Early Day Motions
Please note that I do not sign any Early Day Motions (EDMs). These have no chance of becoming law, and according to the House of Commons Library, cost £271 each to publish. I do not feel that this is a good use of taxpayer’s money, nor do I feel that this is an effective way to raise an issue in Parliament.
I continue to raise my constituents’ concerns with Ministers privately and in Parliament to ensure that North Devon is represented in the most appropriate way. I also feel that EDMs have also been superseded by e-petitions, which can be signed by everyone, and have much more success in raising awareness of different issues.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been one of the greatest challenges to the established international order since the Second World War, a global threat that has required global solutions borne out of global cooperation. It has been immensely heartening to have seen the peoples and nations of the world pull together as they have. I pay tribute to all, everywhere.
As in the late 1940s, where, to avert a repeat of the cataclysm of total war, world leaders came together to establish the multilateral system we have today, I think it is reasonably fair to argue that a similar effort is required on the part of world leaders to strengthen preparedness for potential future pandemics.
As such, I welcome the suggestion of the Prime Minister, writing with other world leaders last year, that the international community should commit to producing a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response. I understand such a treaty would aim to foster greatly enhanced cooperation in order to better protect the UK from the health, social and economic impacts of pandemics.
Discussions are ongoing at the World Health Organisation to this end. The UK Government wants to reach agreement on its priority areas such as improving transparency, timely data sharing and supporting equitable access to vaccines and treatments.
I appreciate that there are some concerns about this. However, the Health Secretary has personally assured that the Government will not support any treaty which compromises the UK's sovereignty. There is nothing in the proposed treaty that would impact our ability to take decisions about national lockdowns or other measures of this nature at the national level.
Once adopted, international treaties only become binding on the UK when ratified by Parliament in accordance with our constitutional process. No international treaty can by itself change UK law. If changes to the law are necessary then a treaty could not be ratified until domestic legislation, agreed by Parliament, was put in place. I continue to monitor this situation closely as I share many of the concerns constituents have highlighted.
Coronavirus: Public Inquiry
The Covid-19 outbreak has been one of the most significant and consequential periods of our lifetimes. It has led to a tragic loss of life in this country and around the world and gave rise to previously unthinkable restrictions to our way of life.
The fortitude and courage of the British people and the bravery of our NHS and key workers means that we have now passed the peak of deaths and hospitalisations and I welcomed the announcement by the Prime Minister of a full independent public inquiry on a statutory basis.
The inquiry will have full powers under the Inquiries Act 2005 and will have the ability to compel the production of relevant material and to take oral evidence in public under oath. Discussions with the devolved administrations will ensure the inquiry can take into account the full scope of the UK response to the pandemic.
I must emphasise, however, that the pandemic situation is not over. The threat of new, more transmissible Covid variants remains and the Prime Minister has warned of a likely surge in cases this winter.
That is why the right time for an inquiry is the spring next year. I understand calls for an inquiry to be held sooner but this timetable will avoid inadvertently distracting those whom we continue to need this year in the fight against the virus including our NHS workers, officials and scientific advisers. I have no doubt that the inquiry will have the widest possible consultation and engagement.
As we learn to live with this virus, some of life’s most important pleasures and opportunities are likely to be increasingly dependent on vaccination.
For example, there are already countries that require you to be double jabbed as a condition of quarantine free travel and that list seems likely to grow as more countries catch up to our successful vaccination programme.
As we have opened up our economy and society from 19 July, ministers are concerned – as people have been in other countries, by the continuing risk posed by nightclubs and other crowded venues.
Government instruction and in some cases extreme intervention into our daily lives has been necessary in the global emergency, but the recent legal restrictions we have faced must be the exception, not the rule. We all know how the virus transmits and I believe at this time can take responsibility for our actions as we learn to live with this coronavirus moving forward.
I do not want to see nightclubs closed again, as they have elsewhere, but it does means that these settings need to do the socially responsible thing. So, for now the Government is asking settings to make use of the NHS Covid Pass which shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity, as a means of entry.
