Campaign response: Please vote to support the anti-genocide amendment to the Trade Bill - February 2021
I am grateful to constituents for getting in touch me in the past few weeks concerning the Genocide amendment to the Trade bill tabled by Lord Alton of Liverpool.
David Alton is a parliamentary colleague whom I greatly respect and have worked with on many issues – from abortion to Hong Kong – in the six years I have been MP. I agree with many of his policy positions, but I am afraid this is one of those rare occasions where he and I will have to agree to disagree.
Constituents highlighted the plight of the Uighurs in your email. There is little question that the treatment of the minority group at the hands of the Communist Chinese Government is anything short of appalling.
The state-organised repression of the Uighurs, despite repeated denials by Chinese authorities, has been well documented by UK and other media outlets around the world. It is totally unacceptable that the Uighur people are being rounded up en-masse and sent to forced labour and ‘re-education’ camps, where some sterilisation Uighur men and women are reported to be sterilised by the state in order to control their population.
None of these appalling practices can be condoned. I am pleased to see the UK Government take decisive action to “ensure that UK businesses not part of the supply chains that lead to the gates of the internment camps in Xinjiang”:
- FCDO and DIT have detailed guidance to UK businesses on the specific risks faced by companies with links to Xinjiang and underlining the challenges of conducting effective due diligence there.
- We are also strengthening the operation of the Modern Slavery Act. The Home Office will introduce fines for businesses that do not comply with their transparency obligations.
- Furthermore, the transparency requirements that apply to UK businesses under the Modern Slavery Act will be extended to the public sector.
I fully believe that as long as countries like China continue to carry out state-sponsored persecution of minority groups like Uighurs, it is absolutely right that we as a country continue to take a firm stance in our international relations and trade with these countries.
With the Trade Bill’s process through Parliament, I am pleased that the last time this was voted on we were able to agree on supporting Sir Bob’s Neill amendment which will convene a Committee of the House with the proper powers to monitor any developments related to genocide, assess its severity, and ensure that the House consents to the Government’s response by a debate and vote.
Therefore I do not for a second doubt that the intentions behind David’s amendment to institute an additional mechanism for monitoring genocide are anything but good and true – He and I have worked closely on ensuring that the UK Government’s response to China is robust and reflective our democratic values. In 2018 he and I were able to jointly host a parliamentary meeting with people Hong Kong who spoke powerfully about the ongoing Chinese oppression in the former British colony.
However I fear that the method proposed by David’s amendment is not the right way to go about this –a handful of unelected judges, even those who sit in the House of Lords, should not be dictating the United Kingdom's trade deals in any way or have any undue influence over our trade policy. Under our constitution this is a role reserved for the UK Government with Parliament given the opportunity to ratify treaties after they are agreed. It is simply not in unelected courts’ or judges’ place to terminate trade deals, and this could set a dangerous precedent amounting to a judicial power grab.
Allowing a highly exclusively group of five judicial peers to give their “proper” legal opinion on trade deals and thereby effectively yield unilateral control over the UK’s sovereign ability to struck trade deal goes against the very democratic norms and ideals which this country’s governance is based upon. The knock-on impact on UK jobs and our economy would also be huge should this group of five peers decide to end any of our trade deals abruptly and on their own accord.
It is not known yet when the Trade Bill will return to the Commons for the consideration of Lords amendments and we are also not certain whether David’s amendment will be selected by the Speaker of the House. But I am afraid to say if I am to be asked to vote on the amendment as it is, I am afraid I will not be able to vote for it, and I hope I have set out my reasons clearly. It’s not that I disagree with the spirit of and intentions behind the amendment – I very much want to see us take a stand against countries like China that are carrying out systematic violations of human rights – but I disagree with the means as proposed by the amendment to achieve this goal in our foreign and international trade policies.
Support for UK aerospace; MP Contact From http://UniteTheUnion.org
Recently I have received a number of emails regarding the importance of our continued support for the UK’s space industry.
It may not come as a surprise to constituents that as a vocal champion of the UK’s rapidly expanding aerospace industry and a strong supporter of Spaceport Cornwall, I have already written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer three months ago in May to express my concern for the need for government to provide further direct support to this important part of our economy.
In my letter I said:
“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry has seen business operations paused, demand fall away and thousands of jobs at risk. Businesses have had to reduce production rates for 2020 and delay deliveries. It is estimated that the minimum loss in value to the UK will be £5 billion this year compared to 2019. The effect is therefore crippling for UK aerospace.
The importance of the aerospace industry to the UK cannot be overstated. Thousands of highly skilled jobs depend on it, 90% of which are outside London and the South East and often located in areas where the industry is the mainstay of the local economy.
