A Positive Change for UK Energy Efficiency

On Tuesday in Parliament I introduced a 10 Minute Rule Bill asking the government to publish a plan for meeting the domestic energy efficiency targets in the Clean Growth Strategy; to make provision for the monitoring of performance against milestones in the plan and to establish an advisory body for the implementation of the plan.

Securing such a motion is difficult, so why did I choose this subject? Over the last nine years, I have worked with Public Health Cornwall on an innovative partnership that has brought together businesses, Cornwall Council, health, care and emergency service professionals and many voluntary sector organisations to help people out of poverty and to live in warm homes. This Public Health approach has literally saved lives.

Cornwall’s Devolution Deal has enabled greater flexibility in tackling fuel poverty too. The partnership’s work has been funded by a mixture of public funding, Energy Company Obligation, business and voluntary donations. Over 20,000 people have been helped to live in warm homes, including those using energy efficiency measures. In addition, independent evaluation shows that the Winter Wellness Partnership has prevented more than 800 hospital admissions and helped 348 households remain in work or make progress towards work.

In Cornwall, over time, we have shown that working with people on installing energy efficiency measures improves people’s health and wellbeing as well as the environment. I want to ensure we can expand this work.

Home insulation may not capture the imagination as a standard bearer for the fourth industrial revolution in the way that electric cars do, but it will make a huge contribution to our reduction in greenhouse emissions from heating our homes. Energy saving is just as important as generating carbon free and renewable energy as we will need more electricity for new cars, buses and trains.

Last week the Government introduced legislation to end the UK’s contribution to global warming by 2050. This is not only the right thing to do but is both affordable and achievable.

As the Committee on Climate Change noted, a comprehensive energy efficiency programme should be the first and least costly step in getting towards this goal. Research from the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group shows that energy efficiency improvements to homes

could reduce the energy consumed in U.K. households each year by 25% and knock £270 off the average household bill of £1,100 – a saving of the equivalent of six nuclear power stations the size of Hinckley Point C.

There would be strong economic returns of a similar scale to other major infrastructure projects. Appraisal based on HMG methodology finds that the net benefit of this saving would be £7.5 billion – this excludes the wider health and productivity benefits. It has been estimated that for every £1 invested by the government, GDP would be increased by £3.20.

Policy exists for new homes, but we now need to turbo-charge our action on retro-fitting home energy efficiency into all homes, enabling everyone to live in a warm home. I hope my Bill will be the catalyst.

First published in the West Briton on 20/6/2019

Working Towards Net Zero

Over the last month the focus of my work in Parliament has been on Climate Change, highlighting the importance of not only the Government but every part of society playing their part in reducing emissions to net zero. During the Climate Emergency Debate, I challenged my MP colleagues to take up Truro based Luci Isaacson’s Climate Vision top ten pledges.

There is cross party support to step up our level of ambition and reach net zero carbon before 2050. I am part of the team of Backbench MP’s bringing in a bill to set this target.

The Secretary of State welcomed the support provided by Members on both sides of the House. He made it clear that the Government recognises the situation we face is an emergency. It is a crisis, and it is a threat that we must all unite to meet the challenge.

Although statistics are sometimes abstract, and the impact may seem distant, as individual citizens and as parents we all know that the next generation will face the consequences if we do not take action now to deal with climate change.

A warming world will result in the desertification of large parts of our Earth; with the transformation of previously fertile lands into lands that are incapable of generating food will result in population movement, which will create challenges—not just a security challenge for the global north, but a moral and ethical challenge for us all.

We in the United Kingdom must bear that moral and ethical challenge particularly heavily. We were the first country to industrialise, and the industrial revolution that was forged here and generated prosperity here was responsible for the carbon emissions that have driven global warming. The burden of that is borne, even now, by those in the global south, so we have a responsibility to show leadership. It is vital that we reduce our emissions, for the defence and protection of those in small island developing states who face the prospect of coastal erosion and damage to their economies. That is why the Government are committed to spending £5 billion every year on helping developing nations to deal with the prospect of climate change.

