Since my last column we saw the heroics of the England football team in the final of the Euros. Yes, we are all disappointed that the players were not able to lift the trophy, but the positive effect that the England team had on lifting the country’s spirits after 18 difficult months should not be underestimated. We should be deeply proud of what this young team achieved. Unfortunately, the pressure heaped on these players brought abhorrent racial abuse and that is something that I firmly stand against. This started in the context of the England team taking the knee, something I support them in. If I were good enough at football (!!!) I would have been humbled to join them. We should be very proud of what Gareth Southgate and this brave young team have achieved both on and off the field. They were heroes for taking us to the final, heroes for taking the knee and heroes for stepping up and taking those penalties.
There was finally the vote on the Government’s International Aid Cut in the House of Commons this last month. I joined 24 Conservative colleagues in voting against the Government, but sadly the motion passed, meaning that the 0.7% spend of Gross National Income on International Aid will only return once the Chancellor’s strict economic tests are met. I was gutted by the result of this vote on international aid. I believe it is even more important that when the world is struggling and ravaged by the pandemic, that we keep supporting those who are most in need. All over the developing world people rely on UK health, climate-resistance or food-nutrition programmes and we have a moral duty to carry these through and not move the goalposts.
I am sure that the re-structuring of Cumbrian Local Government has not passed readers by. I am deeply disappointed this decision has been made. As we are coming through the pandemic, I do not believe this is the time to be even contemplating radical re-structuring of Local Government, which across Cumbria has put in a Herculean effort supporting people through this crisis. We now have to make the best of this disappointing decision and I will work with Central and Local Government on a constructive cross-party basis to try to secure the best outcome for folk right across our county.
This last month we saw some great funding announcements that will provide a welcome boost to our local area. For example, Penrith and The Border is set to benefit from £16,288,952 of investment to help protect against flooding. I am very cognisant of the fact that many constituents worry hugely about flooding and it is an endemic problem in our area. This money will help to protect 1,947 homes and businesses in Penrith and The Border by boosting the design and construction of flood alleviation schemes and putting the necessary measures in place to protect homes from flooding. The flooding that communities in Cumbria have faced in recent years has caused huge devastation. Shortly after I was elected, there were incidents of severe flooding in areas like Appleby and since then I have been raising this issue repeatedly in Parliament and with ministers. I am really pleased Government has listened to my calls.
Appleby Grammar School is one of 50 schools across England set to benefit from the Government’s £1 billion ten-year rebuilding programme. Every child deserves to learn in a world-class school, so they can get a good education and the best possible start in life. We have great schools in Penrith and The Border but we can always work to improve them where we can. There is still much to do, and I will continue to take the call to Westminster to invest further in our local schools.
More Newton Rigg news too. Following on from the positive news that the Educational Charity, The Ernest Cook Trust, had secured the Low Beckside Farm, I very much welcome the recent creation of NR Training by Newton Rigg Ltd. I have met with their Directors on several occasions and am excited that their vision of provision of Cumbrian land-based education is coming to fruition.
Last month I spoke in a debate in Westminster Hall on future trade deals and the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC). I have been calling for the TAC to be reconstituted for months now and it is something I have raised directly with Ministers in Parliament. Parliamentary scrutiny needs to be thorough so that we achieve the best deals possible, allowing the House of Commons and/or relevant select committees to block future deals, not just delay them. In Cumbria we have the best farmers who produce great food using high standards and they should not be disadvantaged by any future trade deals. It is vital that we have a thriving UK food production industry that is not undercut by imports.
I was delighted to welcome an initiative between The Diocese of Carlisle – the Church of England in Cumbria – in partnership with a Christian charity to provide free retreats for people who were frontline carers during the Covid pandemic. This is a great way to show appreciation for NHS staff who have been at the vanguard of our protection against the virus, from the first-class treatment that they have provided to Covid patients to their brilliant work rolling out the vaccine. I applaud Rev Prof Stephen Wright for developing these plans and all those who have donated to the fund so far. It is this kind of charity which shows the power of human kindness, especially in the face of such adversity.
Last but by no means least, some good news on the animal welfare front. I am so pleased that the Government has listened to my calls to strengthen action against the awful crime that is pet theft. Specifically, there will likely be the introduction of a "pet abduction offence" to allow our courts to hand out tougher sentences to those criminals who commit this abhorrent crime. I would like to see this future legislation cover not just pets but other animals like horses and farm livestock. We need to put an end to these dreadful and distressing animal theft crimes. As a vet I feel incredibly strongly about this and our need to protect these animals and their owners.