Thursday, 25 July 2019

Post 16-Link Transport Services

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

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Respecting Devolution and votes of conscience

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

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Tin Mining Subsidence Bill 2019


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

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Religious Slaughter

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