Combating religious intolerance

You read about antisemitism, Islamophobia and racism in the newspapers almost every day at the moment. Intolerance is on the rise throughout the world and it would seem that Western democracies are not immune from such hatreds. As the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said in a debate in the House of Lords last month: 

“Antisemitism, or any hate, becomes dangerous when three things happen. First: when it moves from the fringes of politics to a mainstream party and its leadership. Second: when the party sees that its popularity with the general public is not harmed thereby. And three: when those who stand up and protest are vilified and abused for doing so.” 

He concluded: 

“All three factors exist in Britain now. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. That is why I cannot stay silent. For it is not only Jews who are at risk. So too is our humanity.” 

He’s right about the rising tide of religious and racial intolerance, fuelled by populism from the far-right and the far-left. It’s driven by a mix of factors and manifests itself in the form of identity politics, religious nationalism and extremism. The result is discrimination and persecution. 

Yesterday in Parliament when the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, made a statement about Sri Lanka, he spoke for us all: 

“These attacks were a primitive and vile attempt to sow division between people of different faiths. Religious tensions have caused some of the bloodiest battles in human history, and it is sombre and sobering that even in the 21st century attempts continue to set believers of different religions against each other. Our response must be to deny the perpetrators the satisfaction of dividing us by being united in our condemnation of the attacks and united in our support for religious tolerance— surely one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Just as after the equally horrific attacks on the two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, we must respond by bringing people together; that is the exact opposite of what the perpetrators intended. 

The UK will never stand by in the face of such evil. Today, we stand in solidarity with the Government and people of Sri Lanka, who have made enormous strides towards stability and peace following the conclusion of the civil war almost exactly 10 years ago. 

To attack Christian worshippers at Easter, which is a celebration of peace and the holiest day in the Christian calendar, betrays in the attackers an absence of the most basic values of humanity.”  

The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary noted in their Easter messages the dangers facing Christians around the world, 300 of whom are killed every month. In response to such acts, we must redouble our efforts to protect the freedom of religious minorities to practise their faiths, wherever they are. I am delighted that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office asked the Bishop of Truro to do an independent report into what more can be done to protect persecuted Christians around the world. 

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Remembering the Great War

On Sunday our community came together as one to pause and to remember all those who died during the Great War and all those who have died in conflicts that have happened since.

For everyone, different events will stand out. I felt that the creativity, compassion and care taken in acts of remembrance in this constituency were magnificent. From the sand portraits on Perranporth Beach to the poppy memorial in Portloe. From the hand-made poppies dropped from the tower inside Truro cathedral and those adorning the trees in Kimberley Park, to the silent vigil in Zelah and the lone piper in St Mawes. The floral tributes, bells ringing out from our church towers and the re-dedication and creation of new memorials, all in their own way declared our ardent desire never to forget those that made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, peace and way of life.

We have sought to commemorate the war in many ways over the past four years. The high profile events have been complemented by an extensive range of cultural and educational activities. In 2012 the government established the 14-18 NOW cultural programme to work with artists to tell these important stories through the mediums of culture and art. There has been a particular focus on engaging children and young people, with events including the Great War school debate series and school battlefield tours. More than 35 million people have engaged with the centenary, including 7.5 million young people under the age of 25.

Over the past four years I have really enjoyed discovering more of our local history, visiting Pendennis Castle and the local museums and history groups that have so imaginatively told the story of local people and communities during the Great War, including those who went to fight and those who were left behind. Poignant stories that had been forgotten until now. BBC Radio Cornwall did a great job in capturing so many of these local stories.

As part of the programme, the government has sought to highlight the enormous contribution made by those who came to our nation’s aid from across the world. Some 2.5 million men and women from the Commonwealth answered the call to fight, with 200,000 laying down their lives. If you haven’t yet visited the Commonwealth War Graves Commission graves in our local grave yards I encourage you to do so. They are beautifully kept and online information tells us about those buried here from all over the Commonwealth, from Canada to India.

On Friday, I am looking forward to watching Edward Rowe in his new play Hirith that explores the role of Cornish Miners in the trenches. Many poems, pieces of music and works of art have been created to tell the story of the people who came from all walks of life from every part of our community to play their part in the Great War. Over the past four years, together I think we have all done our best to remember them.

