Water quality, taxes on private schools and more issues were debated at an election hustings for MP candidates for the new constituency in West Reading and the surrounding villages.

The hustings was held at Pangbourne College, with six candidates for the Reading West and Mid Berkshire constituency duking out over questions from participants.

It was the hustings debut for Kate Bosley, the Reform UK candidate, who said: “I’m new to politics, but I’m not new to life. The other parties are very similar.

“I’ve lived all my life in the constituency, with 10 years in Pangbourne. I just think that every deserves better, the country feels broken and disjointed.

“I want for our area and our country to do better.”

The first question was by Eve, a member of a rowing club, who recently got ill from being in a local river.

She asked what each candidate would do to improve water quality.

“It sounds like you are a great rower. The state of the water is shocking.

“We need more infrastructure on pipes to stop leaks”

Kate said: “There needs to be an enormous change, the water companies and government need to work together.”

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats will block bonuses for bosses at water companies that pollute rivers.

However, cllr Adrian Abbs (Independent, Newbury Wash Common argued penalties would not help, and improvements need to be solutions based.

Meanwhile Councillor Ross Mackinnon (Conservatives, Bradfield) said that if water companies did not discharge sewage into rivers, the sewage would go back up through toilets and sinks.

He argued that major investment would be needed, and pointed out sewage monitoring was introduced by the Conservative government.

A proposal to put a VAT tax on private school tuition fees received a frosty reception from the crowd at the college, a private day and boarding school.

An audience member Rachel asked: “You are in a private school, if there is a tax increase in fees, families won’t be able to afford them, where will they go?”

Mrs Bailey and cllr Carolyne Culver (Green, Ridgeway) both support VAT on private school tuition fees.

Mrs Bailey said: “I understand why families save to send their private schools. The reality is there are crumbling facilities in our state schools.”

She added that she would make ‘no apologies’ for the policy.

Cllr Cluver said: “We believe VAT should be charged on fees. We’re never going to agree on everything. I think it’s beneficial for people to be educated together. We would expand the state sector. I think a great deal of pupils will still go to private schools.”

But all the other candidates opposed the tax.

Cllr Ross Mackinnon said: “Something that has never been taxed is not a tax break. It’s an attack on parents who send their children who have to pay. It’s the worst kind of class warfare, it’s like Jeremy Corbyn never went away.”

In a retort, Mrs Bailey said: “This is essentially a tax break, Ross.”

Mrs Belcher said:  “There are two destinations – the state sector, which is already struggling, and home education.

“We don’t support VAT on private schools. Education is a public benefit.”

The candidates also debated proportional representation, with the single transferable vote being the preferred method of Cllr Abbs and Mrs Belcher.

However, both Cllr Mackinnon and Mrs Bailey supported the current First Past the Post system as it gives a ‘geographical link’ between representatives and voters.

The final question from audience member Dominic asked: “What’s your least favourite of your party’s policies?”

It was a question that many ducked.

Mrs Belcher admitted she would support a second Independence Referendum for Scotland, which the Lib Dems officially oppose.

Cllr Mackinnon wished the Conservatives would be ‘more judicious’ on tax breaks, and cllr Culver joked that should wouldn’t be able to benefit from the Green policy of decriminalising cannabis as she’s “never even smoked a joint.”

Mrs Belcher won the debate in a straw poll taken immediately after the hustings, with Cllr Abbs coming in second.

The results were:

Mrs Belcher (Lib Dem) – 65

Cllr Abbs (Ind) – 51

Cllr Mackinnon (Con) – 40

Mrs Bailey (Labour) – 20

Cllr Culver (Green) – 9

Kate Bosley (Reform) – 4

The result of the poll was unscientific as people from outside the constituency were able to vote.

The hustings was moderated by BBC Radio host Andrew Peach.

Adie Peppiatt, an Independent candidate who declared on Friday, June 7 did not attend.

Pangbourne College attempted to reach out to him but there are no public contact details for him.