Returning to Parliament

I am unexpectedly back in Parliament this week. The Supreme Court made arguably one of the historic constitutional judgments of our modern history. 

I encourage you to read the full judgment, it’s not as long as you might think, easy to read and you can find a link on my website.  

The Government has said that while it disagrees with the decision it will respect it. I think that is the right thing to do. Checks and balances are an important part of our system of Parliamentary democracy and should be respected.  

Our system depends on informed and active citizens, our independent judiciary, the rule of law as well as Parliament to promote and defend our hard-won freedoms. 

To say that Brexit has proven to be a challenging test of our Parliamentary democracy is an understatement. I very much understand the frustration of my constituents. However, it is wrong to blame the judges for the current situation. 

In practical terms, it means that Parliament might be meeting every week for the foreseeable future. This is the Party conference season and I would normally be working in Cornwall for the best part of three whole weeks as Parliament normally does not sit during the Party conference season. This means that I have had to curtail my work with constituents locally, a hugely important part of my role as your local MP. 

The Supreme Court decision also means that we won’t now have a new session of Parliament as planned, one that sets out the Government’s proposed agenda, including measures to tackle climate change and environmental degradation. I know that many constituents want more urgent action taken on this. The PM will have to prorogue Parliament to enable that to happen. Given the Supreme Court’s decision, I expect that, if this happens, it will be for a short period of time, and Parliament will return around 14th October.  

I will make the most of this time in Parliament to continue my work as a backbench MP, building a consensus for Parliament to deliver the commitment in the 2017 Conservative General Election manifesto to leave the EU in an orderly way, with ‘a deal’. This was also a commitment of the Labour Party in their 2017 manifesto, something their leader seems to have forgotten.  

As you know the Government doesn’t have a majority in Parliament. One way to have broken the Brexit deadlock was to hold a General Election and elect a Government with a new Brexit mandate before the end of October, when we are due to leave the EU. Despite the Leader of the Opposition frequently requesting this, when his opportunity arose, he bottled it. 

In the absence of a General Election, I believe it is even more essential that all Conservative and Labour MPs need to work constructively with the Government as it negotiates with the EU, so that we can break the deadlock, honour our commitments and leave the EU in an orderly way with ‘a deal’. 

First published in the West Briton 26/09/19

Campaigning for affordable local housing

While Parliament is prorogued my work continues.  I have had meetings with a number of ministers on important matters.

It is essential that we redevelop existing buildings into high quality and genuinely affordable homes for local people, as well as building new homes for them. I very much support the reuse of land already developed rather than farmland.

We should have a range of housing choices to meet local peoples’ needs, from social homes to rent, to opportunities for local people to build their own homes as well as homes with support for people with long term health conditions and disabilities.

As regular readers will recall, I was instrumental in securing the £300m Community Housing Fund (CHF) that was announced in the 2016 Spring Budget to transform the community led housing sector and lead to the delivery of nearly 10,000 additional homes across the country by 2021. Money was allocated to 148 local authorities, roughly in proportion to the number of second homes and affordability issues.

Cornwall is a pioneering area for community led housing and it is a broad movement of Community Land Trusts (CLTs), Co-ops, co-housing communities and community anchors. Unlike traditional housebuilding approaches, they offer more than just resident involvement. They give local people the tools to build and renovate, manage and control the homes their community needs.

The Community Housing Fund is due to close in March 2020.  Likewise, bidding for the Homes England Fund will close in December 2019, just 18 months after it opened. Whilst interest is high and more than 16,600 homes are in the pipeline, very few groups have been able to submit capital bids in that short period and the pending deadline is deterring interest. It is essential that the Fund is extended so that those homes can be delivered.

I met the Housing Minister to make the case for her to use the budget increase delivered to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in the recent Spending Round to extend the CHF.

For homes to be genuinely affordable they need to be affordable to heat as well as to buy or rent. I pressed the Minister to review building regulations to ensure all new homes are net zero carbon. Cornwall Council could make this a planning condition now but, as they are not doing so, changing regulations would ensure that this happens. Enabling people to live in well insulated, energy efficient homes is not only essential for good health and wellbeing but it makes a significant contribution to tackling climate change too.

