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.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Native and Rare British Breeds

My family have farmed in the Gwinear area for over 150 years and this week Trevaskis Farm hosted the launch of a new project to help better understand the genetics behind one of our country’s rarest breeds of pig, the British Lop, which is native to Cornwall.
We have records that show that my Great, Great Great Grandfather first kept this pig and the breed was formally recognised in 1920. The family have maintained a herd of British Lops ever since and they can still be found at Trevaskis Farm today. In fact, the pig is so rare that about a third of the total national population are to be found at Trevaskis.
Genetic diversity has always been the key that enables life on earth to adapt to new challenges. When any species in its natural environment faces a threat through disease pressure, the solution is always to be found through a gene that had been tucked away somewhere but which has particular traits that suddenly come into their own and spread. This, in turn, creates the resilience on which life depends. It is because of this quite fundamental rule of life that protecting and maintaining biodiversity is of such great importance to the planet and why we should also strive to preserve the genetic diversity that is held within the many rare breeds and native breeds of farm animal. Once a particular gene or line becomes extinct, it is gone for good.
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust is a national charity that leads the work to preserve and rekindle some of our rarest breeds of farm animal and, with the support of a grant from the Gerald Fallowes Trust, it has teamed up with my brother and the British Lop Pig Society to support a new initiative that will improve understanding of the breed. There will be steps to better understand the unique DNA behind the British Lop pig and which genes truly differentiate it from the rest. There will then be a number of initiatives to try to establish a gene bank to protect this crucial genetics.
The new Agriculture Bill that will replace the Common Agricultural policy (once we finally get free of the EU) has set out the idea of financial support and incentives for the delivery of “public goods” like genetic diversity. I have been pressing the government to develop its approach to supporting rare breeds and native breeds in more detail. This week I have tabled amendments to the Bill to make clear that supporting genetic diversity is one of the purposes of the Bill and I have also secured a meeting at Defra with representatives of our native breeds and rare breeds so that this vital area of work can be discussed.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

The Conservative Party Leadership Election – An Update

By the time you read this we will know who the final two candidates are for the position of Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister as various voting rounds progress in Westminster. Leadership elections can be volatile and unpredictable. Front runners often lose momentum or come unstuck at later stages as doubts set in and others can come from nowhere. The parliamentary stage of the contest is run under the system called “exhaustive ballot” where you keep voting and eliminate one candidate from the bottom at each round until there are only two left standing who then go out to campaign amongst the membership. As I write this, there are still five candidates left in the race but by the end of Thursday there will be two. 
Boris Johnson has a clear lead but has avoided public appearances as much as he can. His managers are worried that if he does interviews or appears in public he may make a gaffe or say something wrong so they are playing it safe and sitting tight while back room operators twist people’s arms to try to get their support. Although playing it safe is a natural human reaction when you are in the lead, it’s an approach that can sometimes store up future problems because if things do unravel they can unravel quickly. 
Rory Stewart has been the candidate in this contest who has surprised people and gained more support than expected. However, at the BBC hustings this week, it was clear that he was simply going to persevere with the same identical plan that Theresa May has flogged to death over the last nine months, so there will be scepticism that he has properly thought through a way forward and he would probably become a divisive figure if he failed to commit to delivering Brexit properly and honouring the referendum result. 
I am supporting and campaigning for Michael Gove because these are serious times and we need a serious Prime Minister who can get things done. Our next Prime Minister must deliver the biggest and most complex peacetime negotiation our country has every faced and must do that against the backdrop of a hung parliament and a divided country. They must immediately reverse the low morale and division in the Conservative Party caused by two years of drift. They must grab this sorry situation by the scruff of the neck and fix it. Time will be an enemy. There will be no summer break for whoever takes over, just hard graft. 
It is not enough for the next leader to “respect” the 2016 referendum result - we have tried that and it didn’t work. The next leader must respect it, believe in it and, crucially, have the wherewithal to deliver it. I am backing Michael Gove because I think he is ready to lead, ready to unite our party and ready to deliver for the British people.
Michael Gove exercises judgement, has an eye for detail and he has the conviction to deliver Brexit. He led the Leave Campaign which was one of the most successful campaigns in recent history. Working alongside him in Defra I saw how hard he applied himself to ensure that the opportunities opened up by the leave vote were not squandered. He energised the department on his arrival injecting momentum and pace in everything he did. 
This is a very close contest and by the time you read this you will know whether he has made it to the final run off. 

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Murdoch Day

After the success of the Royal Cornwall Show last week, despite the rain on Friday, I’m looking forward to attending Murdoch Day in Redruth this Weekend. There is always an excellent procession in the morning, involving many local schools, dance acts and bands. 
It will be good to have the opportunity to catch up with the team at Murdoch House – the former home of William Murdoch, the inventor and engineer who was one of the pioneers of steam power development in Cornwall and also famously invented the first ever gas light using piped gas.
Works at the new Kresen Kernow archive are almost complete and the building looks fantastic. There have been occasional setbacks because it is a difficult site but this project is a great boost for our town. Recently I have been working with local councillors and also the owner of the remainder of the site to ensure that the we get the further development due to take place around the archive centre right. There had been some concerns about some of the proposed flats and the possible impact of this on Kresen Kernow so it’s important that all sides involved work together to get the details right. 
I campaigned hard to ensure that Redruth was selected as the location for the Archive Centre. Our town is home to the world wide Cornish diaspora because of the deep roots we have in the history of mining around the world. These are exciting times for Redruth as we see the key historic site of the brewery brought back into use to celebrate our history. Redruth is not just the industrial heart of Cornwall, it is also the home town for a great many of the seven million people around the world whose ancestors left Cornwall in the late 19th century to build the new world. Around a quarter of all the people who left Cornwall during this period came from the Redruth area and they travelled as far afield as Cape Town, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and Wisconsin in the Unites States. Press cuttings from that time underline the human and social cost of this mass migration across the world in search of work, with many instances of families separated for the rest of their lives and with wives and young families often left behind.
William Murdoch was a pioneer and like many of the other great inventors that have graced Cornwall, it is important that we take the time to celebrate their achievements. We should always try and make more of our heritage. Camborne, Redruth and Hayle together make up the heart of Cornwall’s industrial heritage with most of the key attractions and old engine houses based here. It is days like this where we can take a step back and truly appreciate their greatness.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

D-Day Landings 75th Anniversary

This week, the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, visited the UK on an official state visit. Not everyone agrees with Donald Trump’s politics but people like Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor, were wrong to boycott the state banquet hosted by the Queen. These occasions go way beyond the politics of the day. The United States is our closest ally and the main reasons that the visit is taking place is to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings where Britain, America and Canada stood together to liberate Europe. 
D-Day was and still remains the largest combined land, air and naval operation in history. The invasion was conducted in two main phases – an airborne assault and amphibious landings. Shortly after midnight on 6th June, over 18,000 Allied paratroopers were dropped into the invasion area to provide tactical support for infantry divisions on the beaches. Following this, on the morning of June 6th some 156,000 British, American and Canadian troops launched from the sea and air on to French soil across 50 miles of Normandy coastline. The force included 5,300 ships and craft, 1,500 tanks and 12,000 planes. 
The D-Day landings were the first essential step for the Allied forces to liberate north-west Europe from German occupation. By sunset there were an estimated 10,000 casualties and more than 4,400 confirmed dead. The success of the D-Day landings lay in the fact that in the three months after the landings, the northern part of France would be freed, and the invasion force would be preparing to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet forces moving in from the East. 
We owe so much to the many men who gave their lives so that we may enjoy all that we do today. In recognition of their sacrifice, there will be an official service in Portsmouth which the Prime Minister and Donald Trump will attend jointly to mark the 75th anniversary. There will also be other services in Normandy and across France, in which veterans from the D-Day landings will return to the beaches that they fought on, on that fateful day. 
As part of the events to mark this anniversary, the Culture Secretary also recently announced that a number of WW2 landmarks have been officially listed as protected as a memorial for future generations. Six replica landing craft, nine sunken tanks, two armoured bulldozers and parts of Mulberry harbours in Dorset, Devon and West Sussex will be listed. These structures were integral to the largescale preparations that took place along the coastline of Devon and Dorset. 
This year’s anniversary serves as a reminder of the bonds and special relationship that we have with our allies like the United States. As we face the new challenges of the 21st century, the anniversary of D-Day reminds us all of all that our countries have achieved together, and whilst the world has changed, we are forever mindful of the sacrifices of those who gave so much for peace.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Why I’m backing Michael Gove

