Combating religious intolerance

You read about antisemitism, Islamophobia and racism in the newspapers almost every day at the moment. Intolerance is on the rise throughout the world and it would seem that Western democracies are not immune from such hatreds. As the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said in a debate in the House of Lords last month: 

“Antisemitism, or any hate, becomes dangerous when three things happen. First: when it moves from the fringes of politics to a mainstream party and its leadership. Second: when the party sees that its popularity with the general public is not harmed thereby. And three: when those who stand up and protest are vilified and abused for doing so.” 

He concluded: 

“All three factors exist in Britain now. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. That is why I cannot stay silent. For it is not only Jews who are at risk. So too is our humanity.” 

He’s right about the rising tide of religious and racial intolerance, fuelled by populism from the far-right and the far-left. It’s driven by a mix of factors and manifests itself in the form of identity politics, religious nationalism and extremism. The result is discrimination and persecution. 

Yesterday in Parliament when the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, made a statement about Sri Lanka, he spoke for us all: 

“These attacks were a primitive and vile attempt to sow division between people of different faiths. Religious tensions have caused some of the bloodiest battles in human history, and it is sombre and sobering that even in the 21st century attempts continue to set believers of different religions against each other. Our response must be to deny the perpetrators the satisfaction of dividing us by being united in our condemnation of the attacks and united in our support for religious tolerance— surely one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Just as after the equally horrific attacks on the two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, we must respond by bringing people together; that is the exact opposite of what the perpetrators intended. 

The UK will never stand by in the face of such evil. Today, we stand in solidarity with the Government and people of Sri Lanka, who have made enormous strides towards stability and peace following the conclusion of the civil war almost exactly 10 years ago. 

To attack Christian worshippers at Easter, which is a celebration of peace and the holiest day in the Christian calendar, betrays in the attackers an absence of the most basic values of humanity.”  

The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary noted in their Easter messages the dangers facing Christians around the world, 300 of whom are killed every month. In response to such acts, we must redouble our efforts to protect the freedom of religious minorities to practise their faiths, wherever they are. I am delighted that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office asked the Bishop of Truro to do an independent report into what more can be done to protect persecuted Christians around the world. 

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Investing in our public services

We all depend on our much-valued public services and it’s been good to catch up with local leaders.  

Thanks to the dedicated work of our NHS professionals, local health services are improving. Cornwall is also receiving more funding than in the past. Working with our local NHS, I made the case for changes in the formula used by NHS England to allocate funding for our local services. Past and recent changes better reflect the needs of our community and the costs of delivery.  

Our NHS funding will continue to increase. There is more to do but it is good to see improvements for patients noted by the regulator and the hospital inspectors of the Care Quality Commission. 

The interventions of NHS England are also helping Treliske turn a corner and significantly improve patient safety and timelines in accessing services. Treliske has always been highly rated for the quality of care provided by staff. 

This year we will see the publication and public consultation of the Mental Health Strategy for Cornwall. Along with a significant increase in spending on mental health services for people of all ages. With the assistance of dedicated government and parish council funding, there is more GP social prescribing too. 

I have been working with our Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Alison Hernandez, to raise my concerns that we don’t have enough visible policing in our community. So I am pleased our Police this year will receive more resources. The number of Police Officers will be increasing to 3,015 by 2019/20, an overall increase of 115. They will continue with our team of 200 existing PCSOs. 

The focus of this investment to date includes a significant increase in the capacity on roads policing and road safety as well as an increase in the number of armed response officers across Devon and Cornwall.  

Road safety is one of the major issues raised by the public across our communities, last year we saw over 800 people killed or seriously injured in road accidents across the two counties. Through the Police’s new road safety strategy they are increasing the number of officers focused on roads policing and road safety by 24. A new ‘No Excuse’ prevention team will be targeting driver behaviour and the Fatal 5 causes of accidents – speed, fatigue, drink/drug driving, not wearing seatbelts and distractions like using mobile phones while driving. 

While I believe it is essential to have visible community policing, I understand that crime has changed and now most crime is invisible, perpetrated at home and often online. Fraud and crimes involving sexual harm, violence and abuse occur more than the more ‘traditional’ crimes. 

As crime changes so does the police response and in addition to funding local policing there continues to be increased investment into our regional and national crime specialist agencies, protecting people from the serious and organised criminals who trade in so much human suffering from scams, drug dealing and child sexual exploitation to human trafficking and modern slavery. 