In the UK, since 2010, we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 nation; between 2010 and 2018, we reduced greenhouse gas emissions in this country by 25%; UK CO2 emissions have fallen for six years in a row, which is the longest period on record; and the UK’s renewable energy capacity has quadrupled since 2010. The proportion of UK electricity that comes from low-carbon sources increased from 19% in 2010 to almost 53% in 2018, which meant that 2018 was a record year for renewable energy; over the past year, we have generated record levels of solar and offshore wind energy; and annual support from the Government for renewables will be more than £10 billion by 2021. All that has come as a direct result of a shared ambition, with a Government who set stretching targets and are prepared to intervene where necessary, but who recognise that we need the ingenuity and enterprise of the private sector working in partnership with the Government to deliver change.

The safeguarding of our environment must not come at the cost of ending economic growth, because economic growth is vital to spur the innovation and secure the investment to make sure that we have the technological breakthroughs that can safeguard our environment.

Since 1990, under Governments of different parties, we have seen a 40% overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and we have also seen a two-thirds increase in growth. If we think in particular about the significant growth in renewables, of course solar energy initially needed subsidy to kick-start it, but as solar energy costs have diminished, so the need for subsidy is, as any economist would say, lesser. This is no criticism of any previous Government, but when we came into power, only 38.3 MW of power in this country was generated by solar; now, the amount is 13,000 MW, which is 13 GW. That is a 99% increase in solar power generation under Conservative Ministers.

It is also important, that we not only take action on energy, decarbonise our economy and recognise the global challenge that climate change presents, but do everything we can in our own country to adapt and to mitigate the effects of climate change. That is why this Government are committed to the planting of 11 million new trees. That is why the Countryside Stewardship and Woodland Carbon Fund has been created—to ensure that we reforest this country.

We are lucky in this country to have a concentration of blanket bog and peatland, one of the most effective carbon stores in the world, and this Government are committed to restoring more than 6,000 hectares of peatland to a state where they can play their role in acting as a carbon sink. All of these steps are part of the 25-year environment plan, which is intended to ensure that, for the first time, we hand on to the next generation a restored environment. This means more trees planted, more habitats restored to good or better status, more investment in clean air and water and, above all, more investment in making sure that the organic content of our soil is improved—a critical measure not just in improving fertility for future food production, but for dealing with carbon.

The landmark Environment Bill will mark a step change in how this country tackles the twin challenges of climate change and our broader ecological degradation is a test for us all.

The day after this important debate, the independent UK Committee on Climate Change published its response to the Government’s request to review our carbon budgets. The programme of carbon budgets, set up as part of the 2008 Climate Change Act, that the committee has set, has enabled us to make significant progress so far in the meeting of our obligations to the earth, but we all know that we need to do more.

Last October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made it clear that the Paris target of a 2°C temperature rise was, as the science showed, not ambitious enough and that we need to ensure that we slow the rate of greenhouse gas emissions and hopefully achieve net zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. After that IPCC

report, the Secretary of State for Business, immediately commissioned the Climate Change Committee to tell the Government what more we should do to meet that target. That level of ambition was endorsed by a range of different organisations, from the NFU, which says that we should try to have net zero in agriculture by 2040, to companies such as Tesco, our biggest single retailer, which have also committed to the net zero target.

The Government has welcomed the report and will carefully consider the recommendations. The Comprehensive Spending Review, that starts in the summer and ends in October, sets out government expenditure for the next three years and will be a good opportunity to commit the resources necessary to increase our investment in necessary changes. This report now sets us on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely.

Setting this goal isn’t just about ending the UK’s contribution to climate change. Net zero is also a significant economic opportunity. The low carbon economy is growing two or three times faster than the rest of the mainstream economy, with almost 400,000 people working in these industries already. I fully support the Cornwall Local Enterprise Partnership’s Clean Growth Strategy that recognises this opportunity for many local businesses.

Finally, I hope that you will consider signing my petition, that I am presenting in Parliament on 19th June, for the U.K. to host the 2020 global climate change conference that will be so important to agreeing further global action. For your ease of reference, here is a link:


First published in The Falmouth Packet on 20/6/2019

D Day Commemorations, Volunteer Week and the first year of the 25 Year Environment Plan.

Today, we remember the extraordinary achievement of the liberation of France during the Second World War. Members of the British, Commonwealth and USA armed services and those that supported them are rightly honoured today. We owe a great deal to those that made so many sacrifices in so many ways for the freedom we enjoy today. In commemorating them I believe we recommit to promoting peace today.

