Thursday, 15 August 2019

A tougher approach to policing

The election of Boris Johnson has reinvigorated Government in his first few weeks setting a clear and determined course. Since his election, the Prime Minister has announced a relaxation of migration rules for scientists, £1.8 billion for the NHS including a new maternity and children’s unit for Treliske and a raft of other commitments to address the concerns that many have had.
Over the weekend, it was also announced that the Government would be delivering 10,000 new prison places, as well as a number of tougher anti-crime policies not to mention a larger rollout of stop and search. These measures are in addition to the 20,000 extra police officers that were announced during the Prime Minister’s Conservative leadership election campaign. The Prime Minister has a plan and it is refreshing to see Government delivering on the issues that matter most to people.
Recently I took part in walk around with police officers in Camborne to understand the challenges that the police face, as well as talking to local residents and business owners about their concerns. Over the last few weeks I have received reports that some businesses have experienced problems with antisocial behaviour and I wanted to get a better understanding of the concerns of local businesses and shop-goers. It was also a good way for me to speak to local residents and tell them about some of the great work that is going on across Cornwall to deliver what our communities want and expect.
In Cornwall, the local police have piloted successfully the Tri-Service Safety Officer role. It’s the embodiment of the blue light services in one role, combining the skills of a trained firefighter, a co-responder paramedic for the ambulance service and having community safety accreditation from the police. The individuals (and there are ten now) are highly skilled, highly trained, highly professional and are there to respond to community need and based in our more rural and remote areas. Its been an innovative way of providing good neighbourhood policing whilst not losing police officers.
Here in Cornwall it is right that we continue to look at what more we can do to improve neighbourhood policing to ensure that people feel safe in their homes and local communities. As a rural peninsula the challenges that we face in Cornwall are often more difficult to deal with, but that doesn’t mean that local communities should be abandoned. That is why the Prime Minister’s recent announcements are a welcome return to a strong team in government working with police and crime commissioners and local authorities to cut crime and ensure that law and order remains a priority.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

The single largest investment in Cornwall’s health services

The NHS is a great British institution which all of us will rely on it at some point in our lives. The many hard-working nurses and doctors who contribute to this success have a lot of be proud of. Locally across Cornwall we are fortunate to have a number of excellent hospitals delivering high quality care to those who need it most. From St Michael's Hospital in Hayle which is a national leader in breast surgery, to Camborne and Redruth Hospital which has a number of specialisms including stroke and prosthetics.
However, in recent years there have been intense pressures on Treliske. As life expectancy has risen and medical science has advanced, the demands on our NHS have grown. Even though the national budget has been significantly increased by almost 20 percent since 2010, pressures remain and the demand continues to grow. In recent months, the Department for Health has announced increased funding for mental health and other support. This week the Secretary of State for Health announced that the Government would be delivering on its pledge for a hospital upgrade programme. This was part of a series of pledges that the Boris Johnson announced last week on the steps of Downing Street in his first speech as Prime Minister. The good news for Cornwall came in the announcement that the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust site at Treliske would be receiving an investment of up to £100 million to deliver a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital at Treliske.
The investment will see the construction of a new building between the existing tower block and Trelawny Wing which will house women’s and children’s services including maternity, neonatal care and gynaecology. The new building will also become the main entrance for the hospital with plans for changes to the layout of roads and a pedestrian zone to improve the environment and accessibility of the hospital.
The announcement is excellent news for all those who use the services in Cornwall and has been acknowledged by Managers at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust as the biggest ever single investment that Cornwall has seen in local health services and that the biggest for more than 20 years in children’s services.
The construction of a new co-located maternity and neonatal services will provide doctors and nurses with the ability to work more closely and effectively together to deliver safer care to expectant mothers and new born babies. Whilst the current maternity services have provided a high level of care for patients, it was clear that there was a limited lifespan and that an upgrade would have been needed sooner rather than later.
The story of investment across the local level is also being matched by that on the national level. New Health Infrastructure Plan’s are being developed in coordination with local authorities and healthcare providers to help deliver a strategic major hospital rebuilding programme so that we have the necessary health infrastructure across the country for years to come. All of this also comes on top of the extra £33.9 billion a year that the Government has committed to provide to the NHS to secure its long term future. This is great news for Cornwall and plans will now proceed to the next stage for the hospital.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Getting on with Brexit