In Truro, for many years now, I have asked Cornwall Council to enable ‘key worker’ housing for nurses, care assistants and other vitally important staff at Treliske who have modest wages and can’t afford Truro prices. This would help to attract and retain the staff that we need to deliver the health and care services that we all depend upon. I am pleased to report that this idea is now being pursued by Cornwall Council and already has the support of Truro and Kenwyn Neighbourhood Plan team.

First published in the West Briton 18/09/19

Working to resolve the Brexit impasse

On Monday, the House of Commons debated providing greater clarity about the motivation and timing of the PM’s decision to prorogue Parliament.  As part of the debate, Members discussed the publication of government assessments regarding the impact of a ‘no deal’ Brexit and the preparations to cope with it. The Government has committed to publishing more information. 

On Monday, the EU Withdrawal Agreement (No 6) became law and the Government agreed to uphold the law of the land. 

The House of Commons had another vote about an early General Election, one that would have been held before the end of October. While I believe it is the responsibility of MPs from across Parliament to work together to find a solution to the Brexit gridlock, not enough MPs agree. Given this tragic impasse in Parliament, a General Election is one way to resolve the situation. It gives the public the opportunity of choosing how the country proceeds before we leave the EU. 

Despite having repeatedly called for a General Election, Jeremy Corbyn and all the leaders of Opposition Parties, did not vote for one. 

On Monday I accepted an invitation from Caroline Flint, Rory Stewart, Stephen Kinnock, and Norman Lamb to join MPs for a Deal. 

For too long, debate in Westminster has been paralysed by a lack of moderation and compromise. Even at this eleventh hour it’s not too late to agree ‘a deal’ to ensure an orderly exit from the European Union. 

That is why, last Wednesday, I supported amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill which made any delay to the UK’s departure – if a delay is needed at all – conditional upon an effort to debate and pass ‘a deal’. One is based on the outcome of inter-party talks held earlier this year. 

We are not suggesting that the new deal should be a carbon copy of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), rather that it provides a solid and realistic basis on which to build to reach a compromise that can pass in the Commons and avert a ‘no deal’.  Further delay without a purpose will simply add to voter anger. 

I am hopeful that the PM and his team will use the next few weeks to leave no stone unturned in an effort to reach agreement with the EU and bring back to Parliament an ‘amended deal’. 

In the meantime, I will continue to take advantage of this pre-General Election period to promote the compassionate, One Nation Conservative values and policies I believe in and secure additional public investment into our vital public services, both in my constituency and across Cornwall.  I am delighted with Government announcements last week to provide extra investment for our schools and colleges, police, defence, health and social care services as well as £25 million for the regeneration of our great little city, Truro. 

Regarding EU funding for Cornwall, please read the Hansard report of the debate in Parliament, in which I spoke, about the importance of replacing this funding, pound for pound, with the Shared Prosperity Fund. 

First published in the West Briton 12/09/19

First day back in Parliament

The first day back in Parliament was dominated by the prospect of a General Election. This week the Labour Party and other opposition political parties tried to take control of parliamentary processes away from Government and extend the deadline for leaving the EU.  Some of my colleagues joined them too.  As I write this column I don’t know the outcome but you will. I didn’t support this action for the following reasons. 

The PM and his team are in the midst of negotiations with the EU on an ‘amended deal’ so that we can leave the EU at the end of the deadline of 31st October. Parliament voted for this extended deadline agreed with the EU.  I am encouraged by comments made by European leaders and by their preparedness to make some concessions to the so-called ‘Irish Backstop’ which is the sticking point preventing some MPs from supporting the EU Withdrawal Agreement.  Having spoken with the PM and listened to his comments in the House of Commons, I believe that he is sincere in his desire to leave the EU with ‘a deal’ and is working with the EU to achieve this. 

I want to enable the PM the best chance of achieving an ‘amended deal’, even if it is a slim chance, as the best way to prevent a ‘no deal’ Brexit is for the EU and the UK to agree ‘a deal’ that MPs will support. That will enable an orderly exit into a new, close relationship with our neighbours, allies and friends in Europe. That is what I was elected to do in 2017 and have been trying to deliver ever since.  

