Military Action in Syria

I face many challenges as your Member of Parliament, the most significant is deciding whether UK military intervention in another country should be undertaken. I fundamentally believe in our values enshrined in the rule of law and that, wherever possible, diplomacy should be used to resolve conflict. I know that any action has consequences, sometimes unforeseen, but so too does inaction.

This week we debated the recent decision to use military force to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability.

It is now almost 100 years since the treaty to prohibit use of chemical weapons. We have seen nation after nation sign up to this global consensus. The universal abhorrence of chemical weapons and the programme of destruction of declared stockpiles is a considerable achievement.

In 2013 the Syrian regime committed to destroy its chemical arsenal while Russia – the mentor of the Syrian regime – guaranteed to the process overseen by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The National Security Council of the United Nations, the Prime Minister and Cabinet have seen a significant body of information that indicates that the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack at Douma on April 7 that killed about 75 people and resulted in hundreds of casualties.

The Douma massacre is part of a pattern of use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. International investigators mandated by the UN Security Council have found the Assad regime responsible for using chemical weapons in four separate attacks since 2014.

The military action undertaken by the UK on Saturday was carried out to alleviate further humanitarian suffering by degrading the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deterring their use. The legal basis for this intervention has been published. Many countries support this action. In degrading Syria’s chemical weapons capability the Prime Minister made her intentions clear – we want to do what we can to protect Syrian people from chemical weapons.

These carefully targeted and calibrated strikes minimising harm to Syrians were not designed to intervene in the Syrian civil war or to effect regime change.

At a time of understandable tension in our relations with Russia it has been important to stress that this action does not entail an attempt to frustrate Russian strategic objectives in Syria. 
This does not represent an escalation of UK or Western involvement in Syria.

I don’t believe the global community can simply turn a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons. Along with partners, and as members of the EU, we have tried non-military interventions, including peace talks and sanctions.

The UN has considered resolutions but Russia has repeatedly shielded the Syrian regime from investigation and censure, vetoing six separate UN Security Council resolutions, including the UN mandated Investigative Mechanism set up to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Of course we must continue our humanitarian and diplomatic effort to support the Syrian people and to secure a political solution to the civil war in Syria but we cannot allow the use of chemical weapons with impunity.

First published in the West Briton 19/04/18

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Intervention in Syria

I face many challenges as your Member of Parliament, the most significant is deciding whether UK military intervention in another country should be undertaken. I fundamentally believe in our values enshrined in the rule of law and that wherever possible diplomacy should be used to resolve conflict. I know that any action has consequences, sometimes unforeseen, but so too does inaction.

I am also a mother of three children and am acutely aware that a decision to commit our armed services personnel will be putting another mother’s son or daughter in harm’s way.

When I was elected in 2010, I joined colleagues calling for much greater Parliamentary scrutiny of national security policy and decision makers. Along with my colleagues, I shared deep concerns arising from the Labour Government’s intervention in Iraq.

The Coalition Government, led by David Cameron, put in place processes that are enabling far greater scrutiny of information – including intelligence – about our national security by MPs than was previously the case. The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament is composed of cross party members and its job is to scrutinise the work of those responsible for our national security.

The members of the committee are notified under the Official Secrets Act 1989 and are given access to highly classified material in carrying out their duties. The committee holds evidence sessions with Government ministers and senior officials. The work of the committee is invariably conducted in secret, but its members do speak in debates in Parliament. I think that the work of this Committee provides MPs some assurance that decisions are being made on the best possible information.

Had this Committee with the new powers it acquired in 2013 been in operation during the Tony Blair years, I doubt so many MPs would have voted for military intervention in Iraq.

This week, like most weeks in Parliament, we will be debating the UKs role in the world, including our involvement in the Middle East and Syria in particular. We will be debating the recent decision to use military force to degrade the Syrian Regimes chemical weapons capability.

It is now almost 100 years since the treaty to prohibit use of chemical weapons. We have seen nation after nation sign up to this global consensus. The universal abhorrence of chemical weapons, and the programme of destruction of declared stockpiles is a considerable achievement.

In 2013 the Syrian regime committed to destroy its chemical arsenal while Russia – the mentor of Syrian Regime – guaranteed to the process overseen by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The National Security Council of the United Nations, the Prime Minister and Cabinet have seen a significant body of information, including intelligence, that indicates that the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack at Douma on April 7 that killed about 75 people and resulted in hundreds of casualties.

The Douma massacre is part of a pattern of use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Regime. International investigators mandated by the UN Security Council have found the Assad regime responsible for using chemical weapons in four separate attacks since 2014.