Like many people, I felt sympathy for Theresa May when she stood down. She was a decent and hardworking individual and her heart was in the right place but she was simply overwhelmed by the task before her, had lost her authority, couldn’t get things done so there was no alternative but for her to stand down. In politics, life goes on and Conservative MPs must now turn their attention to selecting a new leader and Prime Minister.
The European Elections were not even supposed to be happening and when the results came through last weekend they were a reminder, just in case we needed it, that the Conservative Party faces annihilation in any future General Election unless we have first delivered the decision to leave the European Union. Anything that precipitates an early General Election, before Brexit is delivered would leave our Party in tatters, Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister and our country facing a bleak future.
So, as we face this leadership election, we need someone with the resolve and the ability to unite our party and our country and get Brexit delivered. That leader must deliver the biggest and most complex peacetime negotiation our country has every faced and must do that against the backdrop of a hung parliament and a divided country. They must immediately reverse the low morale and division in the Conservative Party caused by two years of drift. They must grab this sorry situation by the scruff of the neck and fix it. Time will be an enemy. There will be no summer break for whoever takes over, just hard graft.
It is not enough for the next leader to “respect” the 2016 referendum result - we have tried that in Theresa May and it didn’t work. Nor is it enough for them to just believe in Brexit. The next leader must respect it, believe in it and, crucially, have the wherewithal to deliver it. I am backing Michael Gove because I think he is ready to lead, ready to unite our party and ready to deliver for the British people.
He exercises judgement, he has an eye for detail and he has the conviction to deliver Brexit. Michael Gove led the Leave Campaign which was one of the most successful campaigns in recent history. Working alongside him in Defra I saw how hard he applied himself to ensure that the opportunities opened up by the leave vote were not squandered. He energised the department on his arrival injecting momentum and pace in everything he did. He weighed up arguments carefully but always made decisions in a timely way.
Michael Gove has always been passionate about the Union of British nations and in my time working with him has shown a particular interest in ensuring that every part of the UK gets the support they need. I think that for those of us representing constituencies in places like Cornwall, Scotland or Wales, of all the candidates standing he is the most supportive of an agenda to help address regional disadvantage. As we confront this most serious of challenges as a country, I believe Michael Gove has what it takes to lead us out of the EU successfully and the future of both our country and our party depends on that happening.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Openness and transparency in our planning system

As an MP, one of the main issues that I’m frequently contacted about is that of local planning applications and enforcement cases. These can often be simple matters pertaining to a constituent’s property or larger more controversial planning applications for major new housing developments. 
I have always argued that we should prioritise brown field development before greenfield so that we can protect our green spaces and countryside but also force developers and planners to apply themselves to thinking about to how regenerate our urban environment and reduce dereliction. Because Cornwall is a narrow peninsula, our landscape, beautiful though it is, is also particularly vulnerable to being blighted by inappropriate development so we need to tread with caution. 
For the majority of cases I encounter, the matter falls outside of my remit as an MP since it is a matter for the Council, however we will always try and help wherever possible and often advise them to contact the Council’s planning department for further information. 
I have always been of the opinion that developments should also be done with communities, not to them. Planning decisions will often be contentious but by working together with residents and local councillors we can sometimes identify a way through. It needs people to be open and engaging to work. 
I was therefore surprised to hear that there has been a move by the Council to reduce the openness and transparency that our planning system requires. Until recently members of the public were automatically informed when a planning application they had commented on is ‘called in’ for a decision before a planning committee. This provided members of the public with the chance to attend the meeting and make representations to committee members in advance if so desired. Now the Council has stated that they will no longer inform people automatically when a case is called in for decision. The result is likely to be that more people who have expressed a concern about an application will feel bounced and ignored. 
The Council have claimed that this measure has been introduced to save costs, but this reasoning does not look very convincing since the council are still prepared to produce hard copies of agendas for cabinet members and it ought to be possible to use email where possible but letter where necessary. That way people would still be informed but there would be a gradual transition to a paperless model. 
At a time when trust in our democratic institution both local and national is being questioned by so many, we should be trying to increase engagement and transparency. 

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Creating a new shared prosperity fund

Last week I took up a position on a newly formed All Party Parliamentary Group for the South West. Supported by the Local Enterprise Partnership in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly as well as Devon, Somerset and Dorset, the aim is to promote coordination for the economic benefit of the westcountry. 
Being a peninsula like Cornwall creates unique economic challenges. Our industries have to transport their goods further to market which adds costs. Recruiting staff can be more of a challenge for business. A lack of profitability means that average wages can be lower. When it comes to further transport infrastructure, the further west you go the fewer MPs there are left making the case for investment, and government departments like the Treasury often fail to understand the dynamics of local economies. For all of these reasons, the case for Cornwall and economic investment in Cornwall has to be made repeatedly and consistently and the new Parliamentary Group we have established will help to do so in a sustained. 
One of the most important emerging policy areas that we need to get right is in the sphere of the new Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace EU structural funds when we leave the EU. I campaigned to leave the EU and I want us to decide our own regional policy and have the freedom to design our own grant schemes that really work for places like Cornwall. However, with the power to set our own policies of economic regeneration comes the responsibility to get it right. Whitehall has largely abdicated responsibility for economic development in poorer areas in recent years and there is a danger that it will fail to step in and occupy the space left through a lack of knowledge and experience. 
This government has a clear priority to develop more balanced growth across our country and that is why there will be a new Shared Prosperity Fund. The whole purpose of the new fund is to support industry in poorer parts of the country and to ensure that we see new industries and better paid jobs in places like Cornwall, rather than just seeing prosperity collect around the Home Counties. That requires a culture change in some Whitehall departments like the Treasury. They should not just favour the financial services industry in London at the expense of the rest of us. As a country we need to learn to value industries that make things and produce balanced growth across our nation. 
As the new fund is developed, I want to ensure that it is directed to areas based on their needs rather than administered as a centralised pot in London and directed to projects in already wealthy areas that are sometimes deemed to give a higher return on the Treasury’s economic models. The EU funds were welcome but were also cumbersome and overly restrictive. They did not allow support for industries like tourism which were seen as out of fashion and they did not generally support harbour infrastructure. Applicants often contorted their bid in order to fit arbitrary EU criteria rather than do what they knew would work and be able to feel confident that they could access the support they needed. We can do better if we design our own schemes but only if we force Whitehall departments to take their new role seriously.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Recognising the importance of Climate Change

