Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Campaign reply - HS2 and the climate crisis

I have received a campaign email entitled HS2 and the climate crisis.

Just a few weeks ago I responded to a similar campaign and posted a blog response which I copy below for ease of reference.

This latest campaign fails to take into account the governments world leading pledge to deliver a net zero economy by 2050 nor that banning things works far less well than innovation. The greening of our transport system is going very well and the progress on our rail systems is underway. The same will apply to HS2 should it be built.

The earlier blog is here:

Monday, 9 September 2019

Some constituents have been in touch with a campaign email over concerns regarding HS2 -the high speed rail network.

You may be aware that the government is currently reviewing the scheme and a report is expected later this year.

HS2, a Labour government inspired scheme from 2009 has been controversial on a range of matters and there is growing concern that the overall cost is going to be considerably higher than first thought. This is concerning.

The route for HS2 (should it go ahead) has always been contentious and there are many interested parties that have expressed concerns from inception.

It is worth noting that one of the greenest forms of transport is of course rail, so a balance must be struck with meeting the needs of travel in the UK and the impact it may have following its construction. I am aware that considerable thought and planning has been given to environmental issues but note the concerns raised.

Before commenting further, I will wait to see what is in the government review  and will also take into account the various matters raised.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Campaign response: Please help end victim journalism

Thank you to constituents who have written to me about their concerns over the treatment of public figures such as Ben Stokes, Gareth Thomas and the Duchess of Sussex.

At the heart of the issue two fundamental tenets of democracy are in question: The right to privacy and the freedom of the press, both of which are guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Every individual has a right to respect for their private life, their family and their home. At the same time, it is in everyone’s interest to have a free and functioning press that is not subjected to arbitrary interreference from any public body or anyone.

Following multiple allegations of illegal and improper press intrusion on a number of individuals, the Leveson Inquiry was set up in 2012 to thoroughly examined the culture, practices and ethics of our press.

The inquiry and investigations were comprehensive, and since it was set up, there have been extensive reforms to policing practices and significant changes to press self-regulation.

Two regulators have been created since then: IMPRESS and IPSO. The majority of IMPRESS’ members are local publishers but IPSO regulates 95% of national newspapers in terms of their circulation. In 2016, Sir Joseph Pilling concluded that IPSO largely complied with Leveson’s recommendations in his review of its independence.

In 2017, meanwhile, IPSO dealt with over 20,000 complaints and enquiries in 2017, and has ordered multiple front page corrections or clarifications. And since then it has taken significant steps to demonstrate its independence as a regulator with further improvements. It has announced that it is creating a compulsory version of its low-cost arbitration scheme, which national newspapers have now signed up to. This means that someone who has a genuine claim against a newspaper who could have gone to court can now demand arbitration of their claim and the newspaper cannot refuse. This includes a higher level of damages and includes cases of invasion of privacy or harassment which either of the cases you mentioned could have fallen under.

I’m also glad to see that most newspapers have also made improvements to their governance frameworks to improve their internal controls, standards and compliance.

Finally, regarding the government’s proposals to regulate social media, these were published in our Online Harms White Paper in April of this year. I am assured that my ministerial colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will continue to look at ways to better regulate our media whilst ensuring that it can continue to hold the powerful to account.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Newspaper column 9 October 2019 - Brexit update

Another week and another significant time for the Brexit process.

Last Wednesday the Prime Minister presented his proposals to unlock the Brexit stalemate with the EU. These included workable and pragmatic plans to address the issue with the Irish border.

In essence it would see Northern Ireland remain in the Single Market for all goods in terms of regulation and movement of goods between the north and the Republic of Ireland, but not be subject to freedom of movement of people. Northern Ireland would be outside of the EU Customs Union, along with the rest of the UK. There would also be a ‘democratic lock’ which would enable the devolved administration in Northern Ireland to review these arrangements every 4 years if a permanent solution has not been found.

Most importantly, in my view, the proposals lay out a clear path for the UK to be free from all its current ties to the EU and work for a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, whilst enabling us to develop trading arrangements with other countries. This is in stark contrast to the previous proposed agreement that had a risk of us being locked into a Customs Union with the EU indefinitely.

