Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Working towards a fairer deal for Britain’s Farmers

Last week saw the launch of a draft bill that will bring in an “adjudicator” to monitor the Groceries Supply Code of Practice.  This is something I have campaigned for over the decade since the Competition Commission report first raised concerns about the relationship between large supermarket chains and their suppliers.

Ministers said the overseer would “give teeth” to the Code – which has been in place for more than a year – and prevent multiple retailers from taking “advantage of their position of power”.  The draft Bill sets out powers to impose financial penalties on retailers, and promises confidentiality to producers who seek arbitration to “reduce the threat of retaliatory treatment”.

It says the Adjudicator will be paid for by the UK’s ten retailers that are monitored by the Code and have an annual turnover of more than £1 billion.  This will include Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Waitrose, who will each pay around £120,000 per year.

I want to see a food industry where farmers and food producers are getting a fair deal, and consumers can buy the high-quality, British food they want at a price they can afford and will be consulting with local Young 

Farmers groups and farmers on the draft bill to make sure the Government gets it right.

On the last day in Parliament before the Recess, I led a debate about the future of the Post Office Card Account.  The Coalition has made a series of pledges to protect the post office network such as giving an assurance that there will be no further post office closures, post offices will receive an extra £1.34 billion between now and 2015, and branches will offer an expanded range of financial services.  I was pleased that the Minister made a clear commitment to deliver new services through post offices.  For instance, a pilot scheme has begun whereby if a person applies to claim their state pension or pension credit for example, they can have their identification documents verified at a post office rather than having to send them away to be checked.   

Another scheme is being looked into is whether people in rural areas could sign on in a post office rather than making the journey to a jobcentre which may be some distance away.

I am concerned that incomes for our sub-postmasters, who are in effect small businesses, is worryingly low and will continue to work with Ministers to ensure more financial and government services are delivered in post offices.

Back in Cornwall I held my weekly advice surgery and a number of meetings with local employers before spending the Bank Holiday Weekend enjoying the Fal River Festival.  Congratulations to the organisers and volunteers who have put on an amazing range of fun, interesting as well as tasty activities!  It is great to see the celebration of the Fal Estuary from Truro to Falmouth growing in strength from year to year.  Support for the Castel to Castel swim is amazing as is the Fal River Walk organised by the Rotary Club of Truro Boscawen.  I am sure the sums raised for a wide-range of local good causes will be much appreciated too.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

A thank you to Rotary in Cornwall for work to eradicate Polio world-wide

Rotarians across Cornwall deserve thanks for working hard with other international organisations around the world to eradicate Polio. To find out more about this important work, please vist the below link:

Monday, 23 May 2011

Funding agreed for more affordable housing construction in the South West


Greater power for local people and increased funding for Cornwall’s NHS

Last week saw the final stages of the Localism Bill.  This is a landmark piece of legislation that enables more decisions about the shape of towns and villages to be taken by local people.  It enables the scrapping of centrally imposed housing targets.  Instead, Cornwall Council will work with local parish councils and communities to shape the places where we live and work.  This is a very significant shift of power from Westminster to Cornwall.  With this power comes responsibility and it is now down to each of us in Cornwall to engage in the planning process to make sure that as far as possible, plans developed deliver the hopes of each community for sustainable and genuinely affordable homes, jobs and a good quality of life.  This won’t be an easy process as not everyone will agree but it is vital that everyone gets involved, informs themselves and makes their opinions known.  The plans developed over the next few months will shape where we live for many years to come.

In the West Briton last week it was reported that the Government is cutting the NHS budget in Cornwall this year.  This is not the case.  Spending in the NHS will increase in cash terms this year as it did last.  This does not mean, however, that everyone working in the NHS does not face huge challenges as demand for services is growing faster than the budget increase.  For example, demand for more expensive new drugs and treatments.  The NHS in Cornwall is a group of organisations providing everything from your GP and dental services to emergency care at Treliske.  Within a framework, the management of the NHS in Cornwall decides what services are provided and where.  There will be changes, making efficiency savings and responding to what people have told them, as they have a plan to deliver more NHS services, closer to peoples’ homes.

On the letters pages and elsewhere in the West Briton there has been mention of cuts to benefits for the most vulnerable in our society.  There is a great deal of mis-information about the Coalition’s plans to reform the Welfare system.  The Editor decides what to publish and cannot always publish my response to these stories.  If anyone has any concerns at all, please contact me directly and I will answer your questions and discuss your concerns.  I understand how vitally important the welfare state is to many people living in my constituency.