In recent weeks there has been much coverage of the climate change protests led by various groups across the country. We’ve all seen the rise of extreme weather events that have at times had a devastating impact on communities not just in Cornwall but also across the country, and we have to work hard to ensure that we have a world to pass onto our children and grandchildren. 
Much of the work that we have been undertaking to climate change has been going on for some time now. Last year the government published a new 25 year environment plan which set out ambitious plans to tackle the scourge of plastic waste in our oceans and a new way of supporting our countryside and environment so that we help habitats recover and see more farmland birds and other wildlife in the future. Since then we’ve become a world leader in banning single use plastics and microbeads, extending the 5p plastic bag charge, tackling the illegal wildlife trade and committing overseas aid to help developing nations combat plastic waste. 
As a country we have also worked hard to reduce emissions on our roads and are becoming less reliant on fossil fuels for our energy supply, instead turning to renewable energy sources. Recently it was announced that we’ve now gone a record 139 continuous hours without coal. Now 40% of all electricity is generated by renewable sources. But there is clearly more that can be done to help better protect our country and environment and that is why the government is bringing forward its Environment Bill. 
At its heart the Bill will create a new framework for environmental governance, demonstrating our commitment to maintain environmental protections as we leave the EU. A world leading governance body will be established – the Office for Environmental Protection – which will have powers to hold government and public bodies to account on environmental standards. The bill will also implement the 25 year environment plan into legislation setting out how we will recover nature, replenish depleted soils, rid seas and rivers of the rubbish damaging our planet, cut greenhouse gas emissions, cleanse our air of toxic pollutants, and develop cleaner, more sustainable energy sources. 
In the other bills that I worked on such as the Agriculture bill and the Fisheries bill we also worked hard to include a number of environmental protections in them that will preserve our sectors for years to come. Clearly, we have made progress over the last few years to tackle this important issue, and we can be proud of the work that we have done. But there is still more to be done to tackle the challenges that we face and that is why I and colleagues from, across the house will continue to work hard to deliver on climate change.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Trevithick Day

On Saturday I attended the annual Trevithick Day celebrations in Camborne. It was a cold and blustery start but by lunch time the sun was up, and the crowds came out to celebrate the achievements of Richard Trevithick.
Outside my office this year was the engine that has travelled all the way down from Staffordshire as part of the True 600 Challenge which is raising money for mental health charities including the local Invictus Trust. The challenge is being organised by Martin True in memory of his son Ben. So far, they have raised close to £20,000 and donations can be made via the Facebook page for the True 600 Challenge. 
As a pioneer Richard Trevithick invented the steam locomotive and epitomised the contribution made by Cornwall to the Industrial Revolution. Back in 2010, when I was first elected to Parliament, I made Richard Trevithick the main focus of my maiden speech. I found a wonderful statement from him saying that, although he had been criticised for trying new principles and was left in severe financial hardship as a result of his pioneering endeavours, he knew in his own heart that he had brought forward new ideas that would be of boundless value to his country. Despite all the setbacks he had in life he never stopped inventing. For many years, Trevithick's achievements were not really recognised which makes it all the more important we celebrate them now. 
It was the efforts of pioneers like Trevithick that put Cornwall on the map as a leading centre for industry and innovation. Whilst towns like Camborne and Redruth experienced some decline after the closure of the tin mines and Holmans, new industries and technologies are beginning to establish themselves into our communities which offers the prospect of higher paid employment in the future.
Work to reopen South Crofty mine continues and Cornwall has some of the largest deposits of lithium in Europe. The metal is extremely important in the production of batteries for emerging technologies like electric vehicles. We also have a growing computer software industry clustered around Pool and the historic expertise in drilling continues through a number of companies specialising in oil and gas exploration. 
Previously, people had to choose between leaving Cornwall and taking a well-paid career up country, or taking the lifestyle choice to live in the most beautiful part of the country but accepting a lower salary. That is starting to change.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

The quest for a Brexit settlement

Until we finally achieve a settlement to the current political crisis regarding our exit from the European Union, it is impossible for politics to fully move on and address the many other issues which are in need of attention. So, however much everyone is weary from the argument, it must continue until a conclusion is reached and the reconciliation of our divided country can be secured.
My view has long been that we must deliver the referendum result, but that the type of partnership we put in place after we have left should also address the concerns and anxieties of those who fear change and voted to remain. The 2016 referendum result was clear but, at 48 to 52 percent it was also close. People collectively voted for a clear but slightly cautious and apprehensive step away from the EU. We should recognise that Greenland voted to leave the EU in the early eighties by exactly the same margin and they managed to do it, so why are we finding it so hard? We should also recognise that in the 2016 referendum, millions of people voted for the first time in their lives. 
Since resigning from the government two months ago, I have been arguing strongly that we must be willing to walk away from the EU without an agreement in the first instance if necessary. You cannot negotiate a successful Brexit unless you have the courage to walk through the door. There is a strong case for taking our freedom first and talking afterwards. If the EU knew that we were serious about leaving, then it would change the nature of the discussion. 
There were two legitimate courses of action that the Government could have taken after the 2016 referendum. The first was to decide to plan from the very beginning on the basis that we would likely leave the EU without an agreement as a “third country” and then allow a new partnership to evolve after that point. However, if the Government was unwilling to leave without an agreement because it feared for the implications for Northern Ireland or the possible risks to the economy, then they needed to recognise from the beginning that we would have to make significant compromise with the EU and that in turn would have required the government to seek a cross party consensus. The problems we have at the moment are largely because the current Prime Minister has failed to choose either course with clarity. 
In the next two weeks we must redouble our efforts to identify where that consensus lies and get a cross party settlement within parliament about the type of approach we want and then we will have the mandate needed to nail down a final agreement with the EU. If it turns out that the PM cannot command a consensus for her own Withdrawal Agreement or a variant of it, then I have been pushing an alternative plan b, namely that we simply rejoin the European Free Trade Associating which we founded in 1960 as an alternative to political integration in the EU. It could be delivered in a matter of months, would give us control of agriculture and fisheries and an independent trade policy but we would agree to align some of our technical standards to reduce problems at border crossings. I have been making the case for this alternative in recent weeks, and it’s time may yet come.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

A new Bill to protect Hares

As we approach Easter, there is still precious little change in the ongoing Brexit saga. However, since it is Easter, I have been working on a new Bill to be put before Parliament that would help to protect hares during their breeding season and prevent so many baby hares from being orphaned and left to perish. 
My forthcoming Hares Preservation Bill aims is to introduce a close season on the killing and taking of hares during the breeding season. This is predominantly an animal welfare issue in that dependent baby hares (leverets) are left to starve if their mother is shot. However, there are also some concerns about our Brown Hare population which is coming under pressure from disease at the moment. 
The need for a close season was actually recognised by our Victorian forebears. In 1892 they introduced the Hares Preservation Act which established a close season but did so by having a prohibition on the sale of hares. In those days a ban on sale was seen as the most enforceable option since there was no wildlife licensing regime nor licencing authority in the way we have today through Natural England. Also, there was no refrigeration nor freezer technology and most hares were in fact killed to be eaten in an era when food was less plentiful. However, the 1892 Act no longer works to deliver its intended purpose since hares are not typically to be found hanging in markets these days and are shot for sport rather than food. 
My new Hares Preservation Bill would provide a long overdue update to this 127 year old law. It would simply introduce a modern close season consistent with that which we already have on other mammals and birds in legislation like the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. There would be a prohibition on the killing and taking of hares during the breeding season. The breeding season in the 1892 Act was deemed to be from the 1st March to the end of August, however, there is some evidence that a February to August period might be more appropriate and we will consider this during the passage of the Bill. 
The Bill would recognise that there could be some circumstances where, in very local situations in parts of East Anglia, hares could cause damage to crops so it would also make provision for Natural England to be able to licence localised culling within the breeding season if the hare population were judged to be a serious threat agricultural crops or land. However I would envisage this power being used very sparingly. 
Finally, the Bill would also repeal the outdated 1892 Act since a ban on selling hare meat when it may, for instance, have been in a frozen game pie, no longer makes sense in the modern age especially once it has been replaced with a modern close season that delivers the original purpose more effectively. 
Our Brown Hare population has been placed under pressure from many threats including diseases and the switch to earlier mowing of grass to make silage rather than traditional hay meadows. There is also an animal welfare issue since orphaned leverets are abandoned to starve when their mother is killed. As long ago as 1892, the Victorians recognised that it was essential to protect hares during their breeding season but and an update in the law is long overdue. It is shameful that we do not currently have anything effective in place when even the Victorians took this seriously. 

