• the Agriculture Bill

    The development of a new, post-Brexit UK agriculture policy is a seminal moment for the future of our environment, our food production and our countryside.

    I believe we need an Agriculture Bill which ensures, in measurable and enforceable terms, the future of our environment, wildlife and habitats while also providing food security. Sustainability must be at the forefront of a thriving farming, food and drink sector.

    I agree with the need to shift financial assistance to farmers, from support for simply owning land to the principle of public money for public goods, to help those who work our land to restore and improve the natural environment.

    However, I believe that the Agriculture Bill falls short in several areas. In my view, it does not fully recognise the central importance of UK sustainable food production and supply. I fear this may lead to a greater reliance on food imports from countries where we have no control over environmental standards. It is vital that any future trade deals do not dilute welfare standards, environmental protection or labour standards.

    I am further concerned that, while the Bill gives wide-ranging powers, it does not make clear how the environmental outcomes that we need are to be funded, delivered or regulated. It offers no targets for improving our environment and no mechanism for setting any targets. This is especially concerning at a time of alarming species decline, soil degradation and increasingly volatile and extreme weather conditions driven by escalating climate change.

    It is also the case that the Agriculture Bill fails to legislate for current agriculture funding to continue beyond 2022. I would like to see more certainty on long-term funding.

    During the second reading debate on 10 October, I supported an Opposition amendment which set out these concerns. Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated. The Bill will now move on to committee stage where I hope that several improvements will be made.

    As the Agriculture Bill progresses, I can assure you I will be supporting amendments to ensure that it properly protects our natural environment and recognises the central importance of sustainable food production.

  • Conor’s visit to Rectory CofE School

    Conor visited Rectory CofE School in Garswood to meet the children at the school and talk to staff about additional needs provision.

    As well as mainstream provision, Rectory also offers specialist education for children with autism and moderate learning difficulties. Conor visited a number of the classes and discussed the challenges faced by the school in meeting the needs of the additional needs pupils given the increased pressure on the schools budget.

    He also took questions from the year 5 and 6 pupils – and some of their teachers!

    Conor said: “I really enjoyed my morning at Rectory and the dedication of the head teacher Mrs Sweeney and the staff is clear to see. The school has strong links to the local church and wider community, and the children were a real credit to their families and carers. But like so many other schools in the borough, funding cuts are impacting on the resources our education establishments need. I’ve said time and again that our schools must be properly funded to give our teachers the resources they need to give children the best possible start in life – and it’s a message I’ll be taking from Garswood to Westminster.”

  • Mersey Gateway Bridge tolls

    On the first anniversary of the opening of the Mersey Gateway Bridge, I joined a group of Labour MPs in writing to the Transport Secretary to call for the scrapping of the tolls.

    Many of my constituents have been left financially worse off by the tolls, and I know of businesses that have relocated because of their impact.

    While the bridge is to be welcomed for its impact on improving the region’s transport infrastructure, the tolls are in fact a barrier to economic growth.

    An early end to tolls on the Severn Bridge between England and south Wales has been announced but here in the North West we are already short-changed when it comes to investing in transport infrastructure and the tolls mean we are over-charged too.

    If the Government is serious about its commitment to the Northern Powerhouse and increasing regional productivity then it needs to scrap the tolls, and put the money back in the pockets of local residents and businesses.

  • launch of a new not-for-profit company in our local communities

    Conor joined representatives from local housing associations, the voluntary sector, St Helens Council and Jobcentre plus for the launch of a new not-for-profit company aiming to provide jobs, education and training in our local communities.

    As well as back to work programs, Genesis plans to organise courses on everything from first aid and food hygiene for local businesses. It will be working closely with local employers and assisting those they work with look for jobs, improve English and maths skills and will provide IT support.

    Among the sites it will work from is Derbyshire Hill Family Centre in Parr.

    Conor said “it is important that we give local people the chance to take advantage of the employment opportunities being created in the local area. Initiatives like this are vital to improving skills, building confidence and enjancing employability. I wish Genesis well in playing its part in supporting residents into work.”

    Company founder, Roy Williams, added “it was good to see so many people at the Genesis launch event to hear about the work we are doing to support local people and improve their skills and help employers find new staff. I would like to thank Conor for his support and commitment to initiatives like this.”

  • dementia care and the related campaign by the Alzheimer’s Society

    I commend and support the Alzheimer’s Society’s “Fix Dementia Care” campaign to ensure that people with dementia receive the highest standards of care in hospital, in care homes and at home. It has supported the development of hundreds of dementia-friendly communities across England and is leading investment in research to improve care, advance prevention and move closer to achieving the goal of a world without dementia.

    Improving the quality of social care is a vital part of providing dignity and support for people living with dementia. As we work to find a cure, I believe we should place an equal emphasis on the care provided to people living with dementia and the support provided to their families and carers.

    I believe the Government has failed to address the crisis in social care. Eight years of cuts to local authority budgets have left our social care system ill-equipped to deal with increasing demands. Since 2010, £6.3 billion has been cut from adult social care and there are now 400,000 fewer people receiving publicly funded social care. The Government has repeatedly delayed the publication of its social care green paper and last year Ministers scrapped plans to implement a cap on personal contributions to lifetime care costs.

    I support the establishment of a new National Care Service, built alongside the NHS, to move quickly towards a joined-up system that responds to the health and care needs of the population. I am also committed to ensuring that people do not have to pay high care costs, as is too often the case with the current system. I support implementing a lower cap on care costs than the £72,000 cap that was abandoned by the Government.

