Thursday, 13 December 2018

Keeping people and their pets together

Animal rescue centres report that they are inundated with pets that have had to be offered up by their owners because landlords are to ready to put in place conditions in tenancy agreements that forbid pets. 
Last week in Parliament, Cats Protection held a reception to raise awareness of the problem and to launch their campaign to change attitudes. I think it is an important issue. My own pet cat, Gus, was adopted from a Cats Protection rehoming centre and he had to be given up by his previous owner because she was moving home, and the new landlord would not accept pets. 
We are a nation of animal lovers and, for many, their pet dog or cat provides vital companionship. Locally in Cornwall we have some exceptional charities who help keep elderly or vulnerable people united with their pets. The Cinnamon Trust in Hayle runs a nationwide network of volunteers who visit elderly people and take their dogs out for a walk. As well as providing their pets with exercise the volunteers also provide much needed social contact for people ask risk of loneliness and, should the pet’s owner sadly pass away before their pet, the dog has a social bond with their walker and this can help resettle them. 
Many elderly or isolated people gain so much from having the companionship of a pet. It can help combat loneliness which is a growing problem in our society. It is a tragedy when they are separated from them as a result of attitudes that come from some landlords or, more usually, the attitudes of estate agents that are managing properties for landlords and can’t be bothered to accommodate the needs of their tenants. To make matters worse, it is then the animal rescue centres that have to pick up the pieces and there can be emotional stress of the pet. 
In the summer my office was contacted by a constituent whose dog had sadly passed away. It was a relatively young dog, and she was clearly heartbroken by the loss of her companion. Unfortunately, she had been told by her housing association that she would not be able to get another dog. Whilst they had allowed the dog when she moved in, as she already had him, they couldn’t give permission for a new pet. I thought this made no sense at all and asked that they look at the case again. The Housing Association concerned has since reviewed their policy on these matters to do more to keep residents and their pets united. 
There are challenges and problem enough in life without making things difficult when they need not be. Often all that is required in areas such as this is an attitude change so that it becomes the default position to allow pets in rented accommodation rather than the lazy default position not to allow pets. Estate agents who draft standard template tenancies have an important role to play to ensure that they do not cause completely avoidable stress and a burden on animal welfare charities.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Brexit

The next week will be an incredibly difficult but important time for Parliament. We have a huge decision to take about what we do next as a country. There are great divisions over how or, for some people, whether we should carry out the democratic decision to leave the EU. 
Although we are in the eye of the storm right now and it seems impossible to see a way through, it is just possible that there could soon be an outbreak of consensus. I have always said that we needed to read the referendum result as we designed our future partnership. It was a clear vote to leave but 48% voted to remain. The country voted for a cautious and slightly apprehensive Brexit. 
The Prime Minister has had a difficult task trying to reconcile a divided parliament. There are elements of the withdrawal agreement that reflect what people voted for. In the so called "backstop" arrangement we would have tariff free access to the EU, would have ended free movement and we would not have to pay any contributions. However, there are undoubtedly elements that are uncomfortable too. For many, the absence of a unilateral exit clause means that there are risks we get stuck in a rut and many issues in the negotiations have been postponed to a future date. 
There are multiple amendments that have been tabled to the motion and things could happen quite quickly. There is a group of people who think we should ignore the last referendum result and hold another referendum until people learn to do as they are told. Then, they intend to go back on their hands and knees and beg the European Commission to let them back in. I think that is a ridiculous idea. 
A separate group think that we should face down the EU, hit the accelerator and head for the exit without any agreement in place. I have some sympathy for that but there would be turbulence at borders which is difficult to predict. More importantly, governments can only really do what they can muster consent for in parliament and many MPs who agree we should respect the decision to leave, would balk at the idea of coming out with no agreement at all. 
In recent weeks, there has been growing momentum behind a possible alternative. If the Prime Minister's deal fails to command a majority, we could opt for a model similar to Norway and Iceland. Under this option we would leave the EU but remain a signatory to the EEA or re-join the looser EFTA group. We would have full control of our farming and our fisheries, free trade with Europe, and our own trade policy with the rest of the world. We would have to align some of our laws with the EU, but we would be an independent country again. 
It was actually Britain that created EFTA in the late 1950's as a rival idea to the EU. Initially we had an alliance of seven countries, including Sweden, Norway, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. The EU only had six members. We made a terrible mistake in 1972 by abandoning what we had created and surrendering our independence to the EU. It was a foreign policy blunder caused by the collapse of national confidence in the aftermath of the empire. Maybe, in the end, we will put right that historic error and pick up where we left off. 