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Post-Brexit immigration plans will leave us short of key workers

Before going into politics I worked in the farming industry growing vegetables and strawberries. I therefore fully understand the challenges facing farmers at a time when we have record low unemployment and labour shortages. This week I tabled a motion in Parliament calling on the government to immediately convert its planned pilot scheme into a fully operational Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme by 2020. Not only would this address the urgent nature of the current labour shortage facing the agriculture sector, it would show that we are willing to be open to non EU countries and allow people to come here on short stay working visas.
I campaigned to leave the EU and I want us to have an independent immigration policy but with our new freedom comes the responsibility to get it right. We should think of the cleaners working late tonight, the care worker who will help your grandmother start the day tomorrow or the farm workers who have been out in the rain to put fresh vegetables on our tables. Do we value these people and the work they do? 
We should, but sadly the message from the Home Office is they don't. They envisage a post Brexit immigration policy where so called "low skilled" people, who have fewer formal qualifications and are on lower incomes will not be allowed into our country. Instead they only want what they term the "brightest and the best", people like them who went to university and are on a big salary. Under the approach, Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s own father would have been denied entry to our country. That's indefensible. 
One of the achievements of the Conservative led government after 2010 was its success in creating jobs. Levels of employment are at record levels but businesses across many sectors report real challenges recruiting staff. We have no shortage of under-employed graduates. What we lack is enough people willing to do hard graft and any coherent policy must recognise this. 
The Home Secretary has been badly advised by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). It is a panel of narrow minded economists. Not one of them has ever run a business nor created any wealth. Therefore to turn things around, the first thing we need to do is shut down the current MAC and replace it with a new advisory council made up of serious people in business with real experience of employment. 
Secondly, the government should convert the planned pilot on a seasonal agriculture workers scheme into a fully-fledged one. We successfully ran a scheme from 1945 to 2013 so what's the point of a pilot? Finally, the government must make clear that when we leave the EU and free movement ends, we will open up an appropriate provision for Tier 3 work permits for lower skilled and lower income occupations since this is where there is a shortage that needs to be addressed. 
People voted to take back control of immigration but they didn't vote to pull up the draw bridge and they certainly did not vote to give preferential access to the wealthy or those on big salaries so it is time for a rethink about immigration policy. 

Thursday, 4 April 2019

The UK can’t accept backward US food standards – or chlorinated chicken

Measured by import value, the UK market for food is the third largest in the world. Everyone seeks access to it, including the US. I believe in open markets and want us to have an independent trade policy. However, if the Americans want to be granted privileged access to the UK market, they will have to learn to abide by British law and British standards. 
In the UK, we have built one of the most sophisticated and discerning markets for food in the world. Consumers have become more informed and show more interest in the provenance of their food and how it is produced. The British retail sector has contributed to building a strong brand around provenance and standards. Regulators have also made sure that we strive for the highest standards of animal welfare and food safety in the world. 
However, agriculture in the US remains backward in many respects. It retains a position of resisting more information on labels to limit consumer knowledge and engagement. Its livestock sectors often suffer from poor husbandry leading to the prevalence of disease and a greater reliance on antibiotics. Whereas the UK looks to manage disease and contamination risk throughout the supply chain, the US is more inclined to simply treat contamination of its meat at the end with a chlorine or similar wash. 
However, the greatest difference between the British and US farming systems is their attitudes to animal welfare. The UK has legally recognised the sentience of farm animals since 1875 and since then has introduced various acts in 1911 and 1933 to improve animal welfare culminating in the 2006 Animal Welfare Act. Put simply, we have some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world. 
In the US, legislation on animal welfare is woefully deficient. There are some regulations governing slaughterhouses but they are not as comprehensive, and there is a general resistance to even acknowledge the existence of sentience in farm animals which is quite extraordinary. 
US consumers have started to drive a change. There has been a growing demand for “natural” beef that has not been treated with hormones. There has also been a growing organic sector. The most important change has been delivered by emerging policies from large companies such as McDonald’s. Steve Easterbrook, a British citizen and the former head of McDonald’s in the UK has developed a suite of policies to promote higher animal welfare on farms supplying McDonald’s. He has since become the global CEO of McDonald’s based in the US and has taken British values of compassion with him helping to drive improvement in welfare on some US farms. 
A modern trade deal is not simply about commerce, it is also about values. One option might be to suggest that the US introduce a similar piece of legislation at federal level to drive the modernisation of its own laws. We could even send British advisers to Washington to help them do it as part of our trade negotiations. 
The international trade secretary understandably wants to talk about opportunities for new industries such as services or digital but, in the court of public opinion, if the choice is between the commercial interests of banks or the welfare of chickens, the chickens will win every time. The sound of clucking chickens will never be far from the negotiating table, tugging at our consciences so we might as well get used to it. We should use the power of the UK to project British values of kindness and compassion in any future trade deals.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Learn to Play

The Brexit saga continues but, as I write this, there is sadly nothing new to report, so I am going to give this column a welcome break from the EU debate and touch on something lighter. 
Last Saturday was “Learn to Play” day run by the Music for All charity which encourages people up and down the country to try a musical instrument and take a taster lesson. I was never much good at music at school but have always somewhat regretted not learning to play an instrument. Last week I visited Pool Academy and one of their students was playing a piece of music on the piano. She was incredibly talented and clearly had a natural vocation for music. I am always impressed by those who can play instruments as if it were a second nature. 
I think that learning to play the piano or another instrument is similar to learning a language. It can develop parts of the mind and is therefore an important element of a child’s learning and this fact is often overlooked in education. There is a problem that music departments in schools are often quite variable and usually depend on there being one individual who has a passion and is able to share that passion. I also think that the focus on academic subjects can sometimes squeeze out time for pursuits such as music. It is not just something that can be of benefit to young people. Although learning anything is obviously easier at a young age, for those in later life who have spare time and want to keep their brain active, learning to play an instrument can be a worthwhile and enjoyable new challenge. 
In our area, we are of course blessed with many talented town bands. The Camborne Youth Band under the leadership of Alan Pope have done incredibly well in recent years and have been invited to play at events in Belgium to commemorate the First World War. We also have many others who are regularly seen at events around our towns, especially at Christmas or the annual Remembrance Sunday parades. We have a wealth of choirs too which is another deep part of our Cornish heritage.
For those with an interest in Music, we are lucky in Camborne to have Trevada Music on Chapel Street which is the leading music store in Cornwall. I visited in Saturday and met Dan Higgins, their manager, who had a passion for his work. The range of music instruments they had on offer was extraordinary and I was surprised to hear that they also run regular lessons in a range of instruments. They had a busy day with many taster lessons offered on the piano, the guitar, trumpet and drums. While I was there one seven year old boy had decided to try every instrument he could to see what he liked the most. I think the drums won. 

