Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting Imports

Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting Imports

I have been contacted by several constituents calling for a ban on the import of hunting trophies into Britain. Amongst other species, elephants, lions, hippopotamuses, leopards and rhinoceroses, popular with British trophy hunters, are fighting for their lives.

I agree that the practice of importing hunting trophies is wrong and requires firmer action. The UK must show global leadership by tackling illegal wildlife trade and bringing an end to trophy hunting. I gave my support to the Early Day Motion back in November, which called on the Government to commit to halting imports of hunting trophies as a matter of urgency and I will continue to put pressure on this Government to follow the precedent set by Australia, France and the Netherlands, and introduce import bans.

The Opposition consulted on an Animal Welfare Plan between February and May last year. It included a proposal to end the import of wild animal trophies from species that are classified as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and to expand this ban to species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The international rules for the import and export of hunting trophies are established under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Killing endangered wildlife for pleasure has a direct impact on the conservation status of some of the world’s most endangered wildlife: it is cruel, archaic and immoral and has no place in today’s Britain.

Bedfordshire Achievement Ceremony

Bedfordshire Achievement Ceremony

I was delighted to attend the annual Bedfordshire Achievement Ceremony last night, hosted by The Bedford College Group, where staff and students were honoured for their efforts and achievements. It was a pleasure to listen to Performing Arts students sing and to listen to the inspiring words of the guest speaker, international author Ruth Hogan, who presented the certificates alongside Ian Pryce CBE, The Bedford College Group Principal and CEO.

The Bedford College Group works with almost 1,000 employers, has more than 2,400 apprentices who are included in a student body of 14,700 supported by 980 staff. It is one of the top 10% of colleges in the UK f or progressing students on to positive destinations and has secured millions of pounds of investment in an Advanced Engineering & Construction Centre at the riverside campus in Bedford, a Zoological Education Centre at Shuttleworth College and the Wellingborough campus of Tresham College.

Congratulations to all those dedicated members of staff and students who were short-listed for, and won, a range of national awards.

(Group Photo L-R Ian Pryce CBE CEO of The Bedford College Group with Mayor Dave Hodgson, author Ruth Hogan, Bedford College Chair of Corporate Roger Marriott, MP Mohammad Yasin and Head of Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce Rod Calvert OBE DL)

Brexit Update

This is a difficult time for our country. The referendum of 2016 caused a great deal of hurt, and the negotiation process that we have been engaged in ever since Article 50 was invoked has been painful. Now those negotiations have concluded, and Theresa May has not delivered a good deal for Britain. It is clearer now than ever before that there was never a deal possible that would improve on the one we have already within the EU. Many people said at the time that withdrawing from the biggest market in the world could only bring dis-benefits. Doing so via the deal Mrs May is offering in this way would be disastrous, as would withdrawing with no deal at all.

We should not be fooled by the Prime Minister’s attempts to sell her deal to the British people as a good compromise – this is a tactic designed only to keep her Government in power. Leavers and remainers alike are at least united in their dislike of the outcome of the negotiations. The deal on the table could very well chain us to Brussels in perpetuity without any say in how we are governed and would leave us with a hefty divorce bill to settle – all without any of the promised assurances of frictionless trade, or the huge benefits of security cooperation and a strong political alliance across Europe. It is a poor offering indeed. It stands to reason therefore that I will not support it when it is brought before Parliament on the 11th December.

The question then is what should happen after Parliament have considered the deal in the ‘Meaningful Vote’ – a vote that Labour colleagues and campaigners fought so hard to secure, and which this Government did not want MPs to have. It is highly likely that Theresa May’s deal will be rejected by MPs –  and rightly so because we shouldn’t accept a bad deal because it’s the only deal on offer or because we’re worn down with the process. But we do need a plan for what happens next.

Many people have written to me urging me to support a people’s vote. A second referendum with an option to remain is one possible future option and is something I would support if the conditions were right. But I believe we need to have a very clear idea about exactly what we would ask in the event that this were possible, and we need a far greater degree of certainty than we currently have about the possible outcome of such a vote. Even the Tory Chancellor admits that Britain’s economy would shrink under any Brexit scenario. I am wary of offering my full support to any course of action that could result in a more decisive ‘leave’ mandate, because there is no leave option available at this time that would not make Britain poorer.

So while a people’s vote should not be dismissed, we should first work to safeguard Britain against a catastrophic no deal Brexit.

Alongside colleagues, I will support Labour’s Amendment to the Meaningful Vote. I shall reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal because it fails to protect jobs and living standards, workers’ rights and environmental standards and because it does not provide sufficient guarantees on national security. The amendment strongly opposes crashing out of the UK without a deal, and that must be the first priority.