While this is not currently mandatory, the Government had previously said that it reserved the right to mandate certification at any point, if it was necessary to reduce transmission, and indeed it has now said that by the end of September, when all over 18s will have had the chance to be double vaccinated, it is planning to make full vaccination the condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather.
I sincerely hope that we do not have to take this step, but this is about protecting people in those settings where the virus is most likely to spread, and vaccines are the best possible way to do this.
We all want this country to be able to enjoy the fruits of our massive vaccination campaign. To do that, we must all remain cautious and we must continue to get vaccinated.
I believe that meaningful change to the current marriage laws needs to take place. When the Government held a consultation on this in 2014, the majority of respondents were in favour of changing the law to allow legally valid non-religious belief ceremonies in unrestricted locations.
What is also clear, however, is the importance of not embarking upon piecemeal reform, which may lead to inconsistencies between groups, for example non-religious belief organisations and religious belief organisations. The Government wants to reform marriage ceremonies to make sure that there is a simple, fair and consistent legal framework, so that people can have a wedding that is meaningful to them.
That is why the Government announced in June 2019 that the Law Commission will conduct a fundamental review of the law on how and where people can legally marry in England and Wales. As part of the project, the Law Commission will be considering how a scheme could include weddings conducted by humanist and other non-religious belief organisations and where weddings should be able to take place.
The Law Commission’s consultation on proposals for reform of the law governing how and where couples can get married closed on 4 January 2021, and the responses are now being analysed. These responses will inform development of the Law Commission's final policy, to be published in a report with recommendations for Government in the second half of 2021. I understand that the Government will then decide on provision for non-religious belief marriage in light of the Law Commission's recommendations.
Coronavirus: Global Vaccine Summit
I am proud that the UK hosted this summit on 4 June 2020, in order to raise vital funds for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to support their work to protect almost half the world’s children against deadly, preventable diseases.
Bringing together representatives from 62 countries, leaders from global health organisations, the private sector, vaccine manufacturers and civil society organisations, the summit had a fundraising target of $7.4 billion. I am delighted that this target was exceeded, with world leaders pledging $8.8 billion.
This funding will help immunise a further 300 million children in lower-income countries against diseases like measles, polio and diphtheria by the end of 2025. It is also supporting health systems to withstand the impact of coronavirus and maintain the infrastructure needed to roll out the now many approved vaccines on a global scale.
I am glad that the UK is one of the most generous donors to Gavi, one of only two countries that supports it through all four of the funding channels, pledging £330 million per year and totalling £1.65 billion, over the next five years. For the full details on the UK's contribution see: https://www.gavi.org/investing-gavi/funding/donor-profiles/united-kingdom
The UK is committed to rapid, equitable access to safe and effective vaccines. We are among the largest donors to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, committing £548 million. This support to COVAX has been critical to it supplying Covid-19 vaccines to over 125 countries as of 16 June. At the UK-hosted G7 Summit on 11 June, the Prime Minister announced that the UK will share 100 million doses to the world within the next year, 30 million doses will be shared by the end of 2021, with 5 million of these doses to be made available by the end of September. At least 80% of the 100 million doses will go to COVAX and the remainder will be shared bilaterally with countries in need.
Global pandemics demand global solutions, and I am proud that the UK is leading the way internationally to facilitate such solutions.
Covid-19 Intellectual Property
Covid-19 does not respect borders, and therefore the UK Government’s efforts to protect the British public will only be effective if we help those elsewhere too. A global pandemic thus requires global solutions. I am incredibly proud of the role the UK and its scientific expertise is playing in finding such solutions and defeating Covid-19.
The UK is committed to global equitable access to effective vaccines as demonstrated by our £548 million contribution to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC). UK support for this mechanism has been critical to it having been able to supply Covid-19 vaccines to over 120 countries and economies so far.
We are also contributing to the global effort by identifying new variants through world-leading genomic analysis capability and surveillance systems, and our investment in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) supports ongoing vaccine research and development to respond to an evolving virus.