This week I returned to government, picking up where I left off as the Minister of State for agriculture and fisheries. It is a policy area that I have always been passionate about having studied horticulture and worked in the family farming business for ten years. Fishing is also an important industry in Cornwall and in the five and a half years that I did the job previously I led our annual negotiations on quotas at the EU. It is good to be back and part of a new Government that is now pursuing the more assertive approach I advocated in February.
The next few months will be crucial to restore the credibility of our democracy, implement the decision taken in the 2016 referendum and to restore self government in this country as we come out of the European Union. Boris Johnson has reinvigorated Government in his first week and set a clear and determined course. I resigned from Theresa May’s Government in the spring because I disagreed with her decision to dither and delay our exit date. I felt that it signalled weakness and undermined our negotiations. With the election of Boris Johnson there is now a renewed sense of purpose and a fresh mandate for a new Prime Minister to deliver what we said we would in our manifesto. We will use whatever means are necessary to ensure that the UK leaves the European Union by the end of October and we will leave with or without an agreement.
Of course, there will still be obstacles to overcome, not least those MPs and political parties who have set themselves against the referendum result and have made clear that they will force people to vote again until they give a different answer. The EU, who have not really acted in good faith in their negotiations with Theresa May, will also have to decide whether they want to make the sensible changes requested by Boris Johnson and remove the so called “backstop” or whether they will remain obstinate. There will be many arguments over the next three months but this long running saga must now be brought to a head and be resolved once and for all.
Boris Johnson has appointed a new Cabinet that shares his determination to deliver Brexit. He has also appointed a number of new advisers to support him in the task ahead. A number of them worked on the successful Vote Leave campaign which inspired people to vote for a better future and to take back control of our own laws. It is important to have the right advice and support of people who believe in the objective because one of the main weaknesses that Theresa May faced is that too many people around her didn’t really agree with government policy or understand that leaving the EU really is in the national interest. In politics, if you embark on major change, you have to have a team that understands and believes in what we are delivering as a country.
In Defra we have many issues to address. Firstly we need to consider what tariffs we would apply to imports once we leave. Measured by import value, the UK is the third largest market for food in the world after China and Japan and probably the most sophisticated. We have discerning consumers with an interest in food provenance and very high standards of animal welfare and food safety. Everyone wants access to our market but we must do nothing that jeopardises what we have built. We are also designing a major shift in the way we support farmers away from arbitrary payments based on land area where most of the money goes to very large and wealthy landowners and instead focusing funds on delivering enhanced animal welfare and environmental improvements. On fisheries, if we leave without an agreement, then as early as this November this year, we will be negotiating new arrangements and setting new conditions on any access to our waters and we will begin to rebalance the unfair sharing arrangements imposed on us by the EU.
No one can know for sure how events will develop over the next few months. However, at times of uncertainty what people need from their government most of all is a determined clarity of purpose and with the election of Boris Johnson we now have it.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Post 16-Link Transport Services

In a peninsula like Cornwall with many rural and remote areas, there will always be challenges to building a really resilient public transport structure. The majority of people in Cornwall continue to use public transport primarily for local journeys including school students who depend on these services to travel freely to school and college.
In recent weeks, however, I have been contacted by a number of concerned parents about the Council’s decision to end the link transport services from the villages of Mawnan Smith and Constantine. For many students, the bus service is a vital link from their villages transporting them safely to Mabe whereby they can join the main transport service to Truro college. The Council have stated that their decision to suspend the link transport services is merely an application of an existing policy and that there is no national statutory legal obligation for them to provide the link transport services. However, because Cornwall is unique we should expect our Council to tailor policies that are right for Cornwall. We want to support young people further their careers and their skills and what is set as a national set of minimum criteria should not be what guides the policy actually adopted here in Cornwall.
Currently there are no alternative public transport options available to the families and students affected by the Council’s decision. Moreover, it appears that little thought has been given as to how students will make the journey to Mabe, with the Council stating that students and families are expected to make their own travel arrangements despite the only options available being to travel by car or walk.
For many families this decision will have an economic impact with extra money likely to be required for fuel or a taxi service. Money that some families just don’t have. Equally there is also an environmental impact to be considered at a time when the Council have committed to promoting greener and more sustainable public transport. Moreover, there will also be an unavoidable pressure of extra vehicles on the routes to Mabe.
In a bid to resolve the situation, I have been working closely with Cllr John Bastin, the local Councillor for the area to achieve a sensible outcome. Recently there was a public meeting in which Council officers, Cllr Bastin, a representative from my office met with students and parents affected by this issue. From the feedback that I have had it appears that this was a largely positive meeting, and I would like to take the time to thank all of the students who attended and raised their concerns on an issue that will affect them.
Following on from this meeting there has been some speculation that the Council might be considering reviewing their decision to end the link transport service. Whilst this is positive news, there remains a long way to go before the link transport is reinstated. I will continue to work closely with Cllr Bastin and Cornwall Council to find a solution that works for everyone. If you have been effected by the plans to suspend this service then please do not hesitate to get in touch with Cllr Bastin at: or with my office via email at: and I will endeavour keep you updated with developments.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Respecting Devolution and votes of conscience