Labour believe that Theresa May’s government have failed on Brexit, and that the British people should have the opportunity now to make a choice. A choice between a Tory Government who have pursued a pointless austerity agenda to devastating effect – an agenda that has decimated public services, starved our NHS, police, local government and schools of cash, and impoverished families, and now promises to shrink our economy and make us even poorer – Or a Labour Government who would begin work immediately to repair that damage and crucially would reject any Brexit scenario that would leave the UK worse off. I understand my Party’s position on this. Not to aspire to be a party in government at this time of national crisis would be to shirk responsibility. However, the Fixed Term Parliament’s Act does present big obstacle. A General Election might not happen and if it is decisively rejected, then other democratic routes to testing the better informed will of the people should be the next step.

This is a very uncertain time and there are no ideal solutions that I can see. I can assure you that I will do all I can to ensure that I represent the views of all of my constituents in the coming weeks – not an easy task in a constituency where opinion on this issue is so divided.

I hope to eventually be able to support an outcome that will secure jobs, growth and trade, keep us safe and guarantee prosperous futures for our families, our children and our grandchildren.




Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Fails to Deliver

Many constituents are contacting me to share their strong concerns regarding the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the Prime Minister, which fails to deliver on her Government’s promises.

The government is now in chaos because of their inability to negotiate a deal in the national interest. It is highly unlikely the Agreement will get through Parliament and it’s not clear what is going to happen next but the Government is weak and unstable at this crucial time in our history when we need strong governance.

Labour have been clear that we will not vote for a deal that does not protect jobs, workers and environmental rights, the economy and living standards or a deal that does not work for all of the nations in the United Kingdom.

My party has fought for a deal which included a new comprehensive and permanent customs union, with a British say in future trade deals which would support businesses, our NHS, jobs and the manufacturing supply chains they depend on; a strong single market relationship that allows British business continued access to vital European markets for both goods and services and a guarantee that our country doesn’t fall behind the EU in workers’ rights, or protections for consumers and the environment.

The Prime Minister’s hopeless compromise offers none of this and I cannot support it. It will harm jobs and the economy, it will not deliver frictionless trade and provides no certainty over customs, immigration, security, defence, research and collaboration. You were promised Brexit would be easy and have no downsides; that we would be taking back control. This deal has considerable downsides and leaves us stuck in limbo with a loss of sovereignty and less control over our borders and laws. It is a failure after two years of botched negotiations, and it would leave us in a state of limbo.

I do not believe the Prime Minister’s deal is in the national interest – indeed it is vastly inferior to the deal we currently have with the European Union.  There have already been a number of resignations – including that of her own Brexit Secretary. There could not be more damning an indictment than Dominic Raab’s assessment of the deal that he negotiated, but now says ‘presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom’. The Prime Minister now knows that her Withdrawal agreement cannot win the approval of Parliament as it has no support from Labour, the DUP or the SNP.

This is a critical point in our history and we need stability from the Government, not this chaos. I will be working hard in the coming weeks to act in the best interests of the people of Bedford and Kempston and, alongside colleagues, pressing this Government to put the interests of the country not the Conservative Party first.

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

Several constituents have contacted me recently to share their concerns about fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) and the implementation of a £2 maximum stake.

According to the Gambling Commission – the industry regulator – there are 430,000 problem gamblers in Britain and a further 2 million at risk of developing a gambling problem. Nearly 14% of people who use FOBTs are problem gamblers and in 2016, £1.8 billion was lost on these high-speed machines. This is clearly a problem as for some gambling is no longer just about the entertainment that responsible gamblers seek but an addiction that they need support to fight.

I am extremely concerned about the epidemic of problem gambling and the real damage that FOBTs can cause. These machines have the potential to ruin lives and I believe the maximum stake should be reduced from £100 to £2. Furthermore, the delay between “spins” should be increased to reduce the addictive nature of these games. Following pressure from both inside and outside Parliament, it was announced in May 2018 that the maximum stake would be reduced to £2. The Government said it would give the industry time to implement the changes.

My Labour Colleagues and I had pushed the Chancellor to signal that the maximum stake would be cut to £2 by April 2019 at the latest. Unfortunately, in the budget it was announced that the changes will now be delayed until October 2019. This delay will only extend the financial suffering of problem gamblers.

Problem gambling should be treated as a public health emergency and lowering the stake on FOBTs must be just one part of a broader process of tackling this hidden epidemic. I believe there should be a ban on credit card betting and new rules to allow addicts to tell their bank to stop online gambling transactions.

I will continue to press for urgent action to tackle this problem.



Campaign success as Heart MAT restructure suspended

I’m delighted that the Heart MAT restructure – which I know has caused so much concern – has been suspended while the Department for Education is brought in to mediate.

The campaigners have been absolutely amazing, and this is an immense achievement. I’m so happy to have been able to lend my support to so many determined and passionate people.

This is just the first step – the pressure must be maintained and I’ll do all I can to support the aims of the campaigners going forward.

Academy trusts fall outside the remit of local government and fall directly under the Department of Education. I have repeatedly raised issues with the lack of accountability of academy trusts. Now here in Bedford, we are seeing just how wrong things could go because of this lack of accountability.