Thursday, 21 March 2019

It’s time to deliver Brexit

The actions of Parliament last week were a blow to the credibility of our democracy. We have signalled to the world that we are too scared to leave the EU without its permission, and we are about to send our Prime Minister to Brussels on her hands and knees to beg for an extension. 
For those like me who voted to leave without a deal if necessary, it is no good sobbing over the fact that we lost a line-out and that those who want to thwart the referendum result are running away with the ball. We need to regroup and get back in the game.
We have been arguing about Brexit solidly for over three years now and our system cannot take another two years of this, especially if there is a long extension to article 50. What is needed now is a way to secure early closure on this debate and to expedite our departure from the EU. 
There is a simpler and swifter way to leave the EU. We should rely on our existing legal rights and obligations as a signatory to the European Economic Area (EEA) and switch to a relationship similar to Norway. The UK is a party to that agreement, and the Government took a conscious decision last year not to give twelve months notice to leave the EEA, as is required under article 127 of that agreement. 
First, we would agree to a stand-still arrangement with the EU for a transitional period of nine months, during which we would dynamically align all of our regulations, so that there would be no need for the EU to put in place border checks. 
We would then immediately apply to join the so called EFTA pillar of the EEA agreement. The UK invented the idea of EDTA in 1959 as an alternative to the EU. We could have friendship and cooperation but not get subsumed into the political structures of the EU. Initially we built an alliance of seven countries including Denmark, Sweden, Portugal and Austria but we abandoned them and caved in to those who thought we should join the EU. 
Returning to full EFTA membership would take six-nine months to complete but joining the necessary surveillance and court agreements to make the EEA operable could be agreed within three months. The standstill agreement on regulatory alignment would become a bridge to somewhere (i.e: EFTA) rather than an open-ended continuation of this exhausting debate. 
Under the EFTA approach we can settle this debate now rather than condemn our country to years more argument about Brexit. It removes the backstop, since article 127 of the EEA means we already have an existing legal right to terminate our membership of it with 12 months notice. We would avoid having to negotiate a “future partnership” with the EU, and fall back on the provisions of an existing treaty to which we are already a party. We would be out of the Customs Union and have an independent trade policy, but part of a ready-made comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU. We would have an independent agriculture and fisheries policy. There would be no need for a two year “implementation period”. Finally, it delivers on the referendum result, since the 1972 European Communities Act would be repealed on time. 
As parliament wrestles in these desperate last days for a way out of this maze, the so called Norway option looks increasingly attractive as a way to solve the political crisis quickly and deliver Brexit on time.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

If MPs vote down the Brexit deal, the only option for a serious country is to leave without an agreement

EU institutions are designed to be insulated from democratic forces. They take the view that nothing that a national democracy might do can change the Treaty obligations that all member states are under. It is what makes them such a lumbering and inflexible organisation and one of the reasons why this negotiation has been so difficult. 
When any referendum in a Member State comes up with an inconvenient answer, the EU has a long history of expecting people to vote again until they give them the right answer. They have no qualms about humiliating a national government, as Greece learnt, even if in doing so they store up even bigger political problems for the future. 
This week Parliament will have an important decision to take. As I write this article we don’t know whether the Prime Minister agreement will pass. However, if it fails to get through, are we going to roll over like Greece did? Will we go back, cap in hand to ask for an extension, and then meekly accept whatever terms they attach to that extension, if it’s allowed at all? Or are we going to face them down, calmly get our coat and walk out the door? 
This is a deeply uncomfortable decision for Parliament to be confronted with, but there is only one viable option if we regard ourselves as a serious country. In the absence of an agreement, we have no alternative but to muster the courage to leave without one and then do all we can to mitigate any impacts of a departure without an agreement. Unless we are psychologically prepared to leave with no deal, we can never expect to get a good deal. In any event, “no deal” is a bit of a misnomer. A more accurate description would be “no deal, yet.” In many ways, the idea that you can get anywhere by negotiating with the EU while still a member has been tested to destruction. If it turns out that approach has now failed, then we should try a different one, get out first and talk afterwards. 
There is an approach that would mitigate the effects of any departure without a deal and provide time and space for talks to continue after we have left. We should unilaterally commit to dynamically align with all EU regulations across the piece, as if we were still a member of the EU, for a transitional period of nine months. That way, the EU would have no real reason to put up full border infrastructure or checks. We already know that they are not ready for us to leave. 
To leave the EU without an agreement would cause some short-term challenges but in all of the scenario planning I was involved in as a minister, the difference between a reasonable best-case scenario and a reasonable worse-case scenario really came down to one thing: how will the EU behave. If they act in a proportionate and pragmatic way, then the situation can be managed to mitigate the effects for both parties. 
I have always supported compromise to achieve reconciliation in our country over this issue, including being open to using our existing EEA membership as an exit mechanism. But if we fail to leave at all, we will be completely humiliated.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

How the Foreign Office kept open an EEA parachute

On the 22nd of March last year, I was in Oslo Meeting Norwegian Ministers about fisheries. Our then Ambassador to Norway explained to me that she had had a busy week. The Foreign Office had placed her on stand-by to hand deliver a letter to the Norwegiangovernment giving 12 months notice of our intention to leave the EEA, as required under article 127 of that agreement. In the event, the so called "implementation period" was agreed on the 19th of March so she was stood down. The letter was never delivered and the UK government took a conscious decision not to leave the EEA.
This made me curious. From the very beginning, the official line from the government had been that "it believed" we did not need to give notice to leave the EEA. It was argued that, although the UK was a direct signatory to the EEA agreement, it was essentially an agreement between the EU and the EFTA states. The most fashionable legal interpretation had been that our membership of the EEA automatically fell away once we left the EU. However, if that were really true and if that were the only possible legal interpretation, why was our Ambassador armed with a letter and on stand-by to hand deliver it to the Norwegian government.
After much probing of government lawyers, what I finally established is that there is more than one possible interpretation as to whether we need to give notice to leave the EEA. In fact, a more accurate interpretation is that we remain bound by the EEA agreement as a signatory to it but that if we leave the EU but don't simultaneously join the EFTA pillar, the agreement would become inoperable. 
Foreign Office lawyers thought that, if no "implementation period" was agreed, the Cabinet might quickly resolve to leave with no deal at all. If that happened, they had established that we should give notice under article 127 before the 29th March, otherwise we would be exposed to a potential challenge from other parties under the Vienna Convention. Someone in the Foreign Office, probably at official level, also had the foresight to recognise that a future government might want to retain the option of adopting a different legal interpretation should the political facts require it. So a decision was taken not to give notice and the letter was scrapped, using the advent of an "implementation period" as the excuse.
If the PM's agreement fails, I am personally for no deal. However, as we stare into the abyss of this current political crisis, we need to be ready to make a political choice about the legal interpretation we choose to adopt. It is not just about lawyers with their lever arch files. What if an alternative arrangement simply consisted of asserting our existing rights as an EEA member and agreeing with the other parties that we will transfer from the EU to the EFTA pillar? We would leave on time, there would be no backstop, no customs union, no problems at the border and no more Groundhog Day of Brexit debate.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

