I am sure all of you saw the harrowing scenes in Afghanistan over the last few weeks, as the United States and NATO withdrew the last of their military personnel from the region. It was very difficult to see the desperation of Afghan nationals who were seeking refuge from the Taliban after they retook control of the country. The safety of British Nationals, deployed military personnel, and Afghans who risked their lives working alongside the UK was the government’s first priority. In the 14 days between 14th and 28th August the RAF airlifted over 15,000 people on over 165 flights. I commend these efforts and all involved and please know I have made and continue to make representations to Government urging them to help extricate more people from this dreadful situation. I agree with the Prime Minister that any international recognition of a new government in Afghanistan must happen on a coordinated basis. As G7 President, the UK will work to unite the international community behind a clear plan for dealing with this regime in a unified and concerted way. The legitimacy of any government must also be subject to the upholding of internationally agreed standards on human rights and inclusivity.
I was delighted that we had two visits to Cumbria from Government ministers in recent weeks. Firstly, Health Secretary Sajid Javid opened a new cancer centre in Carlisle. The £35 million Northern Centre for Cancer Care, North Cumbria, integrates cancer diagnosis and treatment across Cumbria, with a chemotherapy day unit plus radiotherapy and diagnostic imaging. The new facilities will be greatly appreciated by readers and it will be such a benefit to receive this important specialist care closer to home.
We also had Matt Warman, the Minister for Digital Infrastructure, visit the constituency to discuss rural connectivity and see broadband schemes being connected near Kirkby Stephen. Cumbria will be the first of a handful of counties to benefit from Project Gigabit (a package of £5bn in government investment on broadband, designed to improve provision in hard-to-reach areas). The challenge to improve mobile and broadband capability is still a tough one, with Penrith and The Border suffering some of the worst connection speeds in the country but having the Minister see the struggles that rural society faces regarding connectivity is a good step in improving it for many people.
I was delighted this month to see the government respond to calls from me and others for a clampdown on pet theft by introducing a new criminal offence. Accordingly, a new criminal offence for pet abduction is set to be introduced. The new law will recognise the welfare of animals and will allow judges to hand down harsher sentences for this cruel act. I would like to see future legislation cover not just pets but other animals like horses and farm livestock, the theft of which sadly we see too often here in rural Cumbria. 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. Furthermore, I am hugely disappointed that Tim Farron and the Lib Dems are putting out misleading material in my constituency on this issue. Animal health and welfare is not something that should be the subject of petty party political games.
I was extremely saddened to hear of the plans regarding the removal the Alston Moor Community Ambulance. I very much understand the challenges that Alston faces due to how rural it is, and how absolutely crucial the local ambulance is in order to support the community. I am working with the 2021 Ambulance Retention Group in Alston and will continue to support them to try to save this vital service. I have met with the local NHS to discuss this and I have encouraged the NHS and North West Ambulance Service to pause any action on their suggested change until they have been able to discuss future possible options with the community. It is important that we get stakeholders and the local community representatives around the table to discuss this fully to try and work on an acceptable solution and then that the local community are fully consulted on any potential changes.
Recently, I attended a public meeting in Warcop Village Hall to hear first-hand the major concerns of residents regarding the A66 Trans-Pennine Project section between Appleby and Brough. The strength of opposition to the Highways England preferred route is very clear. I listened to residents’ tangible and reasoned concerns, and also heard some excellent ideas and suggestions for alternative routes. While I completely support the dualling of the A66 between Penrith and Scotch Corner, it is vital that we protect communities such as Warcop and Sandford. To this end, I have taken the case to Highways England, the MOD, Natural England and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps expressing my concerns regarding the preferred route and asking that the northern option is given full consideration and asking for a scoping exercise to be carried out.
I welcome that the Government has called in the West Cumbria Coal Mine application for review. I had previously signalled my support for the project with my fellow Conservative Cumbrian MPs. However, on reflection I now believe that the project should not go ahead. The world is changing. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report last month makes stark reading. We are now witnessing ever increasing adverse weather events leading to catastrophic floods and fires; we just need to look at the western North America, Greece and Italy in terms of recent fires, and the recent catastrophic flooding in mainland Europe this summer, and just last week in the eastern USA. I ask that the Government now acts to cancel this project and have made representations to that effect to Government and the Public Inquiry. With our leadership of the COP26 we have a real opportunity to set an example to the world if we do this. I understand the economic implications if such a decision is made, and I encourage the Government as a priority to invest in opportunities for local and national employment in the renewable energies sector.