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Cornwall College

It was recently announced that Raoul Humphreys, CEO and Principal of Cornwall College would be stepping down from his role. I have always had great respect for Raoul. He has been with the college for many years and always had a forward-thinking outlook. 
The college had a set back and some financial difficulties a couple of years ago after expansion and competition from Truro College. However, Raoul stepped in to take over the top job to shore things up. He had to take some difficult decisions, shedding a lot of staff and dropping courses. What is striking is that despite these tough decisions, he was highly regarded among staff. The way events unfolded, and the intervention of Whitehall officials has been unfair, but the important thing now is to help support the college getting back on its feet and facing the future. 
Cornwall College has a deep-rooted history in our area and has been at the heart of all further and higher education in Cornwall for the last 80 years or so. I was a student at Cornwall College where I learnt how to weld and went on to study for a BTEC in Business and then farm management. It was great to return there again two weeks ago on a Saturday to attend one of their careers sessions. 
The College is a vital local asset delivering work-based learning in our area. There are around 800 apprentices currently training in areas such as plumbing, carpentry and engineering. 
Proposals for a new fibre park in Pool to bring together software companies and training from Cornwall College to create opportunities for local school leavers could take things to the next level. We have the chance to really put Cornwall on the map in this sector. There is a very successful cluster of software companies employing around 500 people in the Pool area. Some are based at the Pool Innovation Centre and some at Barncoose Gateway. Headforwards Software have recently taken some space at Cornwall College which is potentially the first step along the road to developing the fibre park idea. 
The concept behind the fibre park idea is a simple but really effective one. Up and coming enterprises who have outgrown the innovation centre can move to larger premises and they can also establish an academy in computer software co-located on the same site so that you can have a partnership between, say, Cornwall College and local businesses. Young people taking computer courses at Cornwall College will be able to develop their talents within real working environments rather than in a classroom detached from front line innovation. It will take a lot of work to move the idea from being an interesting concept to a real venture, but I think we should give it a shot. 
Despite the recent difficulties and sadness over the departure of Raoul, the staff from Cornwall College who I met two weeks ago remained totally passionate and committed to the work they do to prepare the next generation for the world of work.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Parliament Week

This week marks the beginning of UK Parliament Week, an annual festival that seeks to engage people, from different backgrounds and communities, with the UK Parliament and encourage them to get involved in politics. 
The festival was first started in 2011 with a week-long programme of events and activities organised by the House of Commons and House of Lords in collaboration with organisations including charities, schools, museums and community groups. It was such a success that the organisers decided to continue the festival encouraging more people to become involved in our democracy and politics. 
In 2017, UK Parliament Week reached more than 360,000 people, with over 4,500 events. This year’s UK Parliament Week festival is set to be the largest ever and will see more than 7,000 registered events with over 500,000 people taking part. Participating organisations include Scouts, Girlguiding, and the British Youth Council. There are a number of events taking part across the country with 1056 events planned for the South West of England. 
For this year’s festival, there is also a particular focus on the centenary of the 1918 Representation of The People Act which gave woman the right to vote. Events have taken place in Parliament across the year to commemorate this important act where some women and all men were given the right to vote and which began a greater process of giving more people the right to vote. This is part of the Vote 100 campaign which has done some fantastic work over the year to really celebrate this historic milestone in our country’s history. 
UK Parliament Week is an also a great way of engaging with younger people who often feel that they have little say in the events that transpire around them. Last week the UK Youth Parliament came to Parliament and debated a variety of issues from mental health, to knife crime. It was impressive to see so many young people passionately debate issues that really matter to them. On a personal level, these events bring back memories of the first time I spoke in public. I had just turned 16 and had been bounced into representing Praze Young Farmers in a speaking competition at Lostwithiel. I can remember wondering what I had let myself in for, but I had some excellent coaching from Beatrice Dyer of Camborne School and never looked back. Recently I took the opportunity to answer questions from students covering a number of topics such as school funding. They were challenging questions, but it was great to see young people engaging with these important issues and engaging with democracy. 
Often at times, politics can be challenging, divisive and rather remote from our local communities. UK Parliament Week gives us that opportunity to reset these views and help restore the links between parliament and the people. It is important that people understand how vital their participation is in our democracy, whether that be voting at elections, becoming a councillor or an MP, campaigning on an important issue, or even writing to your MP. Contributions like these are valuable to our democracy and help deliver real change to our local communities. We all have a role in making a democracy successful and I want to congratulate all those who have organised events for this year’s festival and encourage as many people as possible to participate. 
You can find more information about UK Parliament Week at: https://www.ukparliamentweek.org/