George Eustice resigns from the government

Last week, it was with tremendous sadness that I resigned from the government following the decision by Parliament to allow the postponement of our exit from the EU. Since Parliament is now in direct control of events, I wanted to be free to participate in the critical debate that will take place in the weeks ahead and I feel that the only place to do so is on the backbenches. 
I have worked in Defra for over 5 years, and I can truly say that it has been an honour to work alongside so many talented individuals. Defra has phenomenal expertise and, more than any other government department, has embraced the opportunities posed by our exit from the EU. I have particularly welcomed the chance to craft two new Bills on farming and fisheries, which are the first for half a century, as we have prepared the ground to restore self-government in this country. 
Whilst I have resigned from the government, I will be voting for the Withdrawal Agreement when it returns to the House. Although I campaigned to leave, I have always supported compromise to achieve a reconciliation in our country, and that is why I very much hope that the Attorney General succeeds in securing final changes to the deal. Leaving the EU would represent an historic change and it is natural that some people will feel apprehensive. I have made clear in this column before that there is an opportunity to use our existing membership of the EEA as an exit mechanism for a smoother exit. 
I supported the Prime Minister’s approach outlined at Chequers when others did not, and I stuck with the government through a series of rather undignified retreats. However, the developments of the past few weeks will lead to a sequence of events culminating in the EU dictating the terms of any extension requested and the final humiliation of our country. Evidently the Prime Minister has been terribly undermined by those in Parliament who refuse to respect the referendum result. She has shown great tenacity and resilience over the past year, but what our country needs from all its political leaders at this critical juncture is courage, and we are about to find out whether Parliament has it. 
In my role as a Defra Minister, I have enjoyed good relations with the European Commission and with Ministers from other member states. However, I do not believe that the Commission has behaved honourably during these negotiations.  They have deliberately made progress slow and difficult. They have stated in terms that they will refuse to even hold substantive negotiations on a future partnership until after we leave. If the position of Parliament is now that we will refuse to leave without an agreement, then we are somewhat stuck. This is uncomfortable for everyone, but we cannot negotiate a successful Brexit unless we are prepared to walk out the door. 
We must therefore have the courage, if necessary, to reclaim our freedom first and talk afterwards.  We must be ready to face down the European Union here and now.  The absence of an agreement poses risks and costs for them too. We already know that in the event of "no deal" the EU will seek an informal transition period for nine months in many areas and settlement talks could continue within this window. 
I will continue to do what I can from the back benches to try to salvage this sorry situation and I hope that, when the moment comes, Parliament will not let our country down.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Improving access to Dental care

The NHS is a great British institution. All of us will rely on it at some point in our lives. Last year, the independent Commonwealth Fund looked at health services around the world and considered that what we have in the UK is the best in the world. The many hard-working nurses and doctors who contribute to this success have a lot of be proud of. Locally we have great work done at St Michael's Hospital, which is a national leader in breast surgery, and Camborne and Redruth Hospital which has a number of specialisms including stroke and prosthetics. 
The NHS also provides access to local dental practices across the country. We all know the importance of looking after our teeth and ensuring good dental hygiene with regular check-ups. It can be an important way of identifying other conditions early such as mouth cancers. Unfortunately for many across Cornwall, gaining access to an NHS dentist is not as easy as it should be. I have had a growing number of constituents reporting problems getting access to a local dentist and part of the problem is the fact that we are on a peninsula and staff retention is harder. 
Ironically, we have a dental school in Truro and train many dentists every year but getting them stay in Cornwall is proving more difficult. Waiting lists for dental treatment are not uncommon in Cornwall, with 52% of adults in Devon and Cornwall recorded as not seeing an NHS dentist in the past two years. This means that when patients do visit their dentists, it is often for more complex treatments that take longer to solve. 
NHS England, who are largely responsible for administering dental services across the country are working hard to commission new services and reduce waiting lists, but the problem is exacerbated in the way that dentists are paid. Previously, dentists used to gain money based on a set payment tariff for “units of work” that they complete. Under the previous Labour government, these tariffs were simplified about twelve years ago to one basic tariff for most work. Although there were good intentions behind that change to simplify things, it does mean that dentists now do not receive a higher payment that would cover complex cases and parts of the country are more prone to having patients presenting with complex problems than others. 
If we want to reduce the numbers of patients on waiting lists, then we must pursue a range of options that will start to improve local services. From working with local providers to ensure that existing contacts are delivering to their maximum potential to commissioning additional NHS work from practices that have capacity available across Cornwall. In recent weeks I have also met with the Minister for Public Health and Primary Care to discuss the issue in greater detail and have also spoken to the Director of Commissioning Operations at NHS England in the South West. 
Despite the difficulties that many are experiencing, there are arrangements in place to ensure that those without a dentist requiring treatment, can access an urgent dental appointment as a priority. Patients who are waiting for a place at an NHS dentist can access emergency treatment by contacting Westcountry Dental in Truro on 03334050290. 

Thursday, 21 February 2019

The legacy of mining works

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. 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.
The unexpected nature of some of these mining features can cause setbacks for major projects. There is an old local saying "deeper than Dolcoath" which is a reference to the depth of the old Dolcoath mine. When the new link road was being constructed, I visited civil engineers to see a problem they had discovered. There was a disused mine shaft that had been covered over with a thick metal plate, when it was removed they threw a large rock down the shaft, but no sound came back. The rock disappeared into the abyss. Fixing that and other similar problems was a costly exercise and caused delays. 
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 with their mortgage application but then find unknown features which present problems that were not foreseen. There are two main survey companies locally and each has their own intellectual property in the form of old maps. There is not a perfect overlap of intelligence. In addition, many insurers will not include mining subsidence in their cover unless it actually threatens the house itself.  
I have been working to identify a possible solution to this problem. In older coal mining areas, there has always been a government backed scheme to help residents remedy such problems. This is because the coal industry was nationalised and when it was privatised, no one would take on historic liabilities. Therefore, there is a different approach for people who live in former coal mining areas than those living in tin mining areas. I recently wrote to the Chief Executive of Coal Authority and met the chief scientist at the Business Department to discuss the issue in greater depth and see if the law could be reformed so that there was equal treatment for people dealing with old tin mines. After all, the challenge is the same whether the mines were once publicly or privately owned. 
An alternative idea that I am exploring is whether there could be some sort of regulatory change to make it more likely that insurers will provide full cover for such projects within the curtilage of any property. In areas where there is a high flood risk and where homeowners are unable to access flood insurance due to the high risk, the government introduced a new mutualised risk scheme that meant a very small increase in all insurance bills in order to provide a mutual fund that could be accessed by all insurers to deal with high risk properties. It could be one way to address the issue. There is further to go to bring a solution through legislation, but I do feel there is an injustice here that has a particular local relevance and I am keen to try to find an answer.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Finn’s Law