The military action undertaken by the UK on Saturday was carried out to alleviate further humanitarian suffering by degrading the Syrian Regime’s Chemical Weapons capability and deterring their use. The legal basis for this intervention has been published. Many countries and organisations, including NATO and the EU, support this action. In degrading Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities the Prime Minister made her intensions clear – we want to do what we can to protect Syrian people from chemical weapons.

These carefully targeted and calibrated strikes were not designed to intervene in the Syrian civil war or effect regime change.

At a time of understandable tension in our relations with Russia it has been important to stress that this action does not entail an attempt to frustrate Russian strategic objectives in Syria. This does not represent an escalation of UK or western involvement in Syria.

I don’t believe the global community can simply turn a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons. Along with partners and as members of the EU, we have tried non-military interventions, including peace talks and sanctions.

The UN have considered resolutions but Russia has repeatedly shielded the Syrian Regime from investigation and censure, vetoing six separate UN Security Council resolutions, including the UN mandated Investigative Mechanism set up to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Of course every diplomatic effort must continue to be made to secure a political solution to the civil war in Syria but we cannot allow the use of chemical weapons with impunity.

First published in the Falmouth Packet 18/04/18

Goonhilly deep-space communications

Amongst my earliest memories was the moon walk. Ever since then I have been inspired by space exploration, counting Apollo 13 and Gravity amongst my favourite films. So apart from the significant economic benefit, I was genuinely excited by the recent news that Goonhilly Earth Station, is being upgraded to communicate with deep space missions to the Moon and Mars. This is thanks to an £8.4 million investment from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

It will be the first time the UK has had the capability to communicate directly with deep-space missions and makes Goonhilly the world’s first commercial deep-space communications station.

The LEP’s investment has come from the UK Government’s Local Growth Fund and will be made via the European Space Agency, helping to create the world’s first commercial deep-space communications station, capable of tracking future missions to the Moon and Mars.

In future, Goonhilly will complement the capability of the European Space Agency (ESA)’s worldwide ground station network, which today comprises seven core stations supporting more than 20 earth, observatory, planetary and exploration spacecraft as well as European launchers.

The investment will provide a huge boost to Cornwall’s space ambitions. Once the upgrade work is complete, Goonhilly will have the ability to track and control forthcoming robotic and human missions to the Moon and Mars, making a significant technical and economic contribution to European efforts in global space exploration.

This is a fantastic boost to Cornwall’s space ambitions and significantly enhances what the UK can offer the fast-growing global space industry – which is a key ambition of the Government’s Industrial Strategy. There will be more than 50 lunar and deep space missions planned over the next decade and it means our region can participate directly in global space programmes.

As well as taking on 18 new staff, the team at Goonhilly are expecting a significant upsurge in interest in the space sector in Cornwall. A number of companies are now looking at the growing capability both at Goonhilly and Cornwall Airport Newquay, which are both part of the Aerohub Enterprise Zone offering 100% business rate relief.

Separately, the LEP has plans to develop a commercial spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay. Small satellite launch and sub-orbital flight from UK spaceports could capture a share of a £10bn global launch opportunity over the next 10 years.

With new spaceflight laws and grant funding announcements expected in the next few months, Cornwall is well prepared to make the most of this opportunity.

According to the UK Space Agency, the global market for space is expected to increase from £155bn per annum to £400bn per annum by 2030. The UK Government has set a target of securing 10% of this global space economy, £40bn per annum, by 2030.

This new technology is supporting the growing mining industry in Cornwall. Cornish Lithium secured funding from Innovate UK to run a project in conjunction with the Satellite Applications Catapult, looking at how satellite data can be used to support lithium exploration and to provide an environmental baseline for mining activities within Cornwall.

Earth observation data has been used to remotely map geological structures, clay alteration, land surface temperature and vegetation anomalies across two areas of interest in Cornwall at United Downs and St Austell. Along with its fellow mining consortium partners, including the British Geological Survey, Camborne School of Mines and North Coast Consulting, Cornish Lithium then used local knowledge and field evidence to test the validity of the remote mapping by satellite. The earth observation outputs were then integrated and combined to produce a prospectivity map for lithium exploration in Cornwall.

In parallel, earth observation data has been used to better establish the environmental baseline for the two project areas of interest. The mapping techniques developed by the earth observation companies can also be used to provide ongoing, remote monitoring of the environment as projects progress, which may be invaluable data for mining companies in the South West who need to continually prove their minimal impact on their local area.

These are just two recent examples of how the Government is investing in Cornwall, building an economy fit for the future. Since 2010 there are record levels of local people of all ages and backgrounds in employment and 4,950 apprenticeships have been created.

