Since my last column there has been some very upsetting news at Westminster. I was deeply saddened to lose two parliamentary colleagues last month. In very different circumstances parliament lost two outstanding members. Firstly, losing James Brokenshire to cancer so young is a great loss to British politics. He was decent, honest and absolutely dedicated. Secondly, I and my colleagues were both shocked and shaken when we heard the news that Sir David Amess had been killed while serving his constituents. He was an amazing Member of Parliament, always putting his constituents first. He was kind to everyone he met and was a true champion for animal welfare. It is fitting that the Prime Minister has announced that Southend will be awarded city status, a cause that Sir David had championed for decades.
It was a privilege to attend the UN Climate Change Summit (COP26) last week. As the conference reached its conclusion, significant pledges have already been made to try and keep the 1.5 degree limit on temperature rises within reach. More than 100 world leaders promised to tackle deforestation, aiming to end or reverse it by 2030. There was a commitment from more than 40 countries to shift away from coal, a huge contributor to climate change. I know this is an issue of concern to many readers, with no final decision on the proposed Cumbrian coal mine. I have outlined my opposition to the coalmine as we cannot ignore the climate crisis and we should be looking towards more sustainable and renewable sources of energy.
Unfortunately, we have now entered the period when flooding is more likely to strike, which is so distressing for many communities in Cumbria. After raising this issue again with the Flooding Minister Rebecca Pow in Parliament at the time of the recent flooding a couple of weeks ago, I am reassured that Government takes this issue very seriously and has confirmed that DEFRA is monitoring and supporting the situation very closely. I would like to reiterate my thanks for everyone on the ground, I know my constituents are very grateful for all the hard work that is done to try to keep them safe. It is very important that constituents keep checking in with Environment Agency and local media information outlets to see the latest advice on flooding.
At Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, I asked the PM to encourage his government departments to work together ensure local communities in Penrith and The Border are not adversely affected by the planned A66 route. I know that there are worries about the impact of the A66 project and that is why it was important to raise this with the Prime Minister directly. He has committed his government to listening to local feedback before finalising the route. As I have said many times publicly, I welcome the A66 Project, and the opportunities it presents to our region, but we have to get it right and it absolutely must consider the strength of feeling in our communities.
After consistent pressure applied on the government by myself and colleagues, they have finally announced that the New Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) has been formed. The TAC is an independent advisory board set up to advise and inform the government’s trade policies. This is welcome news to farmers across Penrith and The Border and the wider UK but it is important that the Commission’s recommendations are taken seriously. We need to make sure that Parliament is able to meaningfully scrutinise international trade deals. I will keep pushing hard on this issue. It is so important that our farmers are not undercut by cheaper sub-standard imports.
There are serious labour shortages in many parts of the food production sector. In response to this I and my colleagues on our cross-party EFRA Select Committee have written urgently to the Prime Minister and relevant Ministers to highlight the need for urgent action such as extending and fast-tracking certain visas. I spoke on this in the recent Commons Animal Welfare Debate raising the animal welfare crisis in the pig farming sector with a possible mass cull looming. This would be devastating for the sector and would be hugely distressing for everyone involved. I know from sad first-hand experience as a vet, having supervised the cull of many farm animals on farm during Foot and Mouth, how devastating this is for everyone concerned. I welcome the measures taken so far, but we are urging Government to act quickly to implement measures to avert this crisis.