MPs must stop bad-mouthing the prime minister and find a way forward for Brexit

The extension of our departure from the EU does not remove the urgent need to resolve the issue of how we leave. In 2017, all Conservative and Labour MPs were elected with manifesto commitments to leave the EU, in an orderly way into a new, close relationship. Not a WTO Brexit. Not to duck our collective responsibility with a second referendum.

How we leave lays the foundations for our future relationships with European countries for many years to come. Its more than just getting enough MPs to vote for a Withdrawal Agreement and a process that will enable us to disentangle ourselves from years of being in the EU. We need to develop mutually respectful, beneficial and enduring relationships with our neighbours and allies as our future national security and prosperity depend on it.

Now is the time for those MPs who are “trash talking” potential Brexit options and the PM to stop. Now is the time to put the national interest ahead of personal Brexit preferences. Now is the time to back not sack the PM in trying to break the impasse in the House of Commons and leave the EU in the best possible way and before the EU Parliament elections in May.

The Future Political Declaration is the right starting point for discussions between the Government and MPs from across the whole political spectrum. It sets out a negotiating position for our future relationship that offers the potential of bespoke arrangements, a tailor made British Brexit. Other countries such as Norway and Switzerland have bespoke arrangements with the EU that work for them.

Essentially, for jobs and important parts of the economy, it contains potential arrangements so we can continue to trade freely with EU countries, while simultaneously, over time, develop new opportunities to make our own trade agreements. To stay competitive, significant industries need some sort of free trade agreement with the EU which in turn will require some sort of customs arrangements and the agreement of some mutually beneficial terms of trade.

Without a negotiated agreement, including customs arrangements enabling us to trade freely with the EU, we are left outside the EU, with a WTO Brexit.

Pascal Lamy, former Director-General of the WTO, has said he thought that there would be no difficulty in the UK becoming an independent member of the WTO outside of the EU. There may be technical negotiations, around tariff rate quotas and governance, but Mr Lamy saw no legal impediment. The UK would rely upon its commitments regarding tariffs on goods and the commitments made on services in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

WTO terms would mean significant extra costs to business that would jeopardise parts of our economy and jobs. Pascal Lamy described the WTO regime as league three in world trade.

We are a creative, innovative, enterprising, first league trading nation and I don’t want to see us relegated to league three of world trade, with a WTO Brexit. After Easter, we should all support the conclusions of the PMs work to break the House of Commons impasse and deliver a British Brexit.

First published in the Times 15/04/19: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/mps-need-to-stop-trashing-the-prime-minister-and-find-a-way-forward-wqn86c9xr

Speaking up for affordable housing for local people

Yesterday in Parliament, I asked the Housing Minister to secure the continuity of the much supported and needed Community Housing Fund. 

I am a champion of community led housing and was delighted that the Government responded so positively to my campaign and that of others to establish The Community Housing Fund.  This was first announced in the 2016 Spring Budget, with a commitment to invest £300 million over five years, with the money coming from the proceeds of extra stamp duty on second home sales. 

The money was allocated to Cornwall Council and 147 other local authorities, roughly in proportion to the number of second homes in their area and the lack of affordable homes. 

I believe the Fund will transform the community led housing sector and is expected to deliver 10,000 homes by 2021. 

However, the Fund ends with the end of the current spending period. With over 3,500 homes now in the pipeline it is essential that the Fund is extended for the next Spending Review period so they can be delivered. 

Because of the delay to the Spending Review, there will now be a significant period of delay and uncertainty for local groups. Money must be spent by March 2020, so few will bid from this point on.  

The Spending Review won’t conclude until the Autumn Statement at the earliest, and there may be further delay in decision making following that. So groups, including those in Cornwall, face an invidious choice: continue working up a project and hope funding comes through, or wait and potentially see it stall or collapse. 

In the Social Housing Green Paper the Government acknowledged that housing associations could deliver more if given greater medium term certainty. I think that this is even more the case for community land trusts and other models of community led housing.  

I asked the Minister to consider the potential impact of the ‘start-stop’ provision of the Community Housing Fund on Cornwall Community Land Trust’s otherwise healthy pipeline of community led projects which has been fostered over the last two years since the very welcome announcement of the Fund.  

Cornwall Community Land Trust is a well-respected enabler of community led housing and it has estimated that the discontinuance of the CHF could put up to 240 community led homes overseen by CCLT at jeopardy in Cornwall, as well as a further 100 from other projects such as Co Housing. 

I am sure we can all agree that we need to deliver more genuinely affordable homes for local people so that our coastal communities and villages, that are so attractive to second home owners, can survive and prosper as sustainable communities for generations to come. 