    At the 2017 general election, I stood on a manifesto with a commitment to invest an additional £8 billion in social care budgets across this parliament to ease the care crisis, including an extra £1 billion in the first year. This additional funding would have meant offering some extra packages of care which were publicly-funded.

  • religious dress

    The freedom to practice faith – or not – is one of the cornerstones of the free and diverse democratic society in which we live, and I firmly believe in a person’s right to choose their expression of faith.

    I therefore support the right to wear all forms of religious and other dress and I believe in strengthening our communities’ rights to practice religion free from persecution.

    I believe that we must do everything in our power to ensure that people of faith or no faith have the freedom to pursue their beliefs without fear of harassment or victimisation.

    I am therefore proud that the Equality Act 2010 helped to foster an open society by strengthening the legislative framework to protect people from discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief or, indeed, lack of it.

  • human rights defenders

    As one of the UK Parliament delegates to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council or Europe, I agree that more must be done to protect human rights defenders globally. Human rights defenders champion and fight for the human rights of others, challenging oppression and injustice. I believe the UK should lead the world in promoting human rights and they should be at the heart of our foreign policy.

    This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. This recognises the right and the responsibility of individuals, groups and associations to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.

    It is therefore reprehensible that over 300 human rights defenders were killed last year, and hundreds harassed, threatened or detained. As the UN Secretary-General has said, human rights defenders, both individuals and organisations, “are our eyes and ears and conscience.”

    In December last year, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued updated guidelines to its network of Embassies and High Commissions on working with human rights defenders. This guidance tasks them with finding practical ways to support human rights defenders and considers groups who may face additional risks such as those defending the rights of women.

    Unfortunately, I am worried that there has been a drift away from the prioritisation of human rights under the current Government, including in its international dealings. I believe the Government should lead international efforts through the UN and other international organisations to ensure that human rights are protected and upheld around the world. I believe it should also urge respect for human rights in its bilateral discussions with other governments.

    I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to support human rights, and those who defend them, globally.

     

  • the rollout of Universal Credit

    UC is a single payment which will replace six means-tested benefits and tax credits for working-age individuals and families. It is the Government’s flagship welfare reform and I am concerned that it has been plagued by problems in its design and delivery.

    UC was intended to lift people out of poverty and smooth the transition into work to ensure that it always pays. Unfortunately, the programme has acted as a vehicle for cuts and caused real hardship for many people across the UK. It has pushed claimants into debt, rent arrears and forced some to rely on food banks. I agree that the rollout should be stopped.

    Indeed, a report by the National Audit Office found UC may end up costing more than the benefit system it is replacing. It also stated that it cannot be proven UC helps more claimants into work and concluded it is unlikely to ever deliver value for money. More recently, a report from the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC) concluded UC is causing unacceptable hardship and that the Government’s approach is failing claimants. This report also argued that the recent announcement of a further delay to the rollout is not a solution.

    The PAC report reveals the culture of denial about the failings of UC. It is shocking that the Government is still refusing to accept the hardship it is causing and is determined to go ahead with the next phase of UC.

    I am deeply concerned that UC is failing in its current form, which is why Labour has committed to a root-and-branch review of the social security system. This review would ensure that our social security system genuinely lifts people out of poverty and provides support when people need it. In addition, the Opposition has also committed to end the freeze on social security payments by raising rates in line with inflation every year.

    I am committed to rebuilding and transforming our social security system and I will continue to press the Government on this important issue at every opportunity.

  • local government funding

    I share constituents concerns about cuts to local authorities and I pay tribute to council staff in our constituency who have risen to difficult challenges over the past eight years. Despite the very best efforts of local councils to protect public services, Government cuts to local authority budgets have reached 49.1% since 2010, leaving councils with no other option but to take tough decisions on spending.

    Youth centres, museums and libraries are having to close and our social care system is in crisis. Compared with 2010, there are now 455 fewer libraries, 1,240 fewer Sure Start centres and 600 fewer youth centres. House building has fallen to its lowest rate since the 1920s and homelessness is rising. Indeed, the number of people sleeping rough on our streets has more than doubled.

    The Local Government Association (LGA) estimates that by 2020 reductions to local authority budgets will reach 77% and warns that local services in England face a funding gap of almost £8 billion by 2025. I am concerned that councils are reaching a financial breaking point and I believe things must change as a matter of urgency.

    I believe the Government must immediately increase funding to local authorities so that councils can deliver the vital public services that our communities want. More widely, Ministers should act on the warnings of the National Audit Office (NAO) and initiate a review of local government funding to ensure that the sector is sustainable for the long term.

    I will continue to stand up for local communities in Parliament, ensure that vital public services are protected and urge the Government to bring forward a long-term and sustainable funding settlement for local government.

  • human rights in Bahrain

    I recognise the serious concerns about the human rights situation in Bahrain, particularly on the position of opposition and civil liberties groups, the detention of political prisoners and allegations of torture.

    The 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) into human rights abuses made no fewer than 26 recommendations. On 9 May 2016, the King of Bahrain announced that these had been “fully implemented”. However, developments such as the suspension of the opposition group Al Wefaq and the detention of Nabeel Rajab, for example, reinforce the view that serious human rights concerns remain. The UN has also expressed concern at reports of excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force, enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention.

    The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has designated Bahrain a human rights priority country and expressed concerns about the issues I just mentioned as well as about freedom of expression and assembly more widely. Human rights should be at the heart of our foreign policy and the Government must ensure that it continues to raise these issues at the highest levels in Bahrain.

    I can assure you that I will continue monitor the human rights situation in Bahrain closely.

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