A month on from my last column and tragically our TV screens continue to be populated by grim images of the Israel-Hamas conflict. I must reiterate my condemnation of Hamas’ terrorist actions that led to this conflict and my thoughts are with all those who have been affected. With 76,800 wound care packs, 2,560 solar lights and 1,350 water filters delivered by our Government to Gaza, I’m proud that the UK is playing its part in addressing the acute humanitarian crisis and I stood up in Parliament to praise the UK’s diplomatic efforts. The Foreign Secretary’s response was heartening and he and the Prime Minister are in close dialogue with leaders in the Middle East to try to stop the conflict spreading. It is important we stand with Israel as they defend themselves against terrorism and very much highlight the need to act in accordance with international humanitarian law.
It's also crucial that we don’t forget our friends and allies in beleaguered Ukraine who continue to defend against Russian aggression amongst the mud and freezing temperatures of the oncoming winter.
Closer to home, I continue to champion the improvement of public and local services in rural areas like ours with our unique connectivity challenges. I spoke in the Commons on the importance of maintaining our rural services that folk depend upon such post offices.
One major win on this front is that we managed to save our rail ticket offices from closure. Government has listened to me and campaigners up and down the land and made it crystal clear to the rail operators that their flawed plans must be withdrawn and ticket offices must be kept operational. That means Appleby, Penrith and Carlisle retain ticket offices, relied on heavily by the elderly, those with disabilities and the thousands of Cumbrians who utilise our railways every day.
Another transport success is the Conservative Government’s decision to invest an additional £2.8 million in improving Cumbrian bus services over the next financial year and the extension of the £2 bus cap fare. This was only possible with the Prime Minister's pragmatic approach to HS2 - redistributing the funding across the whole of the UK.
Locally we are also seeing an innovative approach to healthcare so rural communities are better provided for. This includes 10,000 virtual ward beds where people are treated with care at home in a safe and familiar environment; the £42.6 million Accelerating Reform Fund helping local unpaid carers bring their ideas into the mainstream care and support system; and allowing those on waiting lists to switch hospitals to be seen faster, therefore cutting waiting lists.
Also on health, in Parliament I met with Parkinson’s UK to hear about how we can improve the delivery of time-critical medication for the 250+ people living with the disease in Penrith
and The Border. I welcomed £5 million for early mental health support hubs to improve outcomes for young people across the country. I discussed these plans with the Government’s Youth Mental Health Ambassador, Dr Alex George, back in March and am delighted this vision is now a reality.
Critical to providing rural services is a buoyant economy and thankfully the statistics look positive. In our constituency there are 130 fewer unemployment benefit claimants since last year, we’ve got some of the highest pay growth rates since records began and across the UK almost 4 million people more are in employment since 2010. Rishi Sunak and the Chancellor are clearly delivering for the economy and I look forward to hearing more in the Autumn Statement.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t all been good news this month with Storms Babet and Ciarán hammering communities across the UK. These are not isolated events, and I penned a piece for the Daily Express paying tribute to those who responded to Babet but also on the need for us to support communities with flood resilience.
As you will know by now, I take my role as the only veterinary MP very seriously, and have been leading some of the parliamentary response to the grim American XL Bully dog attacks we have witnessed over recent months. Having chaired an emergency EFRA session on dangerous dogs, I am categorically in favour of banning this uniquely damaging dog in the interest of public and other animal safety. These 50-60 kg dogs with hugely powerful jaw structures are a danger in the wrong hands.
Moreover, I had the privilege of using my background to stand up for the British horseracing industry in Parliament as we make changes to improve animal welfare, meet staffing demands and reform betting policy. Providing £4.1 billion annually and employing more than 20,000 people, it is critical for the country as well as the sport that horseracing remains resilient.
I’m writing this following the King’s Speech, and looking forward, I’m very positive about the legislative agenda for the coming session. I had the immense privilege of standing at the entrance of the House of Lords as King Charles delivered his first King’s Speech on our Government's legislative agenda for the coming Parliamentary session. Having campaigned hard for a number of issues to be addressed - including bolstering energy security, clamping down on youth vaping and banning live animal exports - I'm incredibly pleased the Prime Minister has listened to me and my Conservative colleagues to improve people's lives for the better.