It’s important to me that we build new communities not just new homes. So investing in the infrastructure that’s needed, such as roads, cycle and foot paths, schools, community places and spaces and health services is essential. I am pleased to have helped Cornwall Council and our NHS secure new funding to enable this to happen. 

Protecting incomes for the lowest paid

This week some important changes come into effect. The National Living Wage will go up by the highest rate since it was first introduced, increasing by almost 5% to £8.21 per hour. The National Minimum Wage will increase to £7.70 for 21 to 24-year olds, £6.15 for 18 to 20-year olds, £4.35 for 16 to 17-year olds and £3.90 for apprentices. Although most employers pay apprentices more than this minimum wage. 

It has been estimated that 2.1 million workers are set to directly benefit from today’s increases; and altogether an estimated 5 million people will directly or indirectly benefit from these new wage increases. 

Since the National Minimum Wage was introduced it has benefited the lowest paid in society, and today we continue that protection. Our minimum wage rates are among the highest in the world. 

Since we announced the National Living Wage in 2015, it has helped protect the lowest paid – increasing wages faster than inflation and average earnings. Today, a full-time worker receiving National Living Wage will be more than £2,750 better off over the year compared to when it was first announced in 2015. 

At the same time the amount of money people can earn before starting to pay tax has increased significantly. The Personal Allowance for working age people in 2019 to 2020 is £12,500 compared to £6,475 in 2009 to 2020. 

As an employee you will pay 20% on anything you earn between £12,501-£50,000 you’ll pay 40% Income Tax on earnings between £50,001-£150,000. 

It is very important to me that people keep more of the money they earn. Taxes are, of course, vital to pay for our public services but I want to ensure we continue to focus on supporting the lowest earners and average earners. 

Our changes are benefitting working people across Cornwall and I will continue to do all that I can to support the creation and development of well-paid jobs here. 

Last night, I joined an important debate about reform of business rates. Business rates are a tax on businesses and contribute a large amount of tax which pays for local public services. They are based on the value of property and they have not kept up with changes in modern business practices such as internet retail. I am proud of the work this government has done to reduce business rates for local small businesses and extending exemptions, for example, exempting public toilets from business rates, but much more needs to be done. I am pleased that last night the Government confirmed its intention to proceed with a thorough review.  

I also joined a debate to stress how important it is to increase funding for education, particularly for FE (further education), that has been the Cinderella of education funding for too long. For the last few years I have had meetings with the Treasury to make the case directly for more investment. 

For Brexit updates, please visit my dedicated EU Referendum webpage on my website: https://www.sarahnewton.org.uk/campaigns/eu-referendum 

Breaking the Brexit Impasse

Many people are contacting me about Brexit so I think it’s worth recapping on where we are. In the 2016 EU Referendum I campaigned for and like the majority of people in this constituency voted to Remain. It was a nationwide vote and at that time I said I would honour the result. At the 2017 General Election, I was given a mandate by my constituents to deliver Brexit, with an orderly transition to a new, close and special relationship with the EU.  

I believe the Prime Minister’s negotiated EU Withdrawal Agreement and the Future Political Declaration delivers on that manifesto pledge and will continue to support it. I have voted for it twice and given the opportunity will vote for it a third time.  

The PMs ‘deal’ will give us free, no tariff, unlimited quota trade with the EU, minimal or zero frictions at the borders, complete control over immigration and would avoid a “hard border” between North Ireland and Ireland. There will be no ongoing payments to the EU and we will be out of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies and will be free to strike trade agreements with nations outside the EU.  

Two weeks ago, after the negotiations with the EU were complete and the Government lost the second attempt to secure the support of Parliament for the PMs ‘deal’, I resigned from the Government, so that I could vote for a motion that honours my commitment to my constituents, to leave the EU with ‘a deal’. Not a ‘no deal’ Brexit. I have been working with MPs from across the House of Commons to find a way forward. 

It is so disappointing to see the Labour Party led by someone who’s more interested in power grabbing than serving his country, especially at such an important time, his tactics of “trash talking” the Government are frightening. I have a lot of respect for my colleagues in the Labour Party who like me want to honour their commitments to their constituents so it is a great shame to see them be continuously let down by their leader.  

As a result, the House of Commons did not come together last week to deliver the commitments that the majority of MPs, including Labour MPs made to their constituents, to leave the EU in an orderly way to a new, close and deep relationship with our neighbours in Europe. 

The legal default now is that the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on 12 April. This is not enough time to agree, legislate for and ratify a ‘deal’, and yet the House of Commons has been clear it will not permit leaving without a deal. If we can agree a way forward, to enable it to be implemented, the PM will need to secure an extension of our EU membership before this date. 