Finally, on Saturday, I was delighted to join the second annual Falmouth Community Alive Event in Falmouth as well as visiting the new British Heart Foundation Shop, selling used furniture and electrical items.  The latter is a great example of recycling.  Good quality items that might well have been discarded are given a new lease of life while raising money for charity.  Both enterprises in Falmouth demonstrate the creativity and commitment of volunteers in enhancing the quality of all our lives.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Looking forward to Falmouth’s 350th anniversary celebrations


The Welfare Reform Bill - a response to the concerns of Macmillan Cancer Support

This blog post details my response to concerns expressed to me by Macmillan Cancer Support, in my capacity as a member of the Welfare Reform Bill Committe.

The concerns of Macmillan Cancer Support are outlined in the below news article:

My response those concerns is as follows:

The Welfare Reform Bill Committee is like a mini Parliament, where 26 members scrutinise and debate each aspect of the Bill.  Public Bill Committees meet after the Bill is introduced and debated in the House of Commons and before it goes to the House of Lords for further debate and amendment.  Finally, it comes back to the House of Commons for further debate and amendment.  It is impossible to say when the Bill will become law but I estimate before the end of this year.

Because our current welfare system is so complex and provides vital support to many people, it is essential to get the reforms right.  Most of the actions within the Bill if they make it into law won’t start to happen until 2013 or later as a great deal of work needs to be done to develop the systems that will enable the changes.

Many interested groups lobby members of the Committee with their concerns and ‘wish lists’ of improvements to benefits for the various groups they represent.  Macmillan is one such group.

I have raised funds for Macmillan in Cornwall and very much value their work supporting people and their families with cancer.  Like every family, I have lost a close relative to cancer, in my case my mum, as well as some good friends.  Any diagnosis of cancer is a blow.  Everyone with cancer is unique and is affected in many different ways.  It is a challenge to develop welfare support that respects each individual, their unique circumstances while providing some financial assistance to those that need it in a way that is both fair to them and affordable to the taxpayer.

I am always happy to meet with local organisations and people involved with the welfare system.  I have regular meetings with CAB in Truro to inform my work in Parliament.

Here is my response to the campaign goals of Macmillan put to the West Briton.

1. End the current unjust system where the type of cancer treatment someone receives affects how they are treated in the welfare system.

I agree that the system inherited from the Labour Government is unfair.  The Coalition Government asked Professor Harrington to undertake a review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).  His recommendations are being implemented.  The Government is committed to continuously improving the WCA so that it is fair and effective.
Individuals undergoing certain chemotherapy (e.g. oral chemotherapy) who are not automatically placed in the Support Group may, because of the impact of their condition and/or treatment, be allowed Employment Support Allowance following assessment.
Parliament has recently amended legislation so that individuals awaiting or between courses of certain types of chemotherapy will automatically be placed in the Support Group.
Professor Harrington is also reviewing the assessment process to see if it can be further improved for cancer patients.  He has asked Macmillan and other cancer charities for their input to this.  I look forward to his recommendations.

2. Make sure that people continue to receive critical financial support for as long as their disability or long term condition limits their ability to work (ends after 12 months).

Welfare payments are usually related to income.  There are exceptions such as the state pension which relates to age and NI contributions that people have made while working.  There are others that depend on minimal levels of NI contributions such as contributory Job Seekers Allowance and contributory Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

The Bill proposes introducing a one year time limit in contributory ESA for those in the Work Related Activity Group.  These are people who are able, with support to prepare for and seek employment.  This is consistent with contributory Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) which has a six month time limit.  However, the Government recognises the different nature of ESA recipients and the purpose of the benefit hence the doubling of the time limit.

People receiving income-related ESA will not have their benefit time limited and nor will people in the Support Group.  People moving off contributory ESA as a result of the time limit will be able to apply for income-related ESA if they are eligible.  In this way those with the lowest incomes will be most supported.

The introduction of Work Choice last October (which replaced a suite of specialist disability employment programmes) is designed to ensure that disabled people with more complex support needs, that cannot be met through other employment support, have access to the right support to help them prepare for, enter and retain employment (including self-employment).

Later this year, the Work Programme will be introduced which will provide more personalised back-to-work support for unemployed people, including people living with illnesses and disabled people.  Contributory ESA claimants will be able to volunteer for the Work Programme, and if they wish, remain on the Programme after their benefit has come to an end, ensuring that they receive all the support they need to help them return to work.

3. Make sure that people with cancer can apply for financial support to help with the extra costs of being disabled as soon as their support needs arise.

I am concerned that people do receive the help they need as soon as possible and have spoken-up at the Bill Committee about qualifying periods. Those diagnosed with cancer will have very diverse needs at the point of diagnosis.  Depending on their circumstances individuals may be entitled to a range of benefits, including automatic entitlement to the support component of Employment and Support Allowance.  For those that do face additional costs during their period of treatment or beyond they may be able to access other schemes such as healthcare travel costs, free prescriptions or aids and adaptations provided by the NHS or the Local Authority.