I am very much looking forward to visiting Trebah Gardens and their D Day commemorations, including remembering the soldiers that trained on our local creeks from which they set off for the beaches of Normandy. My father recounts fond memories of helping my godfather take care of the American soldiers billeted at his farm on Cowland creek.

I think it is important that our Second World War allies, who remain our strong allies today, the USA , are involved in the D Day commemorations. Many American citizens lost their lives in the liberation of France. It is disrespectful to the American people not to welcome their democratically elected leader to our country.

Whatever you think of Donald Trump, I think it is important to respect his office and value the friendship of our two nations.

Like any other relationship and particularly friendship it’s important to be able to disagree well. I am confident that Ministers will have used the opportunity of the President’s visit to promote the need for more and urgent action to tackle climate change and environmental degradation as well as promoting peace in regions of conflict.

If you are not at the table, prepared to discuss and challenge you can’t influence. Shouting from the sidelines might make you feel better but megaphone diplomacy has rarely achieved anything of note.

This week we are also recognising the extraordinary contribution of volunteers. Volunteer Week rightly celebrates the many local people who give their time freely for causes and purposes they feel strongly about and that make such a positive difference to our lives. Thank you to the award winners and indeed everyone who gives their time freely to others. I could not do my job serving this community without a small army of volunteers.

We are also evaluating the first anniversary of the 25 Year Environment Plan. Over the year much has been achieved including; a draft Environment Bill, the first in over two decades; an Agriculture Bill in which farmers are paid for their work to protect the environment and provide other public goods; the Clean Air Strategy, with ambitious plans to cut air pollution, while giving stronger powers to local authorities to control major sources of air pollution; brought in one of the world’s strongest microbeads bans and plans to extend the ban on single use plastics and introduce a tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content; committed to developing a Nature Recovery Network to create or restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site series and extended the network of Marine Conservation Zones.

First published in the West Briton on 6/6/2019

We can all be empowered to help tackle climate change

The harrowing scenes from David Attenborough’s ‘Our Planet’ documentary series clearly show the impacts humans are having on the natural world. While the scale of the global challenge facing humanity can feel overwhelming, the latest data shows a record 80 percent of British people are concerned about climate change and support taking action to tackle it. As a Member of Parliament, I meet many constituents of all ages and backgrounds who want to do more. 

Scientists from around the world have shown that we need to reach net zero emissions of harmful greenhouse gases by 2050. They warn that inaction risks the world reaching tipping points at 2°C warming that will see the melting of permafrost releasing greenhouse gases that have been stored for millennia. Furthermore, they say this will severely impact our food, water and air quality.  

The Government’s independent advisors, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), have recently published a report showing that it is entirely possible for the UK to reach net zero emissions by 2050 if we act now.  

This will require a rethink for many policies across Government to enable our public services, businesses, communities and people reduce harmful emissions. That is the task before politicians now. Work by leading businesses, engineers and the Bank of England has shown we can do this without wrecking our economy. In fact, if we carefully manage the transition there are opportunities to develop new technologies, products and services.  

Many of my constituents also want to know what they can do. 60 percent of the emissions reductions outlined by the CCC involve some societal or behavioural changes, so it’s vitally important to build on people’s interest in this challenge and involve and empower them to make a difference on an individual level too.   

In 2009, my constituent Luci Isaacson and her organisation, Climate Vision, set up the 10 Pledge Challenge working with ten local community leaders and people to reduce their emissions. Over four months, 3,000 tonnes of CO2 was saved. I learnt a lot about what changes we can all make to help. These choices don’t always need to be big and expensive like investing in an electric vehicle, although the total cost of ownership for an EV is now cost competitive, and they’re on their way to being cheaper up front too. I have recently retaken the pledges and they were relatively simple things that we can all do, like switching energy provider, walking more often and eating more local in-season produce.  

In fact research shows that more than half of us would be happy to reduce our energy use, avoid using cars or try to minimise food waste. It’s not just about helping tackle climate change – simple steps can also save us money, make us feel healthier and contribute to our local economy too. They don’t have to make life more difficult, as some sceptics would have us believe. I want to make sure that everyone has the right information at their fingertips to make informed choices.  

