Brexit and the Environment

The Bank Holiday weekend gave me some time to enjoy our precious natural environment. Many people have asked me what is going to happen to environmental policy post Brexit.

The two outgoing energy and climate ministers, Amber Rudd and Andrea Leadsom, were on opposite sides of the referendum debate but swiftly presented a firm, united front, emphasising continuity in energy and environmental policy.

Both remain in cabinet positions. The appointment of Greg Clark and Nick Hurd to DECC’s successor has been greeted with warmth by leading environmentalists: both have long championed the UK’s commitment to climate and the environment. As Margaret Thatcher said: “The core of Conservative philosophy and of the case for protecting the environment are the same. No generation has a freehold on this earth.”

The UK’s own Climate Change Act, enshrining legally binding emissions reductions, is a major benefit and was passed by an overwhelming cross-party majority. The act is unaffected by Brexit, and the government’s decision to recently approve the fifth carbon budget was an explicit confirmation of this.

A Conservative manifesto commitment to develop a 25 Year Environmental Strategy is currently reconsidering how to deliver its environmental ambitions post-Brexit. This is an opportunity for us to go beyond EU targets and put in place more sustainable resource management policies and environmental protections. While new measures are put in place we have domestic legislation, as well as international commitments ratified by the UK, such as the Bern and Ramsar Conventions that protect our environment.

As someone who grew up here, I have seen first hand how EU policies have benefitted us, particularly the bathing water directive. I remember swimming from our local beaches where raw sewage was routinely discharged. Thankfully this is now a rarity so I am determined to build on these successes.

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“A” Level Results

Congratulations to the young people, teachers and their families who worked so hard for the excellent “A” level results we saw from our local schools and Truro & Penwith College. I believe that a good education is essential for people to realise their full potential and play as full a part in our society as possible.

We have, yet again, seen record university application rates, a four percent rise on last year, from every part of the UK. As importantly to me, more young people, including high achieving young people, are starting apprenticeships.

As we build a Britain that works for everyone and not just the privileged few, we want to ensure that every young person going to university or starting an apprenticeship receives the high standard of education they deserve.

Building on the progress of recent years, more people from disadvantaged backgrounds will be going to university this year. 18-year-olds from the least advantaged backgrounds are seven per cent more likely to be placed than in 2015.

While more needs to be done, more people from disadvantaged backgrounds go to university in England than in Scotland despite free tuition from the Scottish Government. For 2014, the latest figures available, the entry rate of university students from disadvantaged backgrounds was 18.2%, up 5% from 2009. For Scotland the comparable figure was nearly half that at 9.5 % despite free university education.

Jeremy Corbyn in his recent visit to Cornwall pledged to scrap university tuition fees. While constant scrutiny is essential to ensure everyone who has the ability to benefit from a university education has the opportunity, scrapping the current system, introduced by Labour and made much fairer by Conservatives in Government and described by the independent OECD as offering the most scalable and sustainable approach to university finance, seems reckless.

Combating Modern Slavery

Thousands of law enforcement officers across the United Kingdom will be empowered to join the fight against modern slavery at sea using new powers in the Modern Slavery Act which come into force this week.

The new powers will enable officers from Border Force, police forces and the National Crime Agency (NCA)  to board and search vessels, seize evidence and arrest offenders, where it is suspected that modern slavery is taking place.

Officers will be able to intercept vessels with reasonable grounds, arrest offenders and rescue victims from ships in UK waters. I was pleased to meet our local Border Force team in Falmouth and local police this week.

Modern slavery is a crime that rips victims from their families, trapping them in a cycle of abuse at the hands of ruthless gangs.

Officers from the Shetlands to the Isles of Scilly now have the power to arrest offenders and protect victims from this abhorrent crime whether on board a ship or on our shores.

Our message is clear – the UK is taking action to protect victims.

Offenders arrested at sea for modern slavery offences now face up to life imprisonment for their crimes under the Modern Slavery Act.

The new powers are in addition to the support announced by the Government last week, including a new taskforce to coordinate cross-government action, £33.5m in official development assistance funding and a HMIC inspection to assess police response to modern slavery.

Over 2013 and 2014, the NCA identified 37 potential victims of modern slavery who reported exploitation in the maritime industry. Victims onboard vessels will be brought to the mainland and will be able to access tailored care and support through the National Referral Mechanism, as part of the Government’s National Care and Coordination Contract administered by the Salvation Army.

National Citizenship Service

While Parliament is in Recess I have more time to spent at home, in my constituency. Over the last couple of weeks I have enjoyed meeting people on their doorsteps in Goonhaven and Holywell Bay as well as visiting a wide range of local organisations from charities to local businesses. My weekly surgeries continue through the recess too.

Each year, a highlight of my summer is joining local young people taking part in the National Citizenship Service (NCS). Open to all 16 and 17-year-olds, it helps build skills for work and life, while they take on new challenges and meet new friends.

Last week I caught up with a group of local young people participating in the NCS, at the excellent local charity Young People Cornwall, at Zebs Cafe, in Truro. I learned that in their first week they had lived with their team at an outdoor activity centre taking on some adrenaline-fuelled challenges. During the second week, it was time to discover something new as they spent some time away from home, often for the first time, learning to cook, meeting local organisations and developing valuable skills such as teamwork, leadership and communication.

I met them during the last couple of weeks of the programme where they brought together their experiences and delivered their own social action project, in this case supporting the work of St Petroc’s with homeless people. I can’t put it better than the young people I listened to – it’s “a life changing” opportunity.

Congratulations to Cornwall College and Young People Cornwall for delivering the NSC here, enabling over 100 young people from across Cornwall, from different backgrounds, to spend time together, learning new skills that not only benefit them but us all. I encourage all Year 12 students to sign-up in October.