I believe these proposals, presented in good faith, are a fair compromise. They show a willingness on behalf of the UK to shift from previous positions and meet the EU half way. What is now required is for the EU to be willing to also compromise a bit and move slightly towards us.

The initial signs were encouraging, that there was broad support from across Parliament for these plans. MPs from different parties and holding different positions on Brexit indicated they could support these plans. However, we then heard that the EU did not see these plans as workable.

It is frustrating that there is a real sense that the EU are now moving the goal posts, having previously indicated an agreement of this nature would work. It is difficult not to come to the conclusion that they are using the issue of the Irish border to back the UK into an untenable position. They appear unwilling to make any compromises in order to find a deal.

Further discussion will be ongoing over this week, with the EU saying they will be coming to a firm position on this by the end of the week.

It is well known that MPs opposed to Brexit rushed a Bill through Parliament last month that seeks to force the Prime Minister to request an extension rather than leave without a deal at the end of this month – the so-called Surrender Bill. It is now blatantly clear that this has undermined our nation’s negotiating position and is actually making getting an acceptable deal harder. Any notion that this Bill was in our national interest is clearly wide of the mark. It has hindered our ability to get a deal, which is I suspect the real intention.

There remain only two ways to prevent a no deal Brexit – either agree a deal or cancel it altogether. The position of the opposition parties is now clear. The Lib Dems want to revoke Article 50 and overturn the biggest democratic vote in our history. The Labour Party refuse to support any deal and simply want to kick the can further down the road and prolong the uncertainty.

There is only one leader of a major party who is committed to deliver on the referendum result. Boris Johnson remains committed to taking us out of the EU on 31st October. Preferably this will be with a deal if the EU are prepared to compromise. But having made a fair and reasonable offer to them, if we cannot agree then we will leave without a deal.

Many will ask how this will be done with the Surrender Bill in place. It is very unclear precisely what the full details of this Bill are. It was rammed through the House of Commons in just four hours without the usual scrutiny and debate. Therefore, it remains to be seen the exact implications of the Bill and whether or not it does leave any holes by which a delay can be avoided.

I have been overwhelmed with the number of people contacting me in recent days. Whether it is by email, phone calls or face to face. There is a very clear message that I am hearing time and time again – Get Brexit Done. No more delays. No more uncertainty. No more talking. We just need to get on and leave. I remain committed to support the Prime Minister in his determination to lead us out of the EU at the end of the month.

Campaign reply -“Stand up for Parliament and Democracy,”

Following a campaign email “Stand up for Parliament and Democracy,” I set will set out again my long held position on the matters raised:

The campaign email ends with these words “…putting the interests of the country first and doing everything in your power to bring this crisis to an end. We are counting on you”.

I can agree with the sentiment expressed but not any of the proposed solutions.

Putting the country first means we must honour the referendum result and leave the EU. Hopefully our European friends will finally settle on a deal but if they will not then as already clearly laid out in Article 50 we will leave without one. Not the preferred option but after years of debate it becomes the appropriate way forward. No doubt if we do leave on WTO terms then the EU in due course will agree a trade deal. There is a mutual benefit in doing so.

Bringing the crisis to end means avoiding any further delay. Far too much time has been spent already debating. The talk must stop and action taken. The PM has shown the leadership we need to achieve just that and you can “count on me” to honour what I said I would do during the referendum campaign which was that I would honour the result and accept the decision of the people to remain or leave. We know the result. I will not waiver from promises made then or at the last election.

What risks destroying democracy and jeopardising our United Kingdom is allowing anyone to usurp the will of the people, who voted by a clear majority to leave the EU.

Those who seek a second referendum (something I will never support) do not accept the result of the first! That is wrong and undemocratic.  If a second poll endorsed leaving, there would then undoubtedly be a demand for a third. Democracy does not operate on the basis that we only accept the outcome of a vote when it coincides with our own view.

I sincerely appreciate that leaving the EU has been a contentious issue, but it is critical that the referendum result be honoured for the sake of our democracy and not least because I believe the UK will be better off doing so.