Here in Cornwall for example, the transformative impact of Spaceport Cornwall, which plans to create 150 jobs and add £200m GVA to our economy, has already been felt.
Aviation and aerospace will take more time to recover from the impact of COVID-19 than other sectors due to their reliance on international air traffic. The pace and strength of their recovery will depend on the decisions Government makes in the months ahead.
I believe now, more than ever, the Government needs to be working closely with the aerospace industry to provide support and secure its future in the long run.”
Since my correspondence with the Chancellor I have been able to meet with government ministers on several occasions, where I was able to engage with them directly and impress upon them the urgent need for government support for the space industry.
I am pleased to report that the response from ministers has been very positive, and that they are particularly keen to support Spaceport Cornwall as we look forward to the first launch to lift off in the coming years. In her latest letter to me concerning the recently published consultation on the regulations and guidance
for spaceport and spaceflight activities, Minister at the Department for Transpot Rachel Maclean MP made it clear that:
“The UK’s space sector is already a unique national asset – which this Government is committed to turbo-charging.”
I am glad that ministers have demonstrated that they clearly understand the significance of, as well as the challenges facing the space industry and are working hard to support businesses and skilled workers. I will closely to engage and work closely with all levels of government to ensure that the future for the space industry is a secured and bright one.
Campaign Response: Heat pumps - 20 July 2020
Thank you to constituents for writing to me recently concerning the future of government support for heat pumps.
I fully agree with constituents on the importance of ensuring that the government delivers on all of its commitments so that we leave our environment in a better state than it currently is for future generations. This is why I take a great interest in our environment and the achievements to date. For instance, I am very proud that the Duchy leads the country in geothermal projects and wind and solar power. The UK has just achieved two months of power generation without the use of any coal fired stations – the first time this has happened since the start of the Industrial revolution and Cornwall can take at least some of the credit. These are exciting times as we see our constituency paying an increasingly important role in improving our environment.
On the issue of heat pumps specifically, the Business Secretary Alok Sharma have made clear that the government remains committed to investing in heat pumps:
"Heat pumps are key to decarbonising heat and we remain committed to investing in this technology for the long term as part of meeting our target for net zero carbon emissions by 2050."
“Most immediately, we have extended the commissioning deadline to benefit from our successful Renewable Heat Incentive to 2022, but are also investing £590million in green heat networks more widely."
The government has proposed introducing a 45kW capacity limit for projects that were eligible for support in order to target taxpayer funding most effectively in helping support the installer base for off gas grid projects.
The majority of the heat pump installations supported under the RHI have a capacity less than or equal to 45kW, while almost half of total domestic and non-domestic biomass installations have a capacity less than or equal to 45kW. A 45kW capacity limit is also consistent with that covered by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) for a single renewable heating product. It therefore provides a framework for ensuring installation and product standards.
The Clean Heat Grant scheme has been designed as part of a broader package of commitments to support the decarbonisation of heat in buildings and in heat networks and as such larger installations are likely to play a significant role in many of these schemes.
I trust constituents will find the information above helpful in providing a reassurance that the government will continue to provide targeted packages of support to low carbon energy.
Campaign reply - Reopening Beauty Salons - 6 July 2020
Thank you to those constituents who have sent a copy of the campaign email entitled “opening Beauty Salons.”
I was genuinely concerned to learn how badly the lockdown has impacted your businesses. This is a very worrying time for so many. Having been in business myself I know the pressures you face – without the added burden of the current medical crisis.
The government continues to monitor the situation closely and it is in everyone’s interest that we see all businesses open as soon as possible.
The number of infections, hospitalisation and deaths have consistently fallen week on week. This allows the government to gradually open up the economy and I very much hope that all businesses will be able to do so soon.
There is likely to be another group of businesses allowed to open soon. The government continues to work with trade bodies too, on establishing safe practice and precautions thought necessary prior to various business types opening.
There is an almost impossible balancing act to be achieved in these unprecedented times and I can understand the frustration and concerns.
I and many MPs have raised the very real problems businesses that remain closed, are facing with ministers. The situation is known and understood in Westminster. I have made sure of that! I am hopefully that you will be allowed to open in the next tranche subject as ever to the medical advice.
I understand the pressures and problems you are facing. I assure you I am doing all I can to see you and others able to reopen as soon as possible.
Campaign reply - BA - 1 July 2020
A number of constituents have sent me a copy of a campaign email expressing concern over redundancies proposed by British Airways.
