This week saw the end of the first session of this parliament, with the House prorogued until Her Majesty The Queen conducts the State Opening of Parliament on Tuesday 11th May. The State Opening marks the formal start of the parliamentary year and the Queen's Speech sets out the government's agenda for the coming session, outlining proposed policies and legislation. It is the only regular occasion when the three constituent parts of Parliament – the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons – meet.
In disappointing news, the Fire Safety Bill was back before the House of Commons last week for the 4th and 5th time, with the Government, once again, effectively filibustering a number of backbench amendments that were designed to provide necessary and further support for leaseholders impacted by the cladding scandal. Unfortunately, in order for the main Bill to pass before prorogation, the House of Lords had to choose not to send it back amended in the end.
The sole aim of the amendments signed by colleagues and I from across all parties was to ensure that leaseholders are not excessively burdened with the cost of remedying design faults that they had no say over. Only the Government can afford to provide the cashflow to pay for these works up front and only the Government can then introduce the levies on those responsible to claw that money back over the next ten years.
The Government argues that it is working towards a comprehensive solution but, quite frankly, we are coming up to almost 4 years since the Grenfell Tower tragedy and yet the adequate solutions needed to ensure that this never happens again still aren’t being put forward. I accept that the Government is committing to addressing a number of the issues raised in the forthcoming ‘Building Safety Bill’ but this appears to still be at a pre-legislative stage, with no clear sight of it coming before the House of Commons any time soon. I sincerely hope it is in the Queen’s Speech!
Just before the close of the session, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee published their report into seafood and meat exports to the EU. As has been clear from conversations I’ve had with local exporters and fellow Devon MPs, especially re. shellfish, the report is right when it highlights that exporters “have not received the standard of support they should have done to allow them to prepare. Guidance was not sufficiently timely, targeted or joined-up”. This has caused a number of problems - the Government took its eye off the ball.
The UK has yet to introduce Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) checks on EU imports, which invariably places British businesses at a competitive disadvantage. It has created incentives to relocate factories and jobs to the EU, and increased food safety and biosecurity risks. It also reduces the incentive for the European Commission to negotiate. SPS checks on EU imports of products of animal origin (POAO) should have been introduced on 1 January 2021 as originally planned.
As the Committee suggest, the Government must stick to its latest revised timetable of introducing Export Health Certificates (EHCs) on 1 October, and checks at the border from 1 January 2022 and also ensure that sufficient testing of the new arrangements take place.
I am lobbying the Government to take note the Committee’s recommendations which include taking a flexible approach to the fund for those exporting seafood and to provide similar support to meat exporters; supporting SMEs with the cost of certifying EHCs and facilitating logistical approaches that allow consignments from SMEs to be grouped together on a single lorry load, thereby reducing costs.
If we want to be an independent coastal fishing nation, then we need to be doing more to support the industry!
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