Campaign reply - Brexit

A number of constituents have written to me with a campaign email entitled “Only way to solve abuse Cummings effectively says is Retract Article 50.”

During the referendum campaign both sides put forward their best arguments and there are attempts to discredit the views expressed by both sides. Whilst I firmly believe  we will be better off leaving the EU even if that were not the case there are many who write to me saying that they simply want to see us become a sovereign nation again. It cuts through all other arguments.

What would do irreparable harm to our democracy is to fail to deliver on the result of the referendum. I see it as my duty to ensure we leave. However people voted in the referendum or at the last election I genuinely seek to reach out to all constituents and assist them in any way I can but that does not include undoing what the majority voted for and still want.

Any number of opinion polls are cited but no reference is made to the most important polls which are heavily regulated and where the entire voting populous has opportunity to vote in a secret ballot – those of the referendum and the last election. Both showed clear support for leaving the EU. Further the results of the recent European elections left us all in no doubt that the majority for leaving holds sway.

The campaign ends with this statement:
Democracy is not a one time event it is a continuous process whereby citizens hold their representatives to account. It is a conversation between two parties.
Democracies can only function if citizens have accurate and true information.

I agree and come the next election there will the opportunity for everyone to put forward their view and for the electorate to vote. The sooner that happens the better.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Campaign response - End unlawful arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Recently a number of constituents have written to me about the UK's continued licensing of equipment to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen, in light of a court ruling in June that the  sale of UK-made arms to Saudi forces for use in Yemen was in fact unlawful.

Following the ruling, the UK Government has now said it will now stop granting any new licences for weapons exports to Saudi Arabia or coalition partners involved militarily in Yemen.

The International Trade Secretary has apologised to the Commons in the past week after routine analysis of statistics found a licence for the air cooler for a Renault Sherpa Light Scout vehicle had been issued in the days following the ruling.

An internal inquiry has been launched by the DiT’s permanent secretary to establish whether other licences had been issued against the assurances to the court or Parliament, and to ensure there could be no further breaches.

The Government has repeatedly assured parliamentarians and the public that it is seriously concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen. Since the start of the crisis in 2015 our humanitarian commitment to Yemen now stands at £770m.

Ultimately the only lasting solution to peace in Yemen is through a political settlement. The UK Government is actively supporting the UN Special Envoy for Yemen in his efforts to bring the various parties on both sides around the table to find a way forward.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Campaign response – Letter from your constituent

Thank you to constituents who have written to me about the plight of Dennis Hutchings and other veterans who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles who are now facing possible prosecution.

I have nothing but the highest degree of respect for our military personnel and our veterans. These are the people who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect and defend our great nation.

In order to gain a greater appreciation for the work of the men and women in our armed forces who risk everything to defend our great nation, I decided to join the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme last year and committed to regularly visiting military bases and personnel across the country to learn more about and get a taste of their work.

Last year the Government ran a consultation on proposals to find the best way to meet the needs of victims and survivors and to help people address the impact of the Troubles in the areas of information, justice and acknowledgement and help Northern Ireland transition to long term-term peace and stability. The consultation has now closed and the feedback is being analysed.

Many of my parliamentary colleagues including the current and previous Prime Ministers have expressed their concern at the current situation where those who are most prone to being investigated for issues that happened in the past are those in our Armed Forces or those who served in law enforcement in Northern Ireland, while terrorists who ought to be investigated for their crimes are not being subject to the full force of law.

I share their concerns and want to see greater fairness in our justice system.

I also commend many of my colleagues who have pressed the Government to deal with legacy cases by protecting our soldiers and putting them first, while resisting any attempts to establish institutions that would scapegoat our military veterans to pander to Sinn Fein.

I intend on doing everything I can in my capacity as your local MP to support reconciliation and healing in Northern Ireland, while ensuring that nobody, especially our ex-servicemen, are unfairly prosecuted for lawful actions they took.

I will also be seeking to raise this matter directly with the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Northern Ireland and bring to their attention the points which constituents have so convincingly made when I next see them.