As the Government considers its response to the CCC and sets out policies to reach net zero, I want to ensure that we can make informed choices, by encouraging businesses to provide relevant information, transparently setting out where their products come from, how they got here, and their impact on the environment. For example, in addition to improvements to country of origin labelling, supermarkets could show how beef or lamb was reared, for example 100% grass fed. More than half of people say they would spend more on a sustainable product, but knowing what to choose isn’t always made easy. Information is power, and labelling has an important role to play.  

Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to reassess what information we expect businesses to provide on labels, as it previously fell under their jurisdiction. One of the most debated examples of this is plastic packaging, and making sure it’s clear what is recyclable, biodegradable and compostable. At the moment there is no legal definition for these terms, and a recent study by the University of Plymouth found that so-called ‘biodegradable’ shopping bags could still hold a load of shopping after three years in the marine environment. This can’t be right. If consumers are making the switch to buy supposedly more sustainable products, even at an increased price, then they must have confidence in what they are purchasing. 

In Parliament I set the challenge for every MP to take on the 10 Pledges, as leaders of their communities to encourage everyone who wants to play their part to make a difference. However, I know that we can’t expect anyone to do this without knowing how, and our job as policymakers is to give them those informed choices. It’s time to step up to the greatest challenge that we will face in our lifetimes to tackle climate change – internationally we can lead the world forward, nationally we must set a net zero target to end our contribution to global emissions, and individually we should empower people to make more environmentally friendly choices. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave June edition

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

The Second Meaningful Vote and HMS Tamar

By the time you read this column you will know that Parliament did not support the legally binding changes to the EU Withdrawal Agreement that the PM secured from the EU. This is very disappointing as the PM achieved what Parliament asked of her

By the time you read this you will also know that I voted for the EU Withdrawal Agreement as amended by the PM and that I honoured the commitment that I made at the General Election, to leave the EU in an orderly way, transitioning into a new, close and special relationship with the EU. I voted against a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

I am continuing to work with colleagues of all political parties in the House of Commons to find a way forward, finding the common ground and honouring the commitments that I have made to my constituents. I understand the utter frustration with the current state of affairs that many people share with me and also the anxiety of the current uncertainty. As events are fast moving, I will keep my website regularly updated so you can see what I am doing to resolve the current impasse.

I am also working hard, playing my part in preparing the country for whatever happens at the end of the month. As the Minister with responsibility for the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), I am ensuring that important environment and human protection regulatory regimes are fully operable when we leave the EU.

Next week I am also 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. shipbuilding, 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 waters 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, this 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.

First published in the West Briton on 14/3/2019

Celebrating the UK’s Environmental Achievements

While preventing catastrophic climate change is clearly a global challenge, I fully support the UK government’s determination to eliminate our own emissions and to work globally for urgent sustained reductions. 

In 2010, the UK’s landmark domestic Climate Change Act passed into law with near-unanimous cross-party support, setting an ambitious legally-binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. A radical political consensus on climate action was achieved, and has been preserved ever since. 

A recent report from the London School of Economics presents a clear case that this ground-breaking Act has been instrumental in advancing climate action globally over the past decade – and has provided a framework through which the UK has led the world in reducing emissions, while continuing to strengthen our economy. 

But we must never be complacent. The case for climate action is unequivocal and we must continue to not only drive emissions reduction at home, but overseas too. As a key part of our Industrial Strategy, we are investing more than £2.5bn to support low carbon innovation through our Clean Growth Strategy ensuring that the UK continues to lead the way in cutting emissions while creating well paid jobs. 

Our low carbon sector now supports almost 400,000 jobs across the country, and the sector is still growing. These businesses include local business Kensa, the UK’s most popular ground source heat pumps brand, and Carley’s organic, who produce chutneys, mustards and pickles in a dedicated organic eco-factory. 

By 2030, the UK’s clean economy has the potential to support up to two million jobs whilst generating £170bn of annual exports. 

