenlibdems.org.uk or find him on Twitter and Facebook

Wealden LibDem PPC Chris Bowers with his dog Pedra on the South Downs