Martin was first elected to represent Cheltenham in the UK Parliament on 5 May 2005 and served until the general election of 2015. As MP, Martin stood up for Cheltenham on issues that affected local people, asked parliamentary questions of government and lobbied a wide range of organisations on behalf of Cheltenham, from the local NHS to Network Rail to the Environment Agency. He also took up thousands of individual cases for constituents living in Cheltenham on everything from NHS treatment to energy bills to tax and benefits.
Soon after being elected in 20095 he was made Lib Dem spokesperson on the Charities Bill (because of his experience working for Oxfam and the Alzheimer’s Society). Martin also worked on the Criminal Justice Act 2006, calling for clearer and more consistent sentencing.
Martin was a member of the Communities and Local Government committee, a ‘select committee’ that scrutinised the then Labour government’s top-down housing and planning policy. He argued forcefully for specific protection for green spaces close to urban populations, a policy that he initiated as a Lib Dem opposition MP and which eventually became government policy during the coalition as the new Local Green Space designation now being used in Leckhampton and all over the country.
In 2007, he switched to the Environmental Audit Committee, an influential select committee that investigates the environmental impact of any aspect of government policy.
In 2006, he was appointed as a LibDem shadow environment minister, switched to the Environmental Audit Committee in 2007 and championed changes to the Energy Act 2008 to promote renewable energy. Martin jointly tabled the key amendment to the Climate Change Act 2008 that strengthened the target for UK greenhouse gas emission reductions to 80% by 2050 (while even then pushing for the UK to go futther and achieve a 100% reduction – net zero).
He also used the position to successfully champion animal welfare including the reduction of animal research, the banning of wild animals in circuses and the microchipping of pet dogs. His contribution was recognised when he was voted Animal Welfare champion 2009 by his parliamentary colleagues of all parties.
After he was re-elected in May 2010, Martin was appointed chair of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary committee on transport. He strongly supported the coalition’s continued investment in public transport – and was particularly pleased when the 2011 Budget included funding for the now completed redoubling of the Swindon/Kemble line improving services from Cheltenham to Swindon, Reading and London.
In March 2011, Martin become chair of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary committee on international affairs, this time linking to coalition ministers in the Foreign Office, Department for International Development and Ministry of Defence. He strongly supported the government’s historic achievement of the 40-year old target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on development assistance. In foreign policy, he called for more action to curb British and international arms sales to countries with no track record of respecting human rights or democracy and strongly backed the International Arms Trade Treaty in 2013. He cautiously supported UK military involvement overseas when there was a strong legal and humanitarian case, clear regional support, a long-term plan and explicit approval from Parliament. Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 failed alnost all these tests.
His brief also included European affairs which meant defending our future in Europe and taking the fight to the Eurosceptics of left and right, often for hour after hour of debate on the proposed Brexit referendum. He also led the team that drafted his party’s 2014 European manifesto which set out a visionary, reforming agenda – from crime and justice to consumer rights, from the environment to the financial system, from agriculture to Europe’s place in the world.
In the 2010-15 parliament, Martin promoted two private member’s bills of his own. In 2011, he called for a statutory code of practice for local pubs to level the playing field between landlord and the big pub-owning companies. Although the bill was lost, Lib Dem ministers Jenny Willott and Jo Swinson backed the idea and it is now law. The second bill called for more action to prevent irresponsible and dangerous pavement parking and was backed by many organisations including RNIB and Guide Dogs.
Martin was involved in a number of all-party parliamentary groups in Parliament including groups working on the environment and development, responsible investment and employee ownership. He chaired the all-party parliamentary group for tribal peoples, which worked with the charity Survival International to support the rights of threatened tribal peoples around the world. He was also a trustee of the History of Parliament Trust, a member of the cross-sector environmentalist group the Aldersgate Group and on the advisory group of the Environment and Climate Intelligence Unit.
Back in Cheltenham, Martin was President of Cheltenham’s RSPCA branch and a trustee of several other local charities including the Cheltenham Housing Aid Centre, Insight Gloucestershire and the Cheltenham Trust which runs the Pittville Pump Room, Wilson art gallery & museum, Leisure@, Town Hall and the Prince of Wales Stadium. He was and is a member or supporter of many other local organisations including the Cheltenham Local History Society (for whom he has researched and written articles on Cheltenham’s past MPs) and the Leckhampton Green Land Action Group (which his father co-founded).