Wednesday, 30 September 2015
As tensions in Syria mount and the terrible images of war are brought to us on a daily basis, I wanted to take this opportunity to pause and reflect on the War that was raging 100 years ago. We have been marking the 100-year anniversaries of various events since August last year, but today marks an event that is particularly close to my heart.
Today, the 30th September is particularly significant for this part of Cornwall. On this very day in 1915 the incumbent MP for the old St Austell Division, The Hon Thomas Charles Reginald Agar-Robartes, was killed in action in France whilst seeking to save a fellow solider. The fact that our own MP made the ultimate sacrifice is humbling and I wanted to share his story.
Tommy Agar-Robartes, as he was known, was born in 1880, the heir to the 6th Viscount Clifden and he spent his childhood at the family seat of Lanhydrock, near Bodmin. He attended Eton and then Christ Church, Oxford, before returning to Cornwall to enter politics.
After a false start in Bodmin in 1906, he was elected as a Liberal MP to represent the St Austell Division in the 1908 by-election. He was known as ‘the farmers and miners friend’ and proved to be a popular MP for this constituency, holding his seat in both the general elections of 1910.
When war appeared to be inevitable in early 1914, Tommy drew up his will and joined the Hussars. His political position meant that he was not expected to serve, but such was his belief in this Country, he could not stand by and watch while others fought. He was dismayed to find that the Hussars were to be stationed in England so he joined the Coldstream Guards and was deployed as Captain Agar-Robartes to Flanders in France.
Captain Tommy Agar-Robartes was wounded by sniper fire in the Battle of Loos on 28 September while rescuing a wounded comrade. For this act of valour he was recommended for the Victoria Cross. He died from his injuries two days later on 30th September 1915.
He is buried at Lapugnoy Military Cemetery in France but is remembered locally in Truro Cathedral and a memorial in St Austell. His name is also recorded on a plaque on the wall in the Chamber of the House of Commons.
His grief-stricken mother carefully packed a trunk containing his military and personal effects away in an attic at Lanhydrock. In 1999, these belongings were found perfectly preserved after gathering dust for 84 years.
National Trust property manager, Andrea Marchington, who opened the trunk said; “Inside there were some of the things he used in the trenches. A trench periscope, a monocular, his sword, walnut talc holder, moustache comb, a tiny silver spirit lamp, and a little drinking cup inside a leather case, also made of silver. Everything beautifully made, each with its own case, and giving a rare insight into a serving officer’s life.”
Captain Agar-Robartes’ possessions are now on permanent display at Lanhydrock and act as a poignant reminder of life at the time of the first Great War.
During the final session of Parliament before the current recess the Speaker of the House paid tribute to the serving MPs who were lost in action this time 100 years ago. It was very poignant for me to be present to hear the MP for this constituency as one of the five names read out. I was also pleased to be able to place on record my own personal tribute.
The choices he made lie in stark contrast to the image often portrayed in the media today. Here was someone from a privileged background, privately educated at the highest schools and universities in the land. Elected as an MP and therefore exempt from having to serve in the war. Yet not only did he choose to sign up, he willing put himself in the frontline and died whilst trying to save a colleague. For me it goes to show that we should not judge people by their background, social standing or education. It is character and above all actions that should be the true test of what we stand for.
This morning I took the opportunity to place some simple flowers on the memorial to Tommy Agar-Robartes, at Truro Road in St Austell, and to pause for a moment to reflect on his life and death. In an age when politicians are often viewed as self-serving I find the story of Agar-Robartes to be humbling, challenging and inspiring. No matter what struggles and inconvenience I encounter in my term in office, remembering his story will help me keep things in perspective.
Wednesday, 23 September 2015
I recently welcomed the changes that the Government has made to the subsidies to wind and solar farms. In my view Cornwall already has too many that blight parts of our countryside. However, we still need to develop new and innovative energy solutions and it is for this reason that I am a strong supporter of the development of a geothermal industry in Cornwall.
For me, geothermal power represents one of the next generation of renewable, sustainable, energy sources that we are well placed to pioneer in Cornwall.
Geothermal energy is often referred to as “hot rocks” and the idea is to harness the power of the heat that lies within the rocks far below the surface of the earth. Cornwall’s ancient granite makes our geology suitable for this technology and it is not dependant on either the wind blowing or the sun shining.
The industry is in its infancy and the exploratory part of its development makes it very risky for investors. For that reason the government and other agencies such as the EU must step up to help bring this technology to fruition. The issue has thankfully been recognised in the Deal for Cornwall unveiled by the Prime Minister in July this year.
The industry could bring a number of benefits. Firstly, the energy created by these projects would provide hot water or electricity to local business and communities at low cost. This energy would have been created locally, not far away in coal-fired power stations.