From time to time, Parliament has to wrestle with Bills or motions which are a cocktail of competing constitutional principles, policy issues and matters of conscience. It can leave MPs in a difficult position trying to balance conflicts between different principles they might hold.
Last week was one of those occasions. A Bill was laid before Parliament to legislate to allow a simple extension of the constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland, to avoid the need for direct rule from Westminster for a little longer and to try to provide some additional space and time for delicate talks on re-establishing a power sharing executive. Two years ago there was a breakdown in relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein and the latter have so far refused to rejoin an executive meaning everything is suspended. No one wants a reversion back to the tension and violence that existed in Northern Ireland before so, difficult and frustrating though it is, it was right to give some more time to allow these delicate talks to continue.
When the government presented their simple Bill, they suddenly found that it was assailed with amendments from multiple directions by MPs pushing different agendas. Firstly, there were a group of MPs who wanted to hijack the Bill to insert new clauses that would try to frustrate Brexit and block the referendum result from three years ago. Secondly, there were others who put in amendments regarding abortion and also same sex marriage which would have driven a coach and horses through our constitutional settlement and imposed a Westminster view in Northern Ireland when these have always been free vote issues of consciousness for devolved assemblies in Scotland and Northern Ireland to decide.
I took the view that we should first and foremost uphold our constitutional settlement so opposed the attempts to impose a Westminster view on Northern Ireland. If we wanted to take the position that the lack of an executive in Northern Ireland meant important issues were not being addressed and this was intolerable, well then the correct course of action would be to be upfront about that, impose direct rule and then legislate for Northern Ireland on everything. However, this Bill was about doing the reverse. Bolting on all sorts of impositions on contentious issues that are a matter of conscience make the fragile talks more difficult than they already are.
I would not change the current settlement we have on same sex marriage in England and Wales but I was not willing to impose our view on Northern Ireland. On abortion, I think there are some changes that Northern Ireland could make but I would also support changes in England and Wales. I take the view that when it comes to an unwanted pregnancy, we ought to be requiring a decision to be made much earlier in a pregnancy and probably within twelve weeks. However, there are also tragic cases where a foetus is diagnosed with a rare condition meaning they would never survive but could suffer pain. It is an agonising decision for parents in such a situation and, in those sorts of cases, which are limited in number, I would always allow a termination at the current maximum of 24 weeks. Abortion is a very difficult ethical issue and I don’t agree with the way it is sometimes presented as a “women’s rights” issue. It is actually about balancing very difficult moral dilemmas.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Tin Mining Subsidence Bill 2019