One of the refreshing features about the way our British parliamentary system works is that the government of the day does not have complete control of the parliamentary agenda. On many so called "sitting Fridays" in parliament, time is set aside for individual Bills, brought by individual MPs, usually to deliver small changes in legislation. Many fall by the wayside but some make to onto the statute book. 
Any MP from any party can apply for the opportunity to introduce a Private Members Bill. Sometimes they will cooperate with government to help get their legislation across the line, sometimes they will try their luck and face down opposition from the government. When I was first elected I introduced a Bill to try to reform the law to help strengthen protections for small businesses and entrepreneurs against bank repossessions. It didn't make it that time but it enabled me to design what the clauses for the legislation would look like and I have been promoting it ever since.
Last Friday, in my role as a Defra Minister, I was responsible for helping to support one of these Private Members Bills. The Bill has been introduced by the Hertfordshire MP, Oliver Heald and has been dubbed "Finn’s Law". It has the support of the government and last Friday gained the support of the House of Commons and now moves to the next stages in the House of Lords. The aim of the new legislation is to make it easier to bring prosecutions when police dogs and other service animals are attacked in the course of their duties. 
Finn’s law is named after Finn an Alsatian police dog who saved the life of his handler when a robbery suspect they were pursuing turned on them with a knife in 2016. Finn was stabbed in the chest and head but bravely did not let go until reinforcements arrived and was initially thought unlikely to survive. Unfortunately, whilst the suspect was charged with actual bodily harm in relation to wounds to PC Wardell’s hand, he faced only criminal damage charges over the injuries to Finn. I met Finn on Friday and could see that he was a dedicated service dog who would do anything to protect his handler. 
The aim of Finn’s law is to amend the Animal Welfare Act 2006 so that the statutory defence of acting through fear does not apply to any service animal that has is under the control of its handler. This includes Police Dogs and Horses, Prison Dogs and Fire and Rescue Dogs. This will mean that were a service animal such as a police fog or horse be harmed whilst carrying out their duties, then the offender would be able to be charged with an offence under this new law. 
Supported by the Government, the Mayor of London, The Mayor of Greater Manchester, all Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales, the RSPCA, IFAW and many more, it is clear that there is a lot of support for this change in law. Whilst there is still a little way to go, there is also a fair wind behind this idea and cross party support for what it seeks to achieve.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Constituency catchup

It is good to get out of Westminster at the end of each week and get back home to visit some of the many amazing charities, local schools and innovative businesses that make Camborne and Redruth such a creative and resilient place to live. I am a regular user of the sleeper train and the refurbishment of the rolling stock is now fully complete. Since I now have a 16-month-old daughter, the Thursday night journey on the sleeper is probably the best night's sleep I get all week!
On Friday morning I visited St Day and Carharrack Community School. Under the current head teacher, Susannah Storey, the school has been putting a focus on building aspiration and self confidence in its pupils. During my visit, I talked about the role of an MP as part of a programme of events they have on careers and heard about some of the work and priorities from the school and their Student Council. I try to visit all 35 of our primary schools every few years and never cease to be impressed by the commitment of staff and pupils alike.
Next on the agenda was a visit to the new council offices and library in Camborne. The Town Council have done a brilliant job restoring the building to its former glory. Inside the building the new offices are spacious, and the library has had a complete overhaul. There have been one or two teething problems with damp following the treatment which is being rectified. The library is performing well supported by volunteers and there’s even a Cornish reference section helping to preserve our unique Cornish heritage. I was also informed that the Rhyme Time club which is run for parents with younger children has also grown in size. The library is an iconic Camborne business.
In the afternoon I met the new principle of Cornwall College along with the Chairman to discuss the challenges which the college is facing, and more positively about some of the work that is taking place. The college has had some challenges over the last few years but, despite some tough decisions, the dedication and loyalty of the team to the college remains incredibly strong. I was a student at Cornwall College in the late 80's and it is an incredibly important asset locally in supporting young people on apprenticeships and providing them with the skills that they need to take well paid employment.
Later in the evening I also took part in a question time panel hosted by a group of students at Penryn College. Rather as you might expect, many of the questions focused on Brexit and the effect that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU would have on the country and Cornwall. It was a robust discussion and I was impressed that, among the students, there was actually a lot of confidence in the ability of our country to do well and take on new opportunities after we leave the EU.
Finally, on Saturday morning I held my regular advice surgery. I hold advice surgeries most weeks and have a dedicated team who are here to help unblock problems. If you have a problem that you need help solving, why not email us or drop into our Camborne office to arrange to meet one of our team. I can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk, by telephone on 0207 219 7032 or by appointment in our Camborne Office at 13 Commercial Street, Camborne, TR14 8JZ.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Reasons to be positive

As I write this, the ongoing deadlock in Parliament over how to leave the European Union looms over everything else. I know that virtually everyone across the country feels deeply frustrated and, in some cases, angry, at the inability to reach a settlement and deliver what people voted for. 
The deadlock also crowds out discussion and debate on many other important issues and means that some good news gets overlooked. One area is the continuing success of our economy to create growth and new jobs. Recent figures have confirmed our continued progress but has gone under reported. In 2010 when Gordon Brown left office, our national debt was spiralling out of control, there was a recession, unemployment was rising, and youth unemployment was a persistent problem. 
As a government we had to take some tough decisions in order to restore fiscal responsibility and get our country’s finances back on track. Everyone has made sacrifices and played their part and now, because of the hard work that we have put in in, we’ve begun to turn our country around and get the economy moving again. 
Nine years after the Labour Party left government, unemployment is at its lowest level for 50 years with a record number of just under 33 million people now in work, and the highest employment rate since records began in 1971. What this means is that the number of people working has continued to grow, whilst the share of the workforce looking for work and unable to find it remains at its lowest level for over 40 years. In Camborne and Redruth, the unemployment rate remains below that of the national average with the total number of unemployed claimants for December 2018 totalling 1,245 or 3%. This is less than the equivalent UK claimant rate of 3.1%, and more significantly that of the national unemployment rate of 4%. 
Recent figures confirmed that the country’s debt is also continuing to come under control with the Government delivering the lowest yearly borrowing rate for 16 years and recent figures showing that overspending by the Government has fallen with it being at its lowest level since 2012 and £13.1billion less than last year. 
These statistics are no accident but the product of a series of reforms introduced by the government to improve our economy and a lot of hard work by everyone to achieve for their family. We’ve cut taxes, reformed welfare, made it easier for businesses to employ people, frozen fuel duty and increased the national living wage. As a country, we’re now growing faster than other EU nations, with the International Monetary Fund recently stating that they expect the UK to have the joint-fastest GDP growth among European countries in the G7 nations in both 2019 and 2020, further strengthening the case that Britain is a great place to live, start a business and raise a family. 
All of this is built on the foundations of the principles of fiscal responsibility and delivering a strong economy that works for everyone. Despite the current Brexit gloom felt by many, Britain is back on its feet, strong and growing stronger every day. Whilst there is still a long way to go, the progress that we have made demonstrates the flair, ingenuity and hard work of the British people, and the Government’s resolve to improving our economy.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Honouring the result of the referendum

Although people are weary of talking about Brexit, as we approach the critical moment of departure it does dominate everything in political debate and events are moving quickly. Difficult negotiations often go all the way to the wire and this one is certainly difficult. 
I have always thought that it would be better to come out of the EU in an orderly way with an agreement on a future partnership to ensure there was no disruption to trade. However, to deliver this required both the EU to act responsibly and for parliament to work towards finding a consensus that would end the Brexit argument and put our country back together. In the event, the EU dragged its feet and made the negotiation protracted and far more difficult than it needed to be. Meanwhile, parliament has so far stubbornly refused to bridge the differences in opinion that exist to secure a consensus. 
My hope has always been that a compromise around an option similar to Norway might eventually prevail. It would mean we became an independent country again, took back control of agriculture and fisheries and could have an independent trade policy while aligning some of our technical rules with our closest trading partner to facilitate trade. 
However, there is one group of MPs who refuse to consider such an option because they want to go further and another group who refuse to consider it because they still think that they can use a parliamentary ruse to frustrate the referendum result, block Brexit altogether and force people to keep voting until they vote to stay in. As a result, deadlock currently reigns, and the clock is ticking. 
If parliament cannot forge a consensus and the EU refuses to make concessions, then we have no option but to walk away without an agreement. In the weeks ahead, I will still argue for compromise and continue to offer an olive branch to other MPs who have dug themselves in to polarised positions. However, in the final analysis we must honour the referendum result. I strongly oppose those who argue that we should ignore a democratic vote and try to force a second referendum. I will not support cancelling Brexit nor holding a second referendum. 
Leaving without an agreement will cause some friction and it is difficult to predict the extent of this until we actually do it. The government has been actively planning for this contingency for two years since it was always a possibility. In my own department, Defra, huge amounts of work as gone into the systems that would be required for borders and for new documentation to accompany exports and to consider what our trade policy should be in a "no deal" scenario. It won't be smooth, but we are probably as ready as we could ever be. People want us to get on with it.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Which way now?