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Remembrance Day

This Sunday, 11th November 2018, marks the centenary of the end of the First World War and I will be attending a memorial service in Camborne to recognise the sacrifices made by all those who came from the town. There will be many other commemorative events during the course of this year and Remembrance Sunday will have particular poignancy. Remembrance Sunday is always supported by the various Cadet groups, Scouts and Brownies. It is great to see these movements going from strength to strength. 
The period during the First World War was the bleakest period in European history. The scale of killing was horrific. Technology had advanced to make this perhaps the first "industrial war" with the use of chemical weapons, machine guns and powerful artillery but battleground tactics had not evolved to deal with the new realities that modern warfare had brought and there was perhaps a different attitude to human life. 
Britain's Generals are often singled out for criticism although, to be fair, they did try to find new approaches to end the war earlier, from the ill-fated landings at Gallipoli to the invention of a primitive tank. Nevertheless, the scale of sacrifice is apparent through the names listed on memorial stones up and down the land and the war touched every community and virtually every family. I take one of my Christian names from Charles Botterell, my Great Grandfather who fought in the war and suffered ill health as a result of his shrapnel wounds. 
In recent days, 10,000 flames have filled the moat encircling the Tower of London to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War. The flames are lit in the moat as a way of remembering those that have gone before us, it’s a powerful and poignant display. Closer to home there has also been a Ribbon of Poppies project set up by the Memorial Mob. As a result of their hard work, Poppies and wildflowers line the route along the A30, to London creating a living, breathing memorial. 
This years’ Remembrance service will be particularly special as in the early morning of 11th November, more than 3,000 bell towers across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will ring out with the sound of “half-muffled” bells, like a slow march, in solemn memory of those who lost their lives. Then, at midday, bellringers at each tower across the UK will remove the muffles from the clappers and at about 12.30 they will ring open. Before 1914 the vast majority of bellringers in the UK were male, but the loss of so many men to war meant many more women took up the role. Today there are between 30,000 and 35,000 men and women bellringers in the UK, and still more are being sought for Armistice Day. The aim is that bells sound not just in the UK but across the world. 
The British and German governments are encouraging other countries to ring bells at the same times in the same way, expressing the reconciliation of former enemies in sound. The bells will ring out across the world to replicate the outpouring of relief that took place in 1918, and to mark the peace and friendship that we now enjoy between nations 100 years on from the end of the First World War. 

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Taking back control of our waters: A brighter future for the fishing Industry

Cornwall’s fishing industry has always played an important part in our local economy and it has been great to have the opportunity as Fisheries Minister to try and secure a better future for our industry. 
Last week, I launched the Fisheries bill, a bill that will see the UK regain its sovereignty, reinvigorate our coastal communities and enhance the protection of our marine environment. There has long been an historic injustice in the UK’s relationship with the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) with quota allocations, and in recent times tensions have boiled over. However, the Fisheries bill addresses these longstanding grievances and puts the industry and environment first. 
I have always been clear, that the UK will continue to be a world leader in promoting sustainable fisheries regardless of our relationship with the EU. We will not allow a free for all and one of the conditions of any future access we grant will be that all vessels fish sustainably and within limits to protect our marine environment. That is why this bill is so important because it sets out what our future relationship will be whilst still maintaining the highest possible standards for our marine life. 
As a sovereign country, we will control access to our own waters by ending current automatic rights for EU vessels to fish in UK waters. In future, access to fish in UK waters will be a matter for the UK to negotiate. The new legislation will also preserve UK vessels’ right to fish across the four zones of UK waters and create a consistent approach to managing any access for foreign vessels provided for in international agreements. 
The bill proposes new powers that will allow the UK to set its own fishing quota and days at sea which will be negotiated as an independent coastal state, in consultation with the Devolved Administrations. Learning the lessons from the CFP, government will have the ability to amend highly technical legislation and respond to scientific advice and innovation quickly. New schemes will also be introduced to help English fishing fleets seize the opportunities of Brexit such as a scheme to help the fishing industry comply with the landing obligation and creating powers to tender additional English quota. 
Finally, we will protect our marine environment by ensuring that management decisions are taken strategically for the benefit of the whole marine environment protecting our seas for generations to come. 
As ever fisheries policy is as much about international relations as it is anything else and always has been. After we leave the EU, there will still be annual discussions and agreements. The difference is that when we leave the EU we will be an independent state and we will conduct those negotiations on our own behalf rather than having to abide by what the European Commission decides. 
We do not yet know the outcome of the UK’s negotiations to withdraw from the EU or on a future economic partnership, but we have been clear that market access for fisheries products is separate to the quotation of fishing opportunities and access to waters. However, we are delivering a bill that sets us on the path to building a sustainable fishing industry, with healthy seas and a fair deal for UK fishermen.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Brexit and the Agricultural Sector