The Prime Minister has also said that the UK will donate the majority of any vaccines that are surplus to UK needs with COVAX to support developing countries. This will provide a fair and equitable distribution of vaccines to countries which are most in need and where they will be most effective.
The UK does not consider waiving IP rights to be an appropriate course of action in boosting the manufacture of and access to safe and effective vaccines, nor other Covid-19 medical technologies. Ministers instead believe that voluntary licensing is preferable, as it allows third-party manufacturers to produce innovative products, enables innovators to make an informed decision on sharing their IP, and provides flexibility for parties in agreeing how to ensure access to technologies.
While the UK is constructively engaging in IP discussions, there is little evidence to suggest how waiving IP rights would improve the current situation and is continuing to push ahead with voluntary licensing agreements for vaccines and support for COVAX.
Voluntary approaches have underpinned the development and deployment of Covid-19 vaccines which, as you will no doubt agree, has made remarkable progress so far, both in the UK and abroad.
Instow Councillor Position
I had intended to stand down from my position as District Councillor for Instow in 2020 and to have the by-election coincide with the already planned Police and Crime Commissioner Elections.
I was clear with the Chief Executive that I did not want to have a stand-alone by-election as it does cost North Devon Council money to hold such elections.
The Covid Pandemic of course meant that this election was postponed until this May.
During the pandemic it has proved to be very helpful and useful being a District Councillor, working closely with North Devon Council (NDC) and their response; assisting them in liaising with national Government and indeed with the County Council. Whilst the opportunity was there to hold the by-election this May, we are still not yet beyond Covid and I am comfortable in continuing to work for Instow at a District level and North Devon as its representative in Westminster.
I have been in Instow throughout most of the pandemic and very well aware of local issues and have worked with our County Councillor and NDC teams in the last couple of weeks to raise specific local concerns.
Over the past year I have noted that North Devon Council do bring forward a large number of national issues at their Full Council Meetings as well and feel that my direct presence at District Council meetings has been useful, and indeed I hope it will reduce the amount of time wasted on national matters which cannot be influenced from a local level at the time they are being raised by the current administration.
I do not intend to stand down quite yet and wish to hold to my promise to the Chief Executive to not force a by-election at a time that will cost the council money. I did also commit to four years as a Councillor to the people of Instow, it seems now, the most prudent course of action is to not stand for re-election to North Devon Council in 2023.
Elections, whilst a vital democratic process, can get in the way of delivering for local people and at this time I am confident in my ability to act on behalf of the people of Instow as their District Councillor, as well as all of the people of North Devon as their Member of Parliament.
Downing Street Flat
Downing Street is an historic working complex containing several buildings and two ministerial residences, and the Government is legally required to maintain Downing Street buildings to standards appropriate to their Grade I and Grade II listed status. As I am sure you can imagine, their status as well as security and other factors, can lead to a significantly increased cost for maintenance and repairs.
Prime Ministers across successive governments have been provided with an allowance of up to £30,000 a year to contribute to the maintenance and furnishing of residency in the Downing Street estate. The cost of the wider refurbishment you mention has been met by the Prime Minister personally.
At all times, the Government and Ministers have acted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct. Cabinet Office officials have been engaged and informed throughout and official advice has been followed. Subject to advice from the new Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests, Lord Geidt, the Prime Minister will be making any necessary declaration in line with the requirements of the Ministerial Code.
I understand that the Conservative Party has put out a statement as follows: “We believe all reportable donations have been transparently and correctly declared and published by the Electoral Commission. We will continue to work constructively with the Electoral Commission on this matter.”
The overriding aim throughout has been to reduce the need for taxpayers’ money to fund the works and maintain a listed building owned by the nation. Matters concerning current works to the Downing Street estate, including residences, more broadly are covered in the Cabinet Office annual report and accounts.
David Cameron and Greensill
I am concerned about what has emerged regarding David Cameron and his involvement with the financial services firm Greensil, as I would be about any current or former Minister where there is any report of potential impropriety. Transparency and probity are essential to maintaining the trust of the British people in our democracy. I am glad that the Prime Minister has announced an independent review into the awarding of contracts for supply chain finance in which Greensill specialised. The review will examine how contracts were secured and how businesses engaged with the Government including the role of individuals. It will be led by senior lawyer, Nigel Boardman.