As I write this column, Parliament has just rejected the Prime Minister's withdrawal agreement from the EU by a huge margin and we are about to face a day of debate in a confidence motion in the government. The one thing we know is that things can always get worse in politics! 
However, out of the current chaos it is still possible that a consensus could emerge. The current impasse has been driven by a number of factors. Firstly, the country remains deeply divided over the decision to leave the EU and parliament reflects that. Secondly, too much emphasis was placed on what was "negotiable" with the EU and not enough on what would gain support back home and as a result, our negotiators made too many concessions that stored up serious problems that were then exposed when tested to a vote. Thirdly, Jeremy Corbyn desperately wants a General Election and that objective has been put above trying to find a settlement that the country could unite behind. 
The default position now is that we leave the EU without an agreement and revert to what is called "WTO rules". The government has been actively planning for this contingency for two years since it was always a possibility. We are probably as ready as we could ever be. In my own department, Defra, huge amounts of work as gone into the systems that would be required for borders and for new documentation to accompany exports and to consider what our trade policy should be in a "no deal" scenario. However, it is likely that, even with this planning, there would be turbulence and problems that are hard to predict. Much would depend on whether the EU would behave in a responsible way and try to make things work smoothly or whether they would behave in a reckless way. We don't know exactly how smooth or difficult a no deal scenario would be. 
The ideal answer therefore, is for parliament to reach an agreement on an alternative approach and then force the EU to do something they are not always good at - making a decision quickly. The first thing that needs to happen is for Jeremy Corbyn to have his day trying for a no confidence motion in the government but hopefully get defeated. By the time you read this article you will know the outcome of that no confidence motion. If we have a General Election now, then nothing can be done for six weeks and if there were a new Labour government at the end of it, they would then immediately cancel Brexit and betray all those who voted for change in 2016. However, if Jeremy Corbyn loses that vote of no confidence, then it will focus minds and it is then it is possible that the Labour Party will be willing to engage sensibly in a discussion about what sort of agreement the they would support. 
The second thing we need to do is vanquish those who want to ignore the referendum result and force people to vote again until they learn to do what the political elites demand. There is no point at all having a second referendum if parliament lacks the integrity to honour the result of the first. A decision to ignore the 2016 referendum result would be deeply damaging to our country and must not be allowed. 
However, we then need to reach a settlement that reflects the result of the 2016 referendum and allows parliament and our country to make peace with itself. I have said before that there is now growing momentum behind a so called Norway option that would mean we leave the EU with immediate effect but delay our departure from the EEA agreement. Under this option, we would become an independent country again with our own agriculture and fisheries policy but we would remain in a free trade area with the EU. It was actually Britain that invented the idea of a European Free Trade Association as a rival to the EU back in the 1950s. We built an alliance of seven countries at a time when the EU only had six. With hindsight we made a terrible mistake by abandoning what we had created and surrendering our independence to the EU in 1972. Maybe in the end we will pick up where we left off but there will be more argument before we get to that point.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Supporting our local communities

Now that Parliament has returned from the Christmas recess, much of the focus and attention will shift back to the ongoing Brexit negotiations. Parliament will 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. 
Closer to home however, there have been a number of good news stories that demonstrate the work that is being done to support charities and businesses. Recently it was announced that the Government would be providing a funding boost of £5million to support lifesaving charities that work hard all year round to help keep our waterways safe. This funding has come as part of the inshore and inland lifeboat grant scheme which has provided £1million for charities every year since 2014.
The two charities in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle that received extra funding were Hayle Surf Life Saving Club and Surf Live Saving Cornwall. The money will help to pay for new boats, safety equipment and other costs to support rescue teams. We owe emergency service workers a debt of gratitude for the courage, commitment and dedication they demonstrate in keeping us safe.
Further Government support has also been provided to the Royal Cornwall Hospital’s Trust by the Government in a bid to help deliver improved clinical facilities and backlog maintenance. £9.1million of extra Government funding comes as part of the wider plan to provide better services for patients, integrate care better and renew aging facilities. It comes on top of the £20.5bn per year extra funding for the NHS over the next five years - the longest and largest funding settlement in the NHS's history. The investment is part of the wider plan to provide better services for patients, integrate care better and renew aging facilities.
Supporting our local communities also comes in different forms. Recently, I attended an event in Parliament hosted by the charity Guide Dogs to raise awareness of discrimination against guide dog owners. In the UK it is against the law to refuse access to a disabled person accompanied by an assistance dog except in the most exceptional circumstances. However, a recent Guide Dogs survey found that three quarters of assistance dog owners reported that they had been refused entry by businesses. It’s important that as we work to make society more inclusive and accessible for all that we continue to support those in our communities, including those who are the most vulnerable.
My office is always open to help assist people with queries or cases that they may have. If you have a problem that you need help solving, why not email us to provide some detail or drop into our Camborne office to arrange to meet one of our team. George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk, by telephone on 0207 219 7032 or by appointment in our Camborne Office at 13 Commercial Street, Camborne, TR14 8JZ.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Happy New Year

The New Year has always been regarded as a time for hope and optimism. For some, it is a chance to turn over a new leaf, stop smoking or start exercising. For others it’s a chance to take up a new hobby or reflect on what’s happened in the previous year. 
The uncertainties that have dominated the Brexit negotiations mean that for some, we go in to this particular New Year with a degree of apprehension. 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 firmly believe however that 2019 will be a defining moment in our country’s history as we leave the EU and re-establish the rule of British law in many policy areas including agriculture and fisheries. 
But closer to home there are many reasons to be optimistic. In the campaign to protect our greenfield sites we have achieved a number of victories protecting these valuable green spaces, particularly at Menehay Fields and Troon. I have always said that there should be a principle of building on brownfield sites before greenfield sites, especially around our towns. Developments should also be done with communities, not to them. Planning decisions will always be contentious but by working together with residents and local councillors we can help protect what makes Camborne, Redruth and Hayle such a beautiful place to live. 
The work at Hayle Harbour has also continued to progress and earlier this summer I met the current owners to discuss their plans and to encourage them to move forward now that all the other work has been completed. Up next on the list is the other phases of the regeneration and the completion of the mixed development on the rest of South Quay and building the proposed flats and houses on North Quay. 
At Redruth there has also been some great work done as the new Archive Centre is beginning to take shape, and at South Crofty, discussions are continuing with the owners of the mine on their plan to build a new modern mine targeting tin and lithium. This is an exciting time for the mine and local community as we rejuvenate an industry that is close to the hearts of many in Camborne and Redruth. 
Finally, in Portreath, the local Parish Council are working with the Environment Agency and Cornwall Council to progress plans for a flood alleviation scheme. This is an important step forward for the local community as we look to protect homes and businesses in the face of the extreme weather which we continue to experience. 
2018 was a turbulent year in British Politics and that looks set to resume when Parliament returns. In the meantime I would like to wish everyone a happy and prosperous New Year and a break from the arguments about Brexit! 
If you have a problem that you need help solving, why not email us to provide some detail or drop into our Camborne office to arrange to meet one of our team. George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk, by telephone on 0207 219 7032 or by appointment in our Camborne Office at 13 Commercial Street, Camborne, TR14 8JZ.