You may have caught the exchanges in Parliament, last Wednesday 3 June, following an urgent question on the airline industry. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Kelly Tolhurst) was very clear where the governments stands and their view. I copy below some of the key comments:
Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on covid-19 and the economic impact on aviation.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Kelly Tolhurst)
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has asked me to respond on his behalf.
The covid-19 crisis has affected every person in the country and every sector of the UK economy, and aviation is essential to that economy. It connects the regions together and it plays a huge part in the UK’s future as a global trading nation. That is why the Government have responded to the crisis with an unprecedented package of measures. On 24 March, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote to the aviation sector setting out the schemes being made available, including the deferral of VAT payments, the covid commercial finance facility and the coronavirus job retention scheme. The Civil Aviation Authority is also working with airlines, airports and ground handlers to provide appropriate flexibility within the regulatory framework. If airlines, airports or other aviation organisations find themselves in trouble because of coronavirus and have exhausted the measures already available to them, the Government have been clear that they are prepared to enter into discussions with individual companies seeking bespoke support.
We recognise that there remain serious challenges for the aviation sector, despite the measures that have been put in place. It will take time for passenger numbers to recover, and the impact will be felt first and foremost by the sector’s employees. The recent announcements about redundancies from companies such as British Airways, Virgin and easyJet will be very distressing news for employees and their families. These are commercial decisions that I regret, particularly from companies that benefit from the job retention scheme, which was not designed for taxpayers to fund the wages of employees only for those companies to put the same staff on notice of redundancy during the furlough period.
The Government stand ready to support anyone affected, with the Department for Work and Pensions available to help employees identify and access the support that is available. My Department has set up a restart, recovery and engagement unit to work with the aviation industry on the immediate issues affecting the restart of the sector and its longer-term growth and recovery. As part of that, we have established an aviation restart and recovery expert steering group, which is formed of representatives across the sector, including airports, airlines and ground handlers, industry bodies and unions.
The sustainable recovery of the aviation sector is a core part of our commitment to global connectivity and growing the UK economy. With airports, airlines and other parts of the aviation sector, we are putting in place the building blocks for recovery. The House will be updated as soon as possible on the next steps.
I feel the concerns of BA workers and others, and we want to make the point to these organisations that the use of Government schemes is preferable to making redundancies. Terms and conditions are a matter for negotiation between employers and employees—the Government are not part of that—but I have already stated that we would expect employers to treat employees fairly and in the spirit of partnership.
You can read the full exchanges here:
This is a very worrying time for so many families and businesses and I am acutely aware of the crisis in the aviation industry. It will take years to recover and I continue to monitor the situation closely and petition ministers to look at all means possible to support business going forward wherever possible and viable.
Campaign reply - “ It's time to Buildbackbetter.” - 1 July 2020
A number of constituents have sent me a copy of a campaign email “ It's time to Buildbackbetter.”
The vision the prime minster set out for the UK before the last election was just that. To invest. To level up. As we all know the manifesto received overwhelming support.
Now, with the totally unexpected shock of the medical crisis hitting the economy the prime minister is all the more determined to not only fulfil those pledges but to go further. He has made this know in his recent speech and I copy below a statement issued shortly afterwards:
The Prime Minister has announced a New Deal for Britain, an ambitious economic strategy to rebuild Britain, putting jobs, skills and infrastructure investment at the heart of our economic recovery post-coronavirus, and delivering on our manifesto pledges to level up the entire country.
• We will use the coronavirus pandemic to tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges of the last three decades which successive governments have ducked: to build the homes, to fix the NHS, to tackle the skills crisis, to mend the indefensible gap in opportunity and productivity and connectivity between the regions of the UK, and to unite and level up.
• Too many parts of this country have felt left behind, neglected, unloved, as though someone had taken a strategic decision that their fate did not matter as much as the metropolis. Not only has a vision to change this country for the better, we have a mission to unite and level up – the mission on which we were elected last year. The Chancellor will provide an update on the economy next week.
• Over the next five years, we will invest more than £600 billion pounds in our future prosperity, and yesterday’s announcement brings forward £5 billion of capital investment projects, supporting jobs and the economic recovery across the country.
• This includes £1.5 billion this year for hospital maintenance, £100 million this year for 29 projects in our road network to get Britain moving, £1 billion to fund the first 50 projects of a new, ten-year school rebuilding programme, starting from 2020-21, over £280 million to support and modernise our criminal justice system, and a new £900 million for a range of ‘shovel ready’ local growth projects in England over the course of this year and next .
• If we deliver this plan together, then we will together build our way back to health. We will not just bounce back, we will bounce forward – stronger and better and more united than ever before.
The UK as it leaves the EU will double down to make a success of our future by investing and building and ensuring that everyone has fair opportunity.