Creating electricity from the hots rocks beneath Cornwall is something I have been supporting for a long time and am excited that drilling the first well has started at United Downs. This innovation could contribute significant amounts of carbon free energy and more well-paid jobs. Cornwall already hosts a wealth of renewable energy resources including wind, solar, geothermal and marine.  Cornwall now contributes more than 768 MW of sustainable energy generation to the UK energy mix, with approximately 25 per cent in local ownership, including 8 MW of Council-owned solar PV and more than 1MW owned by community groups supported by England’s first community energy revolving fund with £2.5 million council funds. 

There are 200 community groups around the country already generating their own energy to the benefit of the local community. A great local example is Transition Ladock and Grampound Road who were awarded £500,000 to install low carbon technologies in the community. 

The power sector too has been truly transformed in the last 10 years thanks to the direction of travel established in the Climate Change Act. Five years ago, dirty coal accounted for 40 per cent of our electricity, now this figure stands at 7 per cent, and through our Powering Past Coal Alliance will be eliminated altogether. 

In the place of coal an unprecedented level of investment in renewables means that we now have the biggest installed offshore wind capacity in the world. Indeed, official statistics show that 2017 was a record-breaking year for renewables – with over 50 per cent of electricity produced from low carbon sources – an impressive 29 per cent coming from renewables. 

Between 1990 and 2017, the UK reduced its emissions by more than 40 per cent while growing the economy by more than two thirds – the best performance in the G7 on a per person basis proving that economies can be grown in a clean, green way. 

Long-term government planning is the key to our ongoing success. Too often, governments are constrained by spending targets or the threat of upcoming general elections, and it was precisely this short term-ism which the Climate Change Act overcomes. 

Business, community and public bodies all have a role to play but so does each and every one of us. Small changes in our daily routine can add up to significant benefits for our environment. Climate Vision, a local organisation, has produced ten pledges – actions we can all make to our lifestyles to reduce our environmental impact. You could join the Climate Vision Pledge Group: http://www.climatevision.co.uk/top-ten-pledges 

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently published a special report that assessed the impacts of 1.5°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels and related emissions pathways, following the higher level of ambition set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Government has asked the UK Committee on Climate Change to provide new advice on how soon we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero. 

I am working hard to leave our environment in better shape than we found it. This is a huge challenge, requiring us all to play our part and take collective action but I am confident we can meet this challenge head on and deliver the changes we need to see. This is not only the right thing to do now but essential for future generations. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave March edition

Smart employers know there’s a pool of talent to be tapped

Delve deeper into this week’s employment statistics showing there are more people in
work in the UK than ever – 32.6m – and an encouraging picture emerges about
our labour market.

More than half of working age disabled people are now in work. In just five years, their employment rate has risen from 44.2pc to 51.5pc. And what’s more, disabled women have seen an even faster increase, from 42.8pc to 51pc.

We have seen the employment rate gap between disabled and non-disabled people close significantly over this period, but we want to do more. As we continue to make progress, we need to shine a light on the ongoing work the Government and employers
do together to open up opportunities for disabled people.

We are ambitious for disabled people and in 2017 we set out our goal to see one million more disabled people in work over a 10-year period by 2027.

And we are committed to achieving that. Last week, we announced that we are upping the maximum grant disabled people can receive through Access to Work to pay for adjustments to help them do their job to almost £60,000 a year. This is an increase by £2,000 a year in the maximum amount of support that pays for things like workplace adaptations, assistive technology and personal assistants.

Lots of employers are doing the right thing and creating accessible workplaces. More than 10,500 businesses have signed up to the Government’s Disability Confident scheme, which provides support to employers to ensure disabled people are recruited, retained and supported in their careers. Last year we launched a voluntary framework to encourage large businesses to report how many disabled people they employ. The
voluntary framework, created in partnership with employers and disabled people, also obliges business to set out how they are currently supporting their disabled employees.

It’s clear that improving the disability employment rate isn’t just about doing the right thing for the UK’s 7.6m disabled people of working age – there will be long-lasting benefits for everyone.

Disabled people can bring a wealth of skills and talents to an organisation, and smart employers are making sure that they are not missing out on this untapped pool of talent.
Businesses, employers, government and employees must shout louder about this as it makes this journey together to ensure everyone can take up the opportunities being created.

First published in The Daily Telegraph 22/02/19

EU Withdrawal Bill

Last night a majority of MPs, from across the Conservative, Labour, and DUP parties and two Independents voted for an amended EU Withdrawal Bill. A couple of weeks ago, a majority of MPs voted against the original version of this bill.  