Next, as the industry grows, Cornwall could become a centre of excellence nationally and even internationally. Apart from the jobs created by the geothermal projects themselves, companies supplying the geothermal industry could base themselves in Cornwall, further adding to our employment base. These would be the higher-paid jobs that we so desperately need.
Finally, the spin offs for education would be the opportunity to create industry-specific courses at our local colleges and to support the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths or “STEM” curriculum. The industry would allow our young people to train in Cornwall and then pursue a career in an innovative and growing industry.
It is my role to assist in turning these ideas into funding and action. The first step I have taken is that I have met with the leaders of two projects in the constituency to listen to their concerns and challenges.
Secondly, is to request a meeting with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to discuss how the Government will support geothermal energy in Cornwall. I can then champion the potential of the local projects with the Secretary of State and hopefully gain her support.
Geothermal energy represents an exciting opportunity for Cornwall and I look forward to positive results in the coming months and years.
My team and I are here to serve the whole constituency and seek to make a real difference to the lives of everyone who needs help and support in any way.
If there is any issue that we can help you with then please contact us on either 01726 829379 or on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, 16 September 2015
This week saw the return of Parliament after the Summer Recess. The issue that dominated debate in the House of Commons was the refugee crisis.
The situation with refugees and migrants across the world is a complex issue and there are no quick and easy answers. Recent news has been focused on Syria; the number of people fleeing the civil war, and atrocities by the Assad regime and ISIS.
The UK is playing a major part in the humanitarian relief efforts in the region. We are spending a billion pounds supporting the refugee camps – the second highest contributor to the crisis after the USA. We have also been taking genuine refugees from the camps in the area – a policy that we will continue. I am pleased that the Prime Minister confirmed that the UK will now be taking a further 20,000 Syrian refugees as well as increasing the aid we give to the area.
I also agree with the Prime Minister that the answer is not to simply open our borders and encourage people to come to Europe. It could be argued that by giving this message the German position has exacerbated the issue not helped it.
If we encourage people to leave the safety of the camps in places such as Turkey we are in fact playing into the hands of the people traffickers who charge desperate people high fees to transport them to Europe.
Those who are able to make the journey to Europe tend to be the younger, stronger and wealthier; they have the physical and financial resources to make the journey. Those in most need are often those who remain in the camps; they are too weak, elderly or sick to travel and cannot afford to pay the cost of the journey. For these reasons I believe that the right policy is to take refugees from the camps rather than encourage people to travel to our borders.
I am also pleased that the Chancellor has confirmed that we will be using our Overseas Aid Budget in order to cover the cost of housing and caring for the refugees in our country. I will continue to support this policy in order to ensure that local services in the areas that accept refugees continue to be funded and undue pressure is not put on services to the detriment of local people.
None of these measures are a long-term solution. We need to address the cause of the Syrian refugee crisis. We need to work towards returning Syria to a safe and stable country where its citizens can live without fear of oppression and harm. I believe we are now at a point where all options should be considered including creating ‘safe zones’ within Syria. Any long-term answer is likely to include sending troops into the country. Just dropping bombs, no matter how targeted will not achieve the required outcomes.
The UK, as part of a joint coalition with other nations, needs to consider what action needs to be taken to bring about the changes needed in Syria for the sake of its citizens.
Wednesday, 9 September 2015
For people living and working across the South West, the provision of adequate transport infrastructure is essential to ensure we stay connected with each other and the rest of the country. I recently welcomed the Government’s commitment to invest £7.2 billion in the South West’s transport infrastructure over this Parliament, which should bring jobs, growth and investment across the region.
I am now calling on the Prime Minister to take a bold step to secure national connectivity for years to come by making a decision on airport expansion.
I welcomed the Airports Commission’s recent report which recommended expansion at Heathrow to boost jobs, growth and investment across the country. After almost three years examining the issue in detail, the Commission concluded that an additional runway at the airport was the best decision for Britain, with stringent measures in place to mitigate the noise, air quality and environmental impacts.
I was encouraged that David Cameron responded positively to the report, and acknowledged the need for additional airport capacity in the South East. In our 2015 manifesto we pledged to respond to the Commission’s work, and I am confident that in his reply the Prime Minister will take into account the national case for expansion.
In my view, one of the most significant conclusions of the report was how expansion at Heathrow could support and improve air links between London and the regions and nations of the UK. Over the past ten years as the airport has filled up, flights to domestic destinations across the UK have been ‘squeezed out’, falling from 19 in 1990 to just seven today. This has meant that cities such as Inverness, Liverpool and of course Newquay Cornwall airport in the constituency I have the honour of representing, have lost their flight connections to the UK’s only international hub airport.
Air links with London are vital for businesses, tourists and residents across the UK. A connection with Heathrow – which doesn’t just open up access into the capital, but on to international markets, both emerging and established – is greatly valued by cities across the country, and could be delivered through expansion.