This part of Cornwall has a unique mining heritage. Redruth was once one of the wealthiest towns in the country and we exported mining expertise across the globe with our ancestors travelling as far afield as Cape Town, Real Del Monte in Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and Wisconsin in the United States. Inventors such as Richard Trevithick and William Murdoch put Cornwall on the map as a leading centre for industry and innovation and we are lucky to have such a rich legacy that has been left to us.
Today that legacy means that we have World Heritage Site status and the many old engine houses around our towns are iconic. However, there is another legacy which periodically causes major problems to some residents. The ground beneath the whole Camborne, Pool and Redruth area is like a Swiss cheese with mine workings going back centuries. Many of the more recent features were mapped and are known about but others that go back further are sometimes not mapped. 
Over time, I have had a steady stream of constituents contact me with problems of unexpected subsidence that leaves them with huge personal costs.  Sometimes people have had a mining survey completed when they purchased their house which gives a clean bill of health but when they come to sell and move on, they find that potential purchases using a different mining security company offer a different, adverse opinion which leaves them stuck. 
For many property owners, they are also hamstrung by the fact that many insurers will not include mining subsidence in their cover unless it actually threatens the house itself. On other occasions certain sites have experienced local subsidence which upon investigation have identified untreated old workings. For instance, at Clijah Croft in Redruth, localised depressions have led to the identification of 17 areas on the site which require attention due to old mine workings being present. Whilst at Grenville Gardens in Camborne, untreated old mine works have led to the council having to excavate the area to stabilise the ground before relaying it all.
In a bid to tackle the problems presented by these legacies, this week I presented a Bill to Parliament that would introduce new financial assistance to help home owners in Cornwall whose properties are affected by subsidence damage as a result of historic tin mining features. My Bill would amend the Coal Mining Subsidence Act of1991 in order to create an additional obligation on the Coal Authority to offer financial and other assistance to help home owners whose property has been affected by subsidence damage due to tin mining. Currently, those living in former coal mining areas whose properties are affected by subsidence damage are entitled to financial support to put right any damage. Due to an oversight in the drafting of the original legislation, similarly affected communities in former tin mining areas like Camborne and Redruth are denied the same sort of compensation or assistance.
Cornwall’s tin mining industry left an enormous legacy to the world in terms of the wealth it created for our country during the industrial revolution, the spirit of invention and innovation that went with it and the mining expertise that was subsequently taken around the world. But for many, the threat of subsidence damage to their property from historic mining features is a constant worry and it is time to finally address this gap in the law so that Cornwall is treated equally and receives the support it requires. 

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Religious Slaughter

This week I led a debate in parliament about reforming the law around the non-stun slaughter of farm animals. The way we treat animals raised in captivity for food is a hallmark of a civilised society. We have a special responsibility to spare farm animals any unnecessary stress or suffering. Since 1875, we have used technology to ensure that animals are stunned prior to slaughter. Using either a captive bolt in cattle or electric stunning, it is possible to render the animal immediately unconscious and insensible to pain prior to slaughter. However, there has also always been what supposed to be a very narrow exemption for Muslims or Jews with an orthodox view who feel they need meat from animals that were not stunned.
Our laws have evolved over the years but have not changed substantively since 1995. We have always allowed a conditional derogation for Jewish and Muslim communities. The key feature is a so called stand still time of 20 seconds on sheep and 30 seconds on cattle during which the animal should not be moved to reduce stress. Non-stun slaughter is only supposed to be allowed on the basis of religious need but this requirement is not enforceable in practice. The FSA have published alarming statistics showing that 25% of all sheep are now slaughtered without prior stunning representing a drift back towards more conservative cultural interpretations of religious faith. We are being left behind by other developed nations on this matter. In Australia and New Zealand, non-stun slaughter is not permitted. In many European countries there is either a requirement that there should be an immediate post cut stun where a derogation is used or in some cases a prohibition on non-stun slaughter.
Free votes in parliament are a wonderful thing. When political parties step back from taking a position and allow their own members to form their own opinion on an issue of conscience, it can be liberating for both the party and their representatives. In my view it is time for every political party to agree that the issue of religious slaughter should also become a free vote issue so that progress can be made.
When considering reform, we should first ask whether the derogations we currently allow are strictly religious or whether they actually represent an accommodation of a cultural interpretation of religious need? Both the Muslim and Jewish faiths have a clear religious conviction against the consumption of pork, which should obviously be respected. However, when it comes to the issue of stunning, the religious need is less clear.
In the case of Halal production, the important feature is that there is a Muslim blessing at the point of slaughter. Many communities in the UK are content with the use of stunning and until a few years ago, we had got to a position where around 75% of Halal meat was stunned. Most Muslim countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are more concerned about the contamination of porcine DNA through shared use of machinery than they are about whether an animal was stunned.
If we want modernise the regulations, we could consider an immediate post cut stun on cattle to recognise their unique physiology. Secondly, we could increase the minimum stand still time on sheep to, say, 45 seconds to remove the incentive to mainstream the non-stun slaughter of sheep. We could also strengthen the requirements on chickens to purposefully check birds for signs of consciousness before the next stage of production. Finally, we could introduce strict quotas setting out the number of animals permitted to be slaughtered without stunning thereby giving effect to this longstanding requirement in UK law.
Not everyone will agree with the ideas that I have set out, but I would love to have the debate in Parliament under refreshing, free vote conditions where government would be liberated of the task and Parliament could chart a course forward.