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.