This week I have spent much of my time on debate and discussion about the Agriculture Bill. Two weeks ago it passed its "Second Reading" stage in parliament and this week we started the "Committee Stage" of the Bill where a small group of MPs drawn from all parties to debate the Bill clause by clause. 
Farming policy has been contracted out to the EU for almost half a century and the new Agriculture Bill represents the first substantive piece of UK legislation on agriculture since 1947. Working on the design of the future framework for farm support, and the new schemes that would flow from it has been a very refreshing and liberating exercise for government and parliament. All too often in the past, any good idea or suggestion for improvement was simply ruled "against EU rules" and nothing could be done. If parliament abdicates responsibility for agriculture policy to an external organisation like the EU, then MPs have no motivation to engage in discussion about how to make things better since they have no power to change anything anyway. That is what has sadly happened to farming and fishing over the last forty years. 
Now, as we prepare to leave the EU and take back control, parliament will regain its voice and farmers, food producers and environmental campaigners have an opportunity to get their point across and argue for improvements and influence the policy that will affect them. MPs from all parties are suddenly showing an interest in farming and the countryside because for the first time in half a century they have the power to shape future policy and make a difference. 
The premise behind the Bill that I have put together with colleagues in Defra, is that we should move away from the system of arbitrary area subsidy payment that the EU has imposed on us to instead reward farmers generously for the things they do for the environment and other public goods. The current subsidy system has become a bureaucratic quagmire for farmers and is difficult to administer for government. There are far too many ludicrous rules and mapping requirements so that we measure every gateway, bush or hedge in the land. The EU penalty regime around it is unfair and unjust. The area based subsidy system also means that the vast majority of the money goes to the largest and wealthiest landowners in the country while smaller farmers get the crumbs from the table, so as a system of income support it is upside down. 
Instead, we want a system that rewards farmers to farm their land in a way that is good for the health of their soils, good for the quality of the water courses flowing through their land, good for farmland birds and pollinators and good for enhanced animal welfare outcomes. We also want to reward farmers based on the value of what they deliver, not, as with some EU schemes, simply compensate them for the money they have lost by acting to try to help the environment. 
We recognise that there is a problem of profitability in farming. However, rather than keeping on putting a sticking plaster over that with clunky subsidy payments, the Bill aims to tackle the causes of poor profitability. There are new powers to award grants or loans to farmers to assist them in investing in their farms to reduce costs and improve their profitability; here are powers to support research and development and improved plant breeding; there are new powers to improve transparency in the supply chain so that farmers don't get ripped off by middle men and processors; and there are powers to create mandatory requirements around contracts so that farmers are not stung by hidden charges or penalties or locked into contracts with no clarity or guarantee about the price they will get for what they produce. 
Farming is also a risky business so there are times of crisis where a government must be able to intervene too stabilise the market so the Bill creates such crisis intervention powers. Finally, if we want to move to a very different and more coherent system of farm support, we have to do so in an orderly and gradual way to give farmers time to adjust. We have therefore set out a seven year transition period from 2021 to 2028 during which the old legacy subsidy will be gradually phased out and replaced with the new policy. This will be a period of change where we will simplify and improve the old scheme, introduce measure to help support farmers who want to retire and also make available grants and support for new entrants so that we help the next generation onto the land. 
There will be weeks of argument ahead, but, despite the uncertainty as we enter the closing stages of our negotiation with the EU, our ability to govern ourselves in areas like farming gets stronger by the week.