I do not believe that a Parliamentary inquiry conducted by a new Parliamentary Committee, as proposed by the Opposition Party, would have been helpful, as it would have duplicated work already being undertaken by the Government. The Government is currently undertaking a post-legislative review of Part 1 of the Lobbying Act 2014 in line with the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption Secretariat, and in addition to the independent review by Nigel Boardman.
Existing Parliamentary Committees also have the power to conduct inquiries as they see fit. The Public Accounts and Constitutional Affairs Committee is responsible for examining the quality and standards of administrations in government and the Committee on Standards in Public Life examines conduct across public life. The Treasury Select Committee has already launched an inquiry into Greensill.
I absolutely condemn the sort of lobbying that brings Parliament and elected officials into disrepute. It is incumbent on all those in public life to act with integrity and I look forward to the conclusion of the existing reviews in due course.
The fundamental purpose of our nuclear weapons is to preserve peace, prevent coercion and deter aggression. A minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent assigned to the defence of NATO, remains essential in order to guarantee our security and that of our Allies.
Security is a top priority for the UK Government, and therefore whilst we still need to maintain our nuclear stockpile, the spending is vital. I would like to reassure you that the UK remains deeply committed to our collective long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons, under the framework of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty. Until then, we must hold the minimum number of nuclear warheads necessary to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent.
In 2010, the Government stated an intent to reduce our overall nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling from not more than 225 to not more than 180 by the mid-2020s. However, in recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats, this is no longer possible, and the UK will move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads.
Thank you for contacting me on the matter of Dominic Cummings. I have received an unprecedented number of emails on this matter. I have replied to the first 1000 but I am now no longer replying, as there is nothing further I can say that will change the situation, but I will continue to read and digest your concerns. I am, however, concerned that there are constituents here in North Devon that need help with all sorts of other matters that I cannot assist whilst replying to the barrage of emails on this one topic. I have heard your anger, and I have communicated it back to Westminster.
And like you, I have felt a mixture of anger, disappointment and frustration in recent days.
We are all making significant sacrifices and coping with situations we could not imagine just a few months ago. Many of us have lost people in our lives and have not been able to see family and friends. It has been incredibly tough for everyone.
I do not personally know Mr Cummings. All I know of his behaviour in recent weeks is the frank and open statement he has given to the national media, where he explained why he took the decisions he did as a father and a husband. I prefer not to judge unless I am aware of all the facts, particularly as there seems to be a lot of misinformation in the media these days often generated by social media assaults on individuals.
Over 1000 people have contacted me regarding Mr Cummings and I wanted to ensure I knew as much as possible before responding. I have read each and every email sent to me on this topic. I have raised questions which I felt needed answering and made the strength of feeling in North Devon clear to the party leadership.
I will not rehearse the timeline of events with you in this reply. I am sure you either watched the press conference or have since read about it.
Although I believe his actions were motivated by his desire to do what he felt was necessary to protect his family in exceptional circumstances, if placed in the same situation, I do not believe I would have made the same decisions. I would have also considered my own position. I am a big believer in taking responsibility for one’s self and the decisions we each take.
However, the Prime Minister knows far more of what has happened throughout the pandemic than you or I. He has taken his decision to retain the services of his advisor who is an employee and not an elected representative.
As I have already made clear to the party leadership, this has been a deeply unhelpful distraction we could do without as a nation dealing with a pandemic.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for following the guidance which has helped save lives. This has significantly reduced the prevalence of the virus across our country. It has also reduced the rate of infection (R), which has given the Government the opportunity to take steps to reduce restrictions and re-open society.
I very much hope the Government can now move on from this as there are so many other pressing matters associated with Covid-19 that need attention. As your MP, I will continue to focus my efforts on the hundreds of emails I continue to receive daily, on other topics, from constituents requiring my help and support.
I would be doing a disservice to you and those who need help during this difficult time if I acted in any other way.