Anne Marie's Weekly Column

Last week saw Parliament rise for Summer recess and the culmination of what has probably been the strangest six months in most of our lives and certainly in my last 10 years as Member of Parliament for Newton Abbot. Whilst Parliament might not be sitting, my team and I are still hard at work providing support and guidance where necessary and contacting Government departments on behalf of constituents. As always, if you have any issue that you believe we can help with then please do get in touch.

A number of constituents have rightly raised questions about the Trade Bill last week, what it means and why some of the amendments put forward were rejected.

It is important to bear in mind that the Trade Bill is a continuity Bill. The powers within the Bill could not be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries such as the US. Instead, the Bill only allows for trade agreements that we have been party to through our EU membership to be transitioned into UK law.

Future Trade Agreements are currently being negotiated, and it would be wrong to pre-empt what will be in those.

There were a number of strong opinions regarding New Clause 17 of the Trade Bill, but ultimately it was a misguided amendment.

The NHS is already protected by specific carve outs, exceptions and reservations in these trade agreements. I know that the Government have no intention of lowering standards in transitioned trade agreements, as the very purpose of these agreements is to replicate as close as possible the effects of existing commitments in EU agreements. Indeed, I can reassure you that none of the 20 continuity agreements signed have resulted in standards being lowered.

I also want to be clear that no future trade agreement will be allowed to undermine the guiding principle of the NHS:  that it is universal and free at the point of need. I welcome the Government’s clear and absolute commitment that the NHS will be protected in any future trade agreement. Indeed, the price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table and nor will the services the NHS provides.

So, as others have also said, New Clause 17 was unnecessary in legislative terms and added nothing to existing protections.

The Government have made a clear commitment not to compromise the UK’s high animal welfare, environmental, food safety and food import standards in any future FTA.

This was an issue that came up when we voted on the Agriculture Bill back in May. The Bill marked an important step in our departure from the EU and sets the rural economy and farming community on a new course. There were two amendments proposed to ensure any new trade agreement respected the maintenance of standards on imports.

The Government has already confirmed it will, but many of us wanted it in the bill itself. I put my name to one of the amendments which was, in the end, withdrawn. The alternative amendment would have required every trade bill – and there will be hundreds - to come to the floor of the House to be debated. While Parliament very much needs to scrutinise what Government does, this seemed to me overly burdensome and I did not support it.

Living in the glorious countryside, we know the value of being close to nature and the natural environment. Therefore, it is great to see the Government introduce ‘green prescribing’. Green prescribing works by systematically connecting people with opportunities to engage with nature and the outdoors to improve their physical and mental health. Starting this autumn, the Government will be investing a further £4m in a two-year pilot to bring green prescribing to urban and rural areas.

Local teams involving NHS England, Public Heath England and Natural England will work together to prioritise communities and social groups who have been worst hit by the covid-19 pandemic. Clearly it makes sense to scale this up across the country – making full use of our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to do it, so we can support good mental health, reduce health inequalities and ease the burden on our NHS by connecting more people with nature.

We all like to enjoy the warm weather but unfortunately it can lead to alcohol-related anti-social behaviour across our towns. Therefore, I very much welcome the Police and Crime Commissioner’s ‘anti-social behaviour hotspot fund’ designed to assist the police and local councils in helping to keep communities safe this summer and prevent anti-social behaviour, in particular related to alcohol. Funding has been provided for a range of measures including, street or beach marshals; CCTV monitoring or infrastructure; temporary toilets; and support for street pastors and responsible licensing schemes.

From Saturday 25th July, there will be marshals out and about in Teignmouth as well as in Newton Abbot a few days later. The marshals will provide an additional, visible presence and are employed by the local authority. They will engage with residents and visitors to remind them of the rules, encourage responsible behaviour and help diffuse problems before they arise. Marshals are Security Industry Association (SIA) accredited and will operate under clear protocols established by the local authorities and community safety partnerships, including safeguarding and reporting. Each marshal team will link closely with the local policing teams.

Our teachers have played an incredibly valuable role as key workers during the pandemic and like all other critical workers should rightly be applauded. Therefore, the teacher pay increase is incredibly welcome, especially alongside the news that funding for schools in the constituency, under the National Funding Formula is due to rise by 5.2 percent in 2020-21. This works out to an average of 4.4 percent per school. Also welcome is the increase of £730m in high needs funding next year, to support children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND).

Whilst this is a good start, there are still steps needed to bring schools in the constituency and rural schools more generally up to an equal funding level compared to schools in the bigger towns and cities. In parts of London, some secondary schools are getting almost £3,000 per pupil more in funding. Even accounting for additional London costs, there is clearly a disparity in the amounts being received by schools up and down the country.

It may be recess from parliament – but there is still much to do!

My next phone-in surgery will be on Friday 7th August at 2-3pm. Please call my office on 01626 368277 to arrange an appointment. We’re also looking at ways to re-introduce in-person, socially distanced surgeries. I will publish further information on this once we have worked out the best way of achieving it.