I am continuing my work with other backbench colleagues, from across the House of Commons, to enable Parliament to consider a range of options, to find the common ground, that could enable us to leave the EU with ‘a deal’ if the PMs ‘deal’ continues not to secure enough support. 

I understand the frustration and anxiety the current Parliamentary impasse is causing as well as the desire for some certainty and clarity about our future relationship with the EU. I also appreciate the damage that is being done to our economy, the reputation of our parliamentary democracy and standing in the world. Please be assured that I will continue to work hard to resolve the impasse in the best interests of my constituents and our great country.   

Some people have asked about the current EU funding that Cornwall is receiving now. My colleagues and I have ensured that the U.K. government has underwritten the programme so we will not miss out. In the future Cornwall will benefit from dedicated funding from the Shared Prosperity Fund.   

Having lived overseas for a number of years I know how important it is to feel a sense of belonging and understand that this is a very difficult time for our neighbours, friends and workmates who are from EU countries. You are welcome! We are leaving the EU but we are not leaving Europe.  

The Importance of the Docks for Falmouth

Throughout my childhood I lived with the fear of the docks in Falmouth closing. I remember my Falmouth School classmates wondering if their parents would lose their jobs or if they would be able to develop their own career in the port. My great uncle was a Falmouth Pilot and my grandfather worked in the docks for a while so, just like so many local families, our futures were bound up in the future of the port.

In fact all our futures are bound up in the future of the port in Falmouth and all the other ports around our shores. As a trading, island nation with over ninety percent of everything we consume arriving by sea, maintaining and developing our port infrastructure, ship building and maintenance skills are vital to our national security and prosperity.

When I was elected in 2010, I set myself a personal goal to secure the future of the port of Falmouth, including A&P. There are world leading businesses in the port, including Pendennis Shipbuilders, World Fuel Services and FalFish. Since 2010, these companies have been able to grow their businesses, securing new private and public funding. I was particularly pleased to have been able to officially open the new Eastern Jetty/breakwater last August which is not only vital infrastructure for World Fuel Services but protects the whole port of Falmouth.

I have been proud to bring a series of defence ministers to the port to see the excellent work that A&P is doing in supporting our Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ships and I am delighted that A&P recently won new long term contracts for maintaining these important vessels that work alongside and play an invaluable role supporting the Royal Navy. I am also delighted that Falmouth is now the home port for the Royal Naval survey vessel, H.M.S. Scott.

During March, I am travelling to Glasgow to the naming ceremony of a new vessel H.M.S. Tamar. She is one of five new Offshore Patrol Vessels that was built in Scotland, part of a significant investment in U.K. ship building, securing thousands of skilled jobs. Building the Offshore Patrol Vessels filled a gap in orders after the completion of the second aircraft carrier and before the Type 26 frigates begin construction.

HMS Tamar and her sister ships will be used by the Royal Navy to undertake various tasks including border protection roles, anti-smuggling, anti-piracy, fisheries patrols, and immigration law enforcement.

For some time I have been making the case for investment in new vessels to work alongside the U.K. Border Force to keep our borders safe and I am very much looking forward to welcoming H.M.S. Tamar into Falmouth.

I had the privilege of joining a Border Force Cutter in Falmouth and I discussed their important work with her crew. As a result of conflict, changes in the climate and modern slavery, many people fall into the hands of serious and organised criminals who, along with smuggling illegal drugs and weapons, also smuggle people – the most wicked trade in human suffering. So it is vitally important that we have increased the number of Royal Naval vessels that can patrol our waters, upholding the rule of law and protecting some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. HMS Tamar and her sister ships will also play an important role in protecting our fisheries too.

Thanks to the foresight of the Falmouth Harbour Commissioners, Falmouth is also the home of an important renewable energy development site, for tide and wave power. Working in partnership with local businesses and Exeter University, Wave Hub is part of the Green Growth plans for the sustainable development of our local economy.

Along with the port of Penryn, Falmouth provides many opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy our natural environment with a range of recreational activity from rowing and sailing to recreational fishing. Our local water quality has significantly improved with the leadership of the Environment Agency working with partners and landowners, and investments made by South West Water. This is protecting the natural habitat of important local species such as the native oysters.

The port of Falmouth has faced many challenges since the Killigrews secured the charter and I am sure it will face further challenges. But right now, thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit, innovation and determination of the people who work so hard for the ports of Falmouth and Penryn, our ports have a bright future.

First published in the Falmouth Wave April edition