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

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Working towards a consensus on Brexit

Much has happened over the last week but what have we learned? While a minority of people voted in the EU elections, those that did so indicated that the country is as divided now as it was at the time of EU Referendum. The Conservative and the Labour Party MPs who have been trying to deliver their manifesto commitments have failed to secure the support of people who want us to leave the EU without an orderly transition to a new and close relationship, preferring a “no deal” Brexit, as well as those who want to “stop Brexit” with a second referendum. 

I am disappointed that Jeremy Corbyn could not persuade enough of his team, most notably future Labour Party leadership contenders, Emily Thornberry and Kier Starmer, to support him and the way forward, that I am told by people close to the negotiations, he wanted to agree with the Prime Minister. I know Labour MPs that want to honour their manifesto commitments to deliver Brexit. If the agreement had been reached and subsequently supported by Parliament, we would be on track now to leave the EU with a good deal, ending the current paralysing uncertainty. I appreciate that not everyone agrees with me, however I continue to believe that getting Brexit right is of such national importance that it should be above party politics.  

With not enough Parliamentary support for her approach to Brexit the PM had no choice but to announce her impending resignation. She is a great public servant and could not have tried harder to deliver a good Brexit. That remains an extraordinary challenge for her successor. 

The PM will remain in place while the Conservative Party choose a new leader. The leadership contenders will need to demonstrate that they have a Brexit plan that will command enough support in Parliament. Unity of purpose is essential so that we can begin the process of healing the divisions that Brexit has illuminated.  

This selection process will take time and could be months. We should use this time well to consider some new approaches to finding a solution to Brexit, by more directly involving people in our usual political and Parliamentary processes. 

Next week, I am meeting Professor David Farrell, one of the “stars” of deliberative democracy and the Co-Leader of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly, in which citizens found a way forward on the “unsolvable” question of abortion and marriage equality. Professor David Farrell is described as “the man who transformed Irish politics”. 

I am keen to learn from the experience of Ireland and develop an approach for the U.K. There are a range of models of deliberative democracy, including citizens juries. They provide the opportunity for a truly representative group of citizens, enabled by experts, to consider complex issues, feeding back their findings to politicians and the public grappling with the same issues. They don’t replicate our democratic institutions and processes but add an extra dimension that Ireland and other countries have found useful in resolving complex issues. 

First published in the West Briton 30 05 19

Working to prevent a “no deal” Brexit

I understand the frustration people feel that Parliament has not yet delivered Brexit. I understand that people want to leave the EU for a range of reasons, not all to do with the economy. However, I am focussed on the economy and the wellbeing of my constituents. Without a strong economy local people won’t prosper and we won’t be able to increase funding for our vital local public services. 

The delays are having a corrosive effect on British industry as a whole. The longer the delay, the more likely that investments are routed out of Britain to countries with a more stable political and industrial climate. 

While Parliamentary squabbles continue, Nigel Farage is touring the country advocating a no-deal Brexit. Just when we thought no deal was out of the question, the collapse of the Brexit negotiations and the willful disregard by some in Parliament of the increasingly desperate warnings from industry and the world of work, has brought the spectre of no deal back. 

No deal would not be the “clean break” Mr Farage promises. 

Pascal Lamy, former Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), has said he thought after a period of negotiations that the UK could become an independent member of the WTO outside of the EU. But he described the WTO regime as league three in world trade. Why would we choose to relegate ourselves from league one to three? 

The blithe assurances of hard Brexiteers that the UK could fare perfectly well trading on WTO terms flies in the face of warnings from a huge range of businesses, small and large, that it would simply make their products uncompetitive and their business models unsustainable. 

The National Farmers Union says WTO terms would add 67 and 85 per cent extra tax to exports of lamb and beef respectively. 

The British ceramics industry, already struggling with the dumping of tableware from China, would face extra tax of 28 per cent on its products. 

The car industry, hit by the triple whammy of falling sales in China, the transition from diesel and Brexit, could not absorb the extra 10 per cent tax on its exports. 

Manufacturing employs millions of people and its renaissance has given thousands of young people a real start in life in well-paid, skilled jobs. 

For businesses this is even worse than the first time they prepared for the threat of a disorderly no-deal Brexit on March 29 because billions had to be spent making contingency plans, stockpiling supplies, shutting factories and laying off staff. They just cannot do this all over again. 

As you would expect, I listen to local employers and businesses and many tell me that they are worried by the collapse of the cross-party talks as it makes no deal more likely once again. As we edge closer to a damaging no-deal Brexit, I will once again work tirelessly cross-party in parliament to ensure Britain leaves the European Union in an orderly way with a deal. 

Working to remove 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 a majority of people in this constituency voted to Remain. 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. To deliver Brexit with ‘a deal’ not a ‘no deal’ Brexit.  

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. 

Last week, 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. 

This week, I am continuing my work with other backbench colleagues, from different political parties, 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. 

Labour and Conservative MPs were all elected at the last General Election on a manifesto to leave the EU with ‘a deal’ so we must honour our commitments.  

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 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 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. 

First published in the West Briton 28/03/19

The “Deal” and supporting Cornwall’s schools

I had hoped that by the time you read this column the House of Commons would have passed the Withdrawal Agreement (EU) and Future Political Declaration. This is usually summarised as ‘the deal’. Along with all Labour MPs, I was elected at the last General Election to deliver Brexit with ‘a deal’ negotiated with the EU and I will continue to work hard to achieve this.

I believe that ‘the deal’ the PM has negotiated with the EU 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.

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.

In addition to preparing for Brexit, I am working on a range of other important matters. One such key issue is ensuring all our young people have the opportunity for the best education. Thanks to the hard work of local teachers, governors, parents and all those who support our local youngsters, more children are receiving a good or outstanding education here since 2010. This is despite challenging funding settlements. While school funding is at a record high and increasing, I know it is not enough and am pushing the Chancellor for more.

The Schools Minister has visited Cornwall twice to meet with teachers and head teachers organisations to hear first-hand local concerns.

Some local parents are being sent letters citing information provided by the Schools Cuts campaign. The information used by the Schools Cuts campaign was referred the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), the watchdog for the use of statistics. In January, it said that Schools Cuts uses “misleading” statistics and flawed methodology in its calculations to deliberately downplay funding received by schools.

This deliberate scaremongering aimed at parents using misleading and discredited statistics is deeply concerning. Schools Cuts needs to come clean on its links to the hard left of the Labour Party.

On my website I have a webpage dedicated to my long-standing campaign to increase funding for our local schools and FE colleges. There you can see the sums of money allocated to Cornwall and each school.

First published in the West Briton 21/03/19

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