In 2010, I made supporting the creation of high skilled and well paid jobs a personal priority. Working with many local ‘can do’ and positive people I am pleased with the progress we have made. There is still much more work to do but it is good to see Cornwall leading the way in innovative technology with high skilled well paid jobs.

First published in the April edition of the Wave magazine

Employment in Cornwall

Record levels of people of all ages and backgrounds are in employment in Cornwall. That is good news as we know that good work is good for our health and wellbeing. Thanks to the government’s introduction of the Living Wage, increases in the minimum wage and increases in the personal allowance, people on the lowest wages are seeing their incomes rise well ahead of inflation. While the majority of jobs created since 2010 are full time, permanent jobs, there is still more to be done to enable people to make progress in work.

For people who have been working for sometime, it is all too easy for skills not to keep pace with change. People sometimes tell me that they would like to change careers but don’t know how to get the necessary qualifications or don’t know how they can fit learning and earning into their busy lives. It can be difficult to learn new skills enabling a change of career and occupation.

For people who have taken time out to care for adults or children, getting back into work can feel daunting. I remember that feeling!

Since being elected in 2010, I have been making the case to Ministers that we need to do more to help more adults back into the classroom. I was pleased that last week a new £11.7million fund investing in a range of projects to help more adults access learning new skills has been announced.

The Flexible Learning Fund will support 32 innovative projects across England to encourage more people to take part in new training or courses that will help them progress in current employment or secure a new job.

Projects are aimed at a range of skill levels – teaching beginners all the way through to those who already have a good understanding of a topic. Exciting projects include supporting IT users to gain new skills in cyber security, training older workers and people whose jobs are affected by the need for greater digital skills, and increasing the maths skills and confidence of adults already in work.

It can be difficult for people to fit training around their busy lives. This funding aims to find out how education providers and employers can work together to better meet the needs of adults of all ages, who want the opportunity to learn important new skills and change their lives. To break the barriers that prevent adults from returning to learning, on-line learning environments will be funded to deliver a wide range of qualifications, for example Health and Social Care leadership qualifications in flexible and accessible ways.

National Numeracy will work with 6 partners including the John Lewis Partnership, Civil Service Learning and KPMG to deliver basic numeracy skills via an online delivery method either with employers or through direct digital engagement with learners. The project will be aimed at those in work who are looking to upskill and gain confidence in numeracy.

Access to great learning opportunities are essential for people throughout our lives.

First published in the West Briton 29/03/18

Farming Post-Brexit

As part of Brexit, the Government has launched a consultation paper on the future of food, farming and the environment and I want to make sure you have your views considered as part of this consultation. I will be meeting with local NFU members and farmers and want to hear your views too.

Passing on our precious natural environment in better condition than we found it to the next generation is a core Conservative value and aim of this Government. This consultation is a really important opportunity to shape future strategy and plans to deliver this aim.

Over the Eastertide, like many local people, I will be celebrating by bringing my family together for a meal of locally produced food. Despite the dreadful weather our farmers, food and drink producers have provided us all with an abundance of quality and choice.

Food is at the heart of every farming business and it is essential that Brexit should deliver opportunities for British food and farming. Agriculture accounts for over 70% of land use in the UK and food and farming provides 3.8 million jobs contributing £112 billion to the country’s economy.

When it comes to the food you eat, how much do you really know about the standards under which it is produced?  Red Tractor is the largest food standards scheme in the UK and ensures that the way food is farmed and prepared is checked against the highest of standards, covering animal welfare, food safety, traceability and environmental protection.

Food and drink bearing the Red Tractor logo has been produced responsibly to some of the most comprehensive and respected standards in the world and is regularly checked by independent experts from farm to pack.

All users of the logo have to keep comprehensive records of their Red Tractor products and are regularly inspected to ensure that this is happening. The flag in the Red Tractor logo tells you where your food has come from and that it has been farmed and prepared in the UK.

Red Tractor makes sure that everyone using the logo applies rigorous standards of food safety and hygiene to the way your food is produced – from farm to pack.

Red Tractor standards mean that animals have enough space, and safe and comfortable housing or shelter and unlimited access to fresh, clean drinking water and are provided with well balanced meals. All Red Tractor farmers have to keep a written health plan for their animals.

Farmers under the Red Tractor scheme must use responsible farming methods to minimise the risk of pollution. This means making sure that any pesticide and fertilisers that are used are stored safely and are applied correctly.

I would welcome your views on how we ensure that these high standards are maintained and enhanced and would value your opinions. I am also determined to see that the geographical designated food scheme that many of our local food producers benefit from, especially our Cornish Pasty makers and Fal Oyster fishermen continues post Brexit.