People who have very sadly been diagnosed with terminal cancer will be able to receive the enhanced rate of the daily living component without having to satisfy the normal entitlement conditions, including the Required Period Condition.  They will also be able receive the mobility component immediately if they have any mobility needs when they claim Personal Independence Payment.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Protecting oyster fishing on the Fal

I was pleased to have been able to speak in a debate on a subject that is close to the hearts of many of my constituents – that of the appalling practice of discarding fish into the sea as a result of the EU fishing policy.

The Fish Fight campaign broadcast on television graphically demonstrated the issue and prompted many people to write to me.  I was happy to vote for a Backbench motion that asked the Government to do all it can during the current round of negotiations with the EU to end this dreadful practice.

The debate was also an opportunity for me to press the Government for a further reform of the EU Fisheries policy that could have a dreadful impact on the Truro Oyster Fishery.  The fishery is the last remaining commercial fishing fleet under sail in Europe with over five hundred years of traditional fishing experience.

At the moment, the oyster working boats on the Fal measuring less than 10 metres do not have to obtain a Marine Fisheries License which is required by the EU for all commercial fishing boats.  This exemption was won by Captain Brigden and Carrick Council back in 1993.  The EU is now looking at reviewing this particular exemption which would significantly increase overhead costs for oyster fishermen.  This extra overhead could put local oyster fishermen out of business.

I am working with DEFRA Ministers to ensure that the exemption continues and some of the world’s most sustainable fishing continues on the Fal.

Working with the Police Federation, I organised a meeting between Devon and Cornwall police officers and their MPs from across Devon and Cornwall.  I wanted to make sure that their concerns could be raised and discussed in Parliament.

Finally, in the week that we begin to celebrate the 350 years since Falmouth was given its Charter, I was pleased to be joined by the Mayor of Falmouth in the presentation of a petition to 10 Downing Street asking the Government to do all it can to ensure the dredging of a channel in Falmouth Harbour.

It is vital that a balance is struck between securing the economic prosperity of Falmouth and the protection of our natural environment.  The comprehensive and independent work undertaken by environmental protection experts demonstrates that the dredging can be done in an appropriate way.  The UK and EU have strong environmental protection laws.

Since being elected I have worked with the Minister responsible for the MMO and other public bodies to ensure a way forward can be found that both protects the environment and allows for the dredging of the channel needed to enable the businesses in the port to continue to thrive.  I am particularly keen to see Falmouth become a centre for marine renewable energy.

Monday, 9 May 2011

A decisive answer from Cornwall on AV

In my opinion, whoever said that people are apathetic and not interested in politics was quite wrong.  The fact that more than 40 percent of registered electors in Cornwall participated in the AV Referendum is the latest example.  Following a lively debate in Cornwall, I was pleased that more than 40 percent of registered electors actually voted.  When the Bill that enabled the referendum to be held was being debated in Parliament I was very concerned that the Government would not accept a threshold of 40 percent of voter participation before accepting the outcome.  I lobbied hard for this to happen as I felt that such a significant change to our democratic process demanded a minimum level of participation or the outcome of the ballot would be in question.  I am pleased the result was so clear cut.

I was also pleased to join a fellow Cornish Coalition MP, Dan Rogerson (LibDem) in a recent debate in the House of Commons where we both confirmed our confidence that whatever the outcome of the referendum, the Coalition would continue to provide the stable government that the country needs at such a difficult and financially challenging time.  Economic stability is vital for everyone in our society and that will continue to be our priority.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the high turn-out at another recent event organised by the St. Mawes and St. Just in Roseland Society.  We had a lively discussion about the working  of Parliament as I described the impact of the new reforms in this Parliament.  In my daily work with constituents of all ages, I find people interested in local and national government as well as the EU.  If you would like me to come to a talk to a group you are involved with, in a non-party political way, about our democracy, please just ask.

As well as meetings with young people in both the constituency and in Westminster, I really enjoy my visits to schools and my visit to Richard Lander on Friday was no exception.  The teaching of citizenship and social responsibility in schools has clearly helped young people to take an interest in the governance of their community and country.  This is something I am always keen to support.

Finally, I was delighted to meet with the Chapter of Truro Cathedral and discuss their work as the Church for Cornwall.  As I was confirmed in the cathedral and thoroughly enjoy their excellent choir and music, along with the spiritual sustenance it provides.  I look forward to supporting the work of the cathedral during my time as an MP.  Of immediate concern is lending my support to the community choirs and music-making that the cathedral enables for the whole of Cornwall.