While the Government’s recent intervention to support the air link between Newquay and Gatwick was a welcome boost for the region, it does not and cannot provide the same benefits as a link with the country’s only international hub airport. An investment in Heathrow is an investment in national infrastructure, and could deliver up to £211bn in economic growth and 180,000 new jobs. From my own conversations with Heathrow, I believe that there is a good chance that expansion would bring a connection to Newquay, and with it economic growth and opportunity.
In my mind, it is clear. Now an unequivocal recommendation has been made by the Commission, expansion needs to be delivered in a timely manner. A decision must be made by the end of the year, followed by a vote in Parliament by summer 2016.
The issue of airport expansion has suffered from years of dither and delay, and it is not just London which needs the certainty of a decision. I would be proud to be part of a Government and a party which put an end to indecision and finally delivered on expansion – an act which could bring benefits not just to the capital, nor to the constituents in Newquay and the people of Cornwall, but to businesses and communities across the country.
The situation with refugees and migrants across the world is a complex issue and there are no quick and easy answers. Recent news has been focused on Syria and the number of people fleeing the civil war and atrocities by the Assad regime and ISIS.
The UK is playing a major part in the humanitarian relief efforts in the region. We are spending a billion pounds supporting the refugee camps – the 2nd highest contributors to the crisis behind only the USA. We have also been taking genuine refugees from the camps in the area – a policy that we will continue. I am pleased that the Prime Minister confirmed this week that the UK will now be taking a further 20,000 Syrian refugees as well as increasing the aid we give to the area.
However, I do also agree with the Prime Minister that the answer is not to simply open our borders and encourage people to come to Europe. It could be argued that by giving out this message the German position has exacerbated the issue not helped it. If we encourage people to leave the safety of the camps in places such as Turkey we are in fact playing into the hands of the people traffickers who charge desperate people to transport them to Europe.
Let us remember that the poor boy whose body was pictured on the beach died whilst his family were trying to leave Turkey. It is also worth noting that those that are able to make the journey to Europe tend to be the younger, stronger and wealthier; they have the physical and financial resources to make the journey. Those in most need are often those who remain in the camps; they are too weak, elderly or sick to travel and cannot afford to pay the cost of the journey.
For these reasons I believe that the right policy is to take refugees from the camps rather than encourage people to travel to our borders.
I am also pleased that the Chancellor has confirmed that we will be using our Overseas Aid Budget in order to cover the cost of housing and caring for the refugees in our country. I believe this is an appropriate use of this budget. I will continue to support this policy in order to ensure that local services in the areas that accept refugees continue to be funded and undue pressure is not put on services to the detriment of local people.
None of these measures are a long-term solution. We need to address the cause of the Syrian refugee crisis. We need to work towards returning Syrian to a safe and stable country where its citizens can live without fear of oppression and harm. I believe we are now at a point where all options should be considered including creating ‘safe zones’ within Syria. Any long-term answer is likely to include sending troops into the country. Just dropping bombs, no matter how targeted will not achieve the required outcomes.
The UK, as part of a joint coalition with other nations, needs to consider what action needs to be taken to bring about the changes needed in Syria for the sake of its citizens.
This week the summer recess ends and MPs return to Parliament for what I am sure if going to be an interesting, and in many ways, challenging week.
With the refugee crisis dominating the media I am sure this is going to be a major topic for debate. I have been quite clear that we as a country should play our part and I am pleased the government has confirmed that we will be accepting genuine refuges from the camps in the Middle East. I will be watching and listening very carefully, both to the debate in Parliament as well as the many local people who are contacting me about this issue.
On Friday we will have the first Private Members Bill of this Parliament. This is when an individual MP has the opportunity to present a bill to the house on any issue of their choosing. The members are chosen by a ballot. The Bill being presented this Friday is seeking to legalise assisted suicide. This issue, probably more than any other that this Parliament is likely to consider, is a matter of conscience.
I have a great deal of sympathy for people on both sides of this issue. I have considered my own views very carefully before reaching a conclusion. My personal belief is that I could not support any legislation that would legalise assisted dying. I intend to attend the debate and I will be voting against the bill. There are many factors that bring me to this view.
Coping with terminal illness is distressing and difficult both for the patient and their families. These cases are truly moving and evoke the highest degree of compassion and emotion.
If, as a society, we made assisted suicide legal, we would in my view, be fundamentally changing the very foundation of our civil society. As a compassionate society, our response to suicidal feelings must never be a lethal injection.
No major disability group favours a change in the law. This Bill legitimises the idea that suicide is a solution for disability and sickness. Where assisted suicide is legal around the world, the data shows that those who choose suicide are almost invariably disabled. They need assistance to live, not assistance to die.