Unless there is a General Election, Parliament will be sitting on 14th October onwards to consider, debate and scrutinise any ‘amended deal’.  We have the opportunity to avoid a ‘no deal’ Brexit by voting for the ‘amended deal’. 

If Parliament is unable to come to an agreement in October, the same options that are available this week will be available then to prevent a ‘no deal’ Brexit. 

This week in Parliament I welcomed the additional funding recently allocated to our public services.  I highlighted the Britain’s Leading Edge campaign that I helped to launch in July, with a simple premise: for the nation to achieve its potential every citizen needs the opportunity to realise theirs and that we need to unleash every region of England, not just those with a large city. The campaign demonstrates the systematic bias in public funding allocations that leaves regions without large cities receiving less funding than those that do. Now is the time to correct this historic bias. 

Historically, Cornwall’s schools receive less per pupil funding than some others so I am delighted that the f40 campaign, of which I am a member, has been successful. Our schools will be receiving more funding in each of the next three years. I pressed the government to communicate the actual amounts each school will receive and this should be announced in midOctober. 

First published in the West Briton 04/09/19.

Supporting local work to reduce plastic pollution

Even though our youngest child has graduated, so there are no more preparations for the beginning of a new academic year, I still see September as a month of new beginnings. September is not only the start of a new academic year for school aged children but for many adults starting an apprenticeship or a course at college. It is great to see the wide range of choices of excellent opportunities available for people of all ages here. 

It’s also the time that we welcome many new, young people into our community as they join our local universities. New academics and their technical support teams too.  

I recently organised a very useful event with Professor Peter Hopkinson, Director of the Centre for Circular Economy at the University of Exeter’s Business School, and his team at the Penryn campus. 

The event brought together a group of people that included Government policy makers, local businesses, community organisations and volunteers and discussed how the south west can lead the way on transforming our approach to plastics.   

As many of us give of our time to beach cleans and litter picking in our communities we are only too aware of how much plastic ends up in our precious natural environment and the damage it does there. 

Professor Peter Hopkinson is also the lead for the Exeter Multidisciplinary Plastics Research Hub (ExeMPLaR) which received £1 million of Government funding to become one of the leading centres to reduce the devastating impact plastic pollution can have on the environment.   

The ExeMPLaR project is about creating a network of organisations to revolutionise the way we produce, recycle and utilise plastics. The global rate of plastic production and waste is accelerating at a time when we need to take radical action to reduce, reuse and recycle if we are to tackle the rising problem of plastic pollution. 

The scale of the problem was laid bare by Kevin Gaston, Professor of Biodiversity and Conservation at the University of Exeter, who talked about the eye-watering global volumes of plastic waste from areas such as plastic packaging, construction and textiles. Kevin gave the simple, single example of the plastic pen of which around 30 billion are produced each year and 1.6 billion thrown away in the United States alone. 

Joel Murray from the Defra Resources, Waste and Plastics Strategy Policy Team spoke about the UK Government’s ambitions to tackle plastic pollution and the aim that all plastic packaging placed on the UK market will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 and all avoidable plastic waste will be eliminated by 2042. Joel was keen to impress that the government cannot achieve these goals alone and that communities and organisations need to work together to make an impact. There was a similar message from Cornwall Council which has just produced the county’s first Plastic Free Cornwall Manifesto. 

The ExeMPLaR project is about redesigning the whole plastics system. The project aims to discover a set of actions that can be taken to drive practical changes that will make the greatest difference. 

The event came about following a meeting I organised earlier this year with Kirstie Edwards of Plastic Free Falmouth involving representatives of the many people in Cornwall who are involved with litter picking and beach cleaning. I want government policy to be shaped by evidence and action of what works and, here in Cornwall, the ExeMPLaR project is leading the way in redesigning the system to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic – for the benefit of our environment and our local economy. 

The ExeMPLaR project is still in the early stages but it is building a network of people across the south west who can transform the plastics system. To find out more visit the Centre for the Circular Economy:  

This project reminded me how fortunate we are to have Exeter University in our community. As a result, local people are working alongside world leading academics and shaping national policy for the benefit of our community, our country and our planet. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave September edition