First published in the West Briton 15/11/18

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

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

Remembering those who died defending our freedom and values

Like countless others, I spent time last week remembering the sacrifice of so many people who gave their lives or have been damaged defending our freedom and values. Values that we can too easily take for granted today.

The poignancy of participating in our communal act of remembrance is not diminished as the years pass. I am heartened each year by the increasing number of young people taking part, sometimes wearing the medals of their ancestors.

Next year we will commemorate 100 years of the ending of the First World War and plans to mark this special occasion are well underway. When a campaign for volunteers was launched in August 1914, thousands answered the call to fight. Among them were 250,000 boys and young men under the age of 19. A concert in Birmingham will remember their stories, they will be given a voice in words and music by 250,000 youngsters of today. What a memorable occasion that will be.

Some say our wearing of the poppy, participation in the collective acts of Remembrance or laying of wreaths is glorifying war. I disagree. It is essential that we remember and learn from the past. Sadly, there are always those at home and abroad who will seek to undermine or destroy the morals and values of our shared society, of freedom and justice, of compassion and fairness.

While we work for peace at home and around the world, we need to be prepared to defend ourselves and our allies. I am very grateful to members of our armed services who serve at home and abroad who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe. Their families too. I am also very grateful to the many local charities who support veterans and their families to recover from their experience.

First published in the West Briton

Defence and cooperation with our NATO allies

I was pleased to join crew from four naval ships, forming a NATO deployment, in Falmouth. Our Royal Navy vessel is working alongside three European naval vessels, including one from Estonia. This week they will be heading to the Baltic to undertake mine clearance and participate in NATO support for our allies.

120 soldiers from the 5th Battalion The Rifles, including from Cornwall, deployed to Estonia this week to set up a UK headquarters in the country before the remaining 680 troops arrive in April.

The defence secretary said they would deter “Russian aggression”. The UK is taking a leading role in NATO’s “enhanced forward presence” operation, aimed at reinforcing the alliance’s eastern border.

Tensions between Estonia and Russia increased as a result of the Ukraine conflict, which resulted in the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014.

The UK-led Estonia battlegroup is one of four NATO multinational deployments to eastern Europe, which were agreed to at the 2016 Warsaw summit. Other NATO armies are sending forces to Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, where 150 UK personnel will also be sent as part of a rotating deployment.

Separately, the Royal Air Force has committed to providing Typhoon jets to bolster air defences in Romania for four months.

While it is understandable that Estonia is building a fence along its borders to defend itself against Russia, it is nonetheless sad. Also, an important reminder that it is important to both show our support for our allies in Europe and work hard to build the peaceful and secure Europe we all want to see.

Finally, it was an honour to join the 75th commemoration of the St Nazaire Raid from Falmouth with the Honorary French  Consul. It was a moving reminder of our countries long standing shared bonds of friendship.

Government support for Syrian refugees

Britain has a proud record of helping the most vulnerable children who are fleeing conflict and danger, and this Government is committed to upholding this fine tradition.

Our response to the migrant crisis has been to establish resettlement schemes from the region, where we can best target our support to help the most vulnerable. That is why between 2015 – 2020 we will resettle 20,000 Syrians also 3,000 children and their families from the wider region.

In the last year we have granted asylum to over 8,000 children. Of the more than 4,400 individuals resettled through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme so far, around half are children. 3,000 children came through family reunion – the Dublin process, and a further 3,000 came through as unaccompanied children asylum seekers, including from European countries. For example, 900 came from Calais as part of the camp clearance process.

Behind these numbers are vulnerable people so the Government works closely with local authorities to ensure that they have the resources that they need to provide support to unaccompanied migrant children and vulnerable family’s from Syria and the region. Following discussions with local authorities the amount they receive to care for the children was significantly increased to £41,000 a year for under 16s and £33,000 for over 16s.

The Government has been clear that we do not want to incentivise perilous journeys to Europe. The migration crisis is a global challenge and the government works closely with European countries and has provided £70 million to the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

In Syria and the wider region we continue to work with the UN and invest more humanitarian aid than any other country apart from the USA. The UK has pledged £2.3 billion in aid to the Syrian crisis – our largest ever humanitarian response to a single crisis.

First published in the West Briton 15/02/17