None of the Royal Medical Colleges support a change in the law. In fact, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of GPs and the Royal College of Physicians, actively oppose such a change for that very reason. Legalising assisting dying would fundamentally change the nature of the doctor/patient relationship. A doctor is not a detective and cannot reasonably be expected to investigate all of the relevant social factors involved in such a grave decision.
I am also concerned that, as has been the case in other countries, legalising assisted suicide would lead to demands for legalisation of other forms of euthanasia – for example in Belgium, where in 2002, a euthanasia law was passed for adults, in 2014 – a law was passed enabling children to be euthanized.
My view is that if we were to legalise assisted dying we would be crossing a line that would lead to the devaluing of life. This is not something I am prepared to support.
Wednesday, 2 September 2015
Last Thursday the Strategic Planning Committee of Cornwall Council made the decision to approve the outline planning permission for the Higher Trewhiddle Farm Scheme.
As I am sure most people will be aware, this decision comes after years of debate about the need for an out of town retail park for St Austell. Many people worked together in order to present the case for this development. Whilst I am aware that there were some people who did not wish to see this application approved, I believe the will of the vast majority of local people shone through during the meeting.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend both Jackie Bull and Malcolm Brown, as local members of the committee for the way that they stood up for the people of St Austell and fought hard to get the best outcome at the planning meeting, along with all our local councilors who spoke up for this area.
The application had the support of the Pentewan Parish Council (in whose area the development will sit), St Austell Town Council, the St Austell Bay Chamber of Commerce, and all of the Cornwall Councillors from St Austell and the surrounding area, regardless of their political affiliation, as well as the vast majority of local residents.
I was pleased to lend my public support to this application. The Higher Trewhiddle scheme is one that I have backed from the start and I have worked closely with the applicants, Cornwall Council and relevant agencies throughout to ensure the people of St Austell and the surrounding area got the very best possible deal.
I was struck by the overwhelming level of public support demonstrated to me for this scheme, both from the thousands of people I met in the run up to the election but also from the vast numbers of supportive letters and emails I have had regarding this in recent weeks.
This is a momentous decision after years of frustration. For too long St Austell has overlooked by Cornwall Council’s planners in favour of other retail destinations and I am delighted that soon we will have a greater retail choice.
The Scheme does not only offer retail, it will also allow Pondhu School to expand, provide much needed additional hotel facilities in St Austell and go some way to meet the new housing target that has been set. The development will offer jobs both in the construction phase and on an ongoing basis.
While Higher Trewhiddle represents an important step for St Austell, we should not forget that there is still much to do. We need to expand our infrastructure, provide more jobs, and retail choices for residents, and to support our town centre to become the vibrant, community focus that it once was. I will now continue to work closely with the developers and Cornwall Council to ensure that the promises made are fulfilled. If we all work together as we have done in the past few weeks and months, then St Austell can look forward to a positive future.
During the election campaign, one issue that was regularly raised with me by local residents was the number of empty and derelict buildings in Newquay. They are a sad reflection of the continued impact of the recession on our local economy.
I promised to do all I can, once elected to address this issue. Although there are no easy, quick, answers it is something I have begun to address. My team and I have spent some time researching the background to one of these properties, the Fistral Bay Hotel, which in some ways is symbolic of the wider issue. This hotel stands at the entrance to Pentire and is not only an eyesore, but also a health and safety concern for many people. It closed about eight years ago and has become derelict in the intervening years.
We have been able to ascertain the current ownership of the property. The Penpol Group operated the hotel and this group went bankrupt a number of years ago. The hotel reverted to the mortgage holders and remains with this company to this day.
I contacted the company and they confirmed that the hotel is up for sale and has been for many years. Despite a number of expressions of interest, no developer has yet come forward with a suitable offer. The current owners also understand that it is their responsibility to keep the property to an acceptable health and safety standard.
Despite this information residents understandably remain concerned about the on-going risks, notably fire, vandalism and the risk of injury to people attempting to get into the property. The hotel is vulnerable to storm damage and residents report that in the past boards have been blown away giving easy access to the site. These boards are replaced, but some time can pass before this happens.
This week I met with officials from Cornwall Council and discussed the hotel. They confirmed that they are seeking to take action by the means open to them, such as compulsory purchase can be a lengthy and expensive process with no guarantee of success. They confirmed that council planning officers are open to different ideas for site usage, which should assist in the disposal.
They further confirmed that while the owners have an obligation to maintain the site to certain health and safety standards, there are no legal requirements for aesthetic standards. The Council continues to ensure that the site is kept safe.
The best solution of course is that a buyer is found in the near future. As the economy grows the possibility for this increases. But in the meantime, I will continue to work to ensure that the health and safety concerns of the people of Newquay are top priority.
I have offered to pass on residents’ concerns to the owners, so please feel free to contact my office, so that we can pass your views on. All parties in this story are keen for a swift and positive outcome so let us hope that such an ending emerges soon.