First published in the West Briton 22/03/2018

Workers’ Rights

This week the government named and shamed nearly 180 employers for underpaying more than 9,000 minimum wage workers by £1.1 million.

As well as recovering backpay for 9,200 workers, the government also fined the employers a total of £1.3 million in penalties for breaking national minimum wage laws. The most prolific offending sectors in this round were retailers, hospitality businesses and hairdressers.

It comes ahead of the next rate rise on 1 April, when the National Living Wage will go up from £7.50 to £7.83 per hour. Apprentices under the age of 19 and those in the first year of their apprenticeship will benefit from a record 5.7% rise.

Later this month the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will launch a campaign to raise awareness of the new rates and encourage workers to speak to their employer if they think they are being underpaid.

While the vast majority of employers are good employers, we know that the world of work is changing. We have set out our plans to give millions of workers enhanced rights to ensure everyone is paid and treated fairly in the workplace.

There are no excuses for short-changing workers. This is an absolute red line for this government and employers who cross it will get caught – not only are they forced to pay back every penny but they are also fined up to 200% of wages owed.

This week’s naming round serves as a sharp reminder to employers to get their house in order. Bryan Sanderson, Chairman of the Low Pay Commission (LPC), said that he is pleased to see the government maintaining the momentum of its minimum wage enforcement.

This 14th naming round comes after the government published its Good Work plan last month, which announced the right to a payslip for all workers. The new law is likely to benefit around 300,000 UK workers who do not currently get a payslip.

For those paid by the hour, payslips will also have to include how many hours the worker is paid for, making pay easier to understand and challenge if it is wrong. The move is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy, the long-term plan to build a Britain fit for the future by helping businesses create better, higher-paying jobs in every part of the UK.

Since 2013 the scheme has identified more than £9 million in back pay for around 67,000 workers, with more than 1,700 employers fined a total of £6.3 million.

Despite the fact we are been dealing with the worst recession since the Second World War, it is good news that record levels of local people of all ages are employed. After a long period of stagnation, wages are beginning to rise – with the wages of the lowest paid up almost 7% above inflation since April 2015.

With income inequality at a lower point than at any time under the last Labour Government we are making solid progress towards an economy that works for everyone.

First published in the West Briton 15/03/18

Enable the disabled, it will do wonders for your business

How accessible is the banking sector for people starting out?

That’s the question that led to my visit to Barclays last week to meet some of their budding apprentices – and I was very impressed with what I saw.

Some apprentices are on the “Able to Enable” programme, which supports people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

I asked them about their experiences so far, and heard about how their apprenticeship has opened up a door to working in the banking sector.

Their stories reaffirmed to me that apprenticeship programmes are a valuable route into work, and genuinely help people get into the jobs they want – even if they don’t have the right experience yet.

There is a common misconception that apprenticeships are reserved for young people starting out in the working world. But in reality, they are a fantastic opportunity for everyone.

It’s been really encouraging to hear about employers who are using apprenticeship programmes to retain and retrain older workers, as well as those using them as way to open up their jobs to disabled people.

But this is also about the huge benefits of having a diverse workforce – in keeping businesses innovative and strengthening their reputation.

That’s why we’ve introduced the Apprenticeship Levy, which will mean the annual budget for apprenticeships will be £2.45bn by 2019-20 – double what it was in 2010-11.

This levy will increase the quality and availability of opportunities.

We want apprenticeships to carry the weight of other qualifications, which means people need to know they are backed by good training and oversight. And we want to increase the number of disabled people who take up apprenticeships.

We have set a target for a 20 per cent increase in the proportion of people with learning difficulties and disabilities starting an apprenticeship by 2020.

Barclays has almost 3,500 apprentices, and they have already more than doubled the proportion of disabled people on their programme within the space of a year.

The bank shows that work is being done to open up apprenticeships. But across the economy – the banking sector included – there is still more we need to do.

Almost a fifth of the working-age population is disabled. This represents a substantial portion of our workforce, and is a huge pool of talent that we need to be making the most of.

That’s where the Disability Confident scheme comes in, which encourages more companies to see the benefits of employing disabled people, and to support them to improve access and inclusion.

Over 5,000 companies have signed up so far. Being part of this scheme means businesses that might be worried about “doing the wrong thing” can get support to recruit and retain disabled staff.

To get recognition as a Disability Confident employer, one of the things we look at is how you find the right people – one of them being whether you provide apprenticeships.

So, if your company already provides an apprenticeship programme, you should be asking how many disabled people are on it.

First published in City AM 14/03/18