Over the last two weeks a huge amount of work has been done to find the common ground in Parliament. The EU and the PM quite rightly said to Parliament, “we know what you don’t agree upon, so tell us what you do”. The amendment to the EU Withdrawal Agreement is about finding a different way of guaranteeing that we honour the Belfast and Good Friday agreements – the so called “backstop”. Those agreements are about honouring our commitments in securing peace in Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

So what happens next? The PM will spend the next two weeks negotiating with the EU with the aim of bringing back to Parliament a final version of the EU Withdrawal Agreement. 

In the meantime, much good work continues on a wide range of important policies that matter to us all. Last week I held one of my regular meetings with the NFU and local farmers. We discussed the Immigration Bill and the Agriculture Bill that are currently working their way through Parliament.  

On Friday, the government launched an ambitious new strategy to clean up our air – which includes a commitment to support farmers’ efforts to tackle air pollution. 

Agriculture is responsible for 88% of UK emissions of ammonia gas which can travel long distances, be damaging to the environment, and combine with other pollutants to form fine Particulate Matter (PM) pollution, which is harmful to human health. 

The measures set out in the Clean Air Strategy will help cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030. 

Under the new strategy the government will provide farmers with support to invest in infrastructure and equipment to reduce emissions and will work with industry to encourage low emission, holistic farming techniques. 

Funding has been available through the Countryside Productivity Scheme to help farmers purchase manure management equipment including low-emission spreaders and the scheme is due to run again in 2019.  

Funding is also available through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme for slurry tank and lagoon covers for farmers in priority water catchments. 

In September 2018 the government launched a new £3 million programme through the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) partnership to fund a team of specialists who work with farmers and landowners in priority areas to provide training events, tailored advice, individual farm visits and support with grant applications. 

Our Agriculture Bill already sets out how future financial support for the farming sector will be focussed on delivering improvements to the environment. We propose that a future environmental land management system should fund targeted action to protect habitats impacted by ammonia. Natural England are already examining options to improve the effectiveness of schemes for mitigating ammonia emissions in protecting these habitats. 

First published in the West Briton 31/01/18

Backing the PM’s deal

The Parliament I returned to on Monday is almost as divided as it was before Christmas. It is still divided into several factions; those who support Mrs May’s EU deal and those who oppose it, those who want a general election and those who want a second referendum. No one has come up with a better deal – including “no deal” – that commands more support than that of the Prime Minister. These same divisions exist across our nation, in our communities and in our homes. 

I have received around one thousand letters and emails from constituents passionately expressing their views one way or another, with each appealing to me to do the ‘right thing’ by representing their position in Parliament. It is my job to listen to the arguments and then carefully draw my own conclusions.  

There is no doubt that the vast majority of people are very supportive of the Prime Minister, and rightly so in my view. I agree that her deal is not perfect, but it does offer a compromise which I can support and I would urge others to do so too. As I have said before, this 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 payments to the EU and we will be out of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies and there will be no customs union, so we will be free to strike trade agreements with nations outside the European Union. These key objectives, which are often referred to as the Prime Minister’s ‘red lines’, actually represent the promises made to British voters in the referendum campaign and at the most recent General Election. 

The much debated “backstop” in the EU Withdrawal Agreement, if used at all, would allow us continued, contribution free access to the EU whilst having total control over migration. This is why it is designed to be, and will prove to be temporary; for the first time ever, and contrary to the EU’s oft-repeated position of not splitting the ‘four freedoms’, they have done exactly that. Any suggestion that such an arrangement would, in effect, become permanent would cause an existential crisis within the EU. Their incentive not to use it, or to leave it quickly, would be at least as great as ours. 

If we do not support this deal, then anything could happen. This would have unknown and potentially untold consequences. The vast majority of local employers who have contacted me want certainty and do not want a “no deal” Brexit. 

There might also be a vote of no confidence in the present Government, which could result in a General Election, which Mr. Corbyn might win. For most, I do not need to explain the consequences of this for our economy, on investment and on jobs. 

I think it’s time to come together and support the deal. 

 First published in the West Briton 10/01/18