Since my last column we have had the major legislative framework set out for the next year during the Queen’s Speech. There were many measures that I welcomed such as those around support for mental health and improving broadband infrastructure but there were some areas where I think the Government should change tack.
One area where I have been disappointed with the Government is its decision to reduce our commitment on international aid spending from 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) to 0.5%. I am fully supportive of the UK spending 0.7% GNI on international aid; I want us to continue this level of spending and I have made and continue to make representations to the Government and Chancellor urging them to maintain this level of commitment. The cut will make little difference to those of us lucky to reside in the UK, but it will have a massive impact on the world's most vulnerable people for whom the UK's aid efforts were hitherto a source of great hope, and who now stand to lose out. With colleagues across the House I was supporting the amendment on International Aid in the House of Commons last week in the ARIA Bill. I firmly signalled to Government that I would vote for this amendment. Unfortunately, the Speaker ruled that the amendment was out of scope and so it was not debated or voted upon. The Speaker has urged the Government to bring forward an effective vote on International Aid, in which I would vote to reinstate the 0.7%. It may be that this amendment attempt and our continued pressure makes the Government reverse their decision and reinstate the 0.7% commitment. I will continue to urge the Government to reinstate the 0.7% as it is the right and ethical thing to do for a progressive outward-looking country like the UK.
Many constituents have been in touch expressing their concerns about the prospect of a Free Trade Agreement with Australia and what that would mean for our local farmers and producers and for animal welfare standards. I share these concerns and recently questioned the Trade Minister, Greg Hands, on this very issue in Parliament. I asked him for urgent meaningful parliamentary scrutiny to ensure any trade deal was not rushed through, for the watchdog Trade and Agriculture Commission to be reconstituted immediately and tariff-rate quotas to be introduced to safeguard any deal. Broadly, I do actually welcome the possibility of a mutually-beneficial trade deal between our two nations but it has to be the right one and one that recognises that whilst we have so much in common with our friends in Australia, our economies are different and any trade deal should reflect that. For example, when it comes to livestock farms the costs of production are much lower in Australia and they have very different animal husbandry methods to us; I say this as someone who has worked as a vet on farms both in the UK and Australia. It is vital that we have a thriving UK food production industry that is not undercut by imports. We all saw the importance of this during the height of the pandemic when Government itself described farmers as key workers playing a vital role in delivering the nation’s food. I will not turn my back on our farmers and our high animal welfare standards and will continue to fight for them in Parliament.
Locally, it was an absolute pleasure recently to visit businesses across Penrith and The Border with Cumbria Tourism for English Tourism Week. A thriving tourism sector is vital for the prosperity of our county. It was great to meet the staff at the beautiful Augill Castle near Kirkby Stephen as they prepare for an increase in visitors and hope to bounce back from lockdown. Furthermore, my meetings with businesses in Alston highlighted that Cumbria is very much open for business and, as there will be an increase in UK holidays this year, I cannot think of a better place for folk to visit than Cumbria. The businesses I spoke to welcomed the Government support they have received to date and say they are ready to receive visitors. As I have done throughout this crisis, I will continue to champion our tourism and hospitality businesses by representing their interests at Westminster and engaging with them locally.
On educational support, I would like to Government to go further by including outdoor education centres in their recovery and catch-up strategy. I have been lobbying for outdoor education centres since the advent of the pandemic and was pleased to see them open up for residential visits from May 17th. In Cumbria we have amazing centres like Blencathra and the Outward Bound Centres that provide an amazing and fulfilling experience for our young folk, something which sadly was not possible during the pandemic. The inclusion of these centres in the strategy would greatly benefit students taking part in day activities as well as residential trips. It is clear to me that education does not start and finish in the classroom. Outdoor education centres are an essential component in developing the skills that young people will need in the wider world of work but also are a huge benefit to their mental and physical wellbeing.