The Shadow Education Secretary Angela Raynor announced recently that Labour would halt the academies programme and give control back to local councils to run schools where there has been a failure by Academy Trusts. The residents of Bedford are being let down by this governments mismanaged education agenda, and I am delighted to see them fighting back.

Local communities should be able to have their say over local services. The next Labour government will give power back to communities so that our schools are run by the people who know them best – parents, teachers and local communities.

The Trust need to ditch these plans for good, recognise the achievements of these schools and build on the incredible community spirit that we’ve seen in this campaign.


Thameslink Compensation Scheme – Phase 2

Thameslink Compensation Scheme – Phase 2

I received notification this week that Phase 2 of Thameslink’s compensation scheme is now open for passengers most severely impacted by the introduction of the May 2018 timetable.

Eligible season ticket holders can now make an online claim until Friday 30th November. Eligible customers are those that hold between 1 and 4 weeks’ worth of season tickets or a minimum of 3 days’ return daily tickets in any one week (Mon to Sun), between the 20th May and the 28th July 2018 on a qualifying route. Eligible customers can claim compensation for a period of between 1 to 4 weeks’ worth of fares.

I am told GTR are setting up the new systems and staff training required to deliver phase 3, which will involve online claims becoming available to eligible non-season ticket holders by the 30th November, with closing dates are to be confirmed.

Customers are being encouraged to hold onto any tickets, receipts, Oyster PAYG or contactless journey history or other proof of travel.

Follow this link for full details, including Frequently Asked Questions. 

Community Transport

Community Transport

I have been contacted recently by constituents concerned about proposals from the Department for Transport (DfT) to change legislation, potentially affecting community transport organisations, who provide a vital service in our area and across the UK. They often provide a lifeline to people who, sadly, might otherwise be isolated.

Under EU regulations community transport operators have been considered exempt from the licencing requirements for commercial operators. This has meant that community transport groups that operate on a not-for-profit basis have been able to apply for permits to carry passengers in a bus or minibus without holding a Public Service Vehicle (PSV) licence. However, concerns have been raised that some community transport operators are effectively competing with commercial operators, who are still required to hold a PSV licence.

As a result, the DfT has published draft guidance and a consultation designed to align domestic legislation and guidance with EU regulations.

I am aware that a number of organisations have voiced serious concerns that the proposed guidance could have a detrimental impact on the community transport sector, as providers may be required to obtain commercial driving licences for their drivers. I understand that this could have significant cost implications and could even result in not-for-profit organisations being unable to run their services.

I am concerned that the Government has mismanaged this situation and caused confusion in the community transport sector. In addition, I believe it is concerning that the DfT appears to have failed to differentiate between true commercial services and vital community services that fill gaps where the market is unable to deliver. I believe this mismanagement suggests a wider failure to take a strategic view of local transport policy and I would urge the Government to take a fresh look at community transport services.

The DfT has committed to publish a summary of responses to the consultation and present emerging findings before the Parliament’s summer recess. I hope the Government will outline steps to ensure the views and concerns expressed in the consultation are taken into account.


Campaign to Ban Live Exports

Campaign to Ban Live Exports

Prompted by the campaign by Compassion in World Farming, I’ve been contacted by constituents regarding the live export of farm animals for slaughter and fattening.

A Government consultation on proposals for future food, farming and environmental policy closed earlier this month. It has also launched a call for evidence on controlling live exports for slaughter after Brexit. However, I believe it should go further and bring forward measures to ban live animal exports for slaughter and fattening.

The Labour Party is currently consulting on a new Animal Welfare Plan and is considering proposals including a ban on live animal exports for fattening and slaughter, as well as the possible introduction of mandatory labelling of meat and the potential for ending the use of cages, with a phased ban on sow farrowing crates.

With new trade deals on the horizon and the UK no longer subject to EU-wide rules on animal welfare, we must ensure there is a comprehensive legislative agenda in place to make sure the UK has equal and better animal rights going forward.

We must prioritise a sustainable, long-term future for our farming, fishing and food industries. We cannot allow Brexit to be used as an excuse for food standards to be reduced or to allow cheap and inferior produce to flood the UK market. I believe that a new food and farming plan should also help us grow, buy and sell more British food.

I will continue to call for action to promote a humane and sustainable British farming system.




Animal Welfare and the Fur Trade

Animal Welfare and the Fur Trade

I have been contacted by many constituents voicing their concerns about the fur trade.

In 2000, the UK was the first country in Europe to ban fur farming when the breeding and slaughter of animals for the value of their fur was banned on public morality grounds.

The UK has a proud history on animal welfare. I am proud of our role in introducing the EU bans on the sale of cat, dog and seal fur.

The current UK Government has committed, after Brexit, to retaining current regulations on cat, dog and seal fur imports. It has however, ruled out a wider unilateral national ban on the import or sale of fur. The Government believes that the best way of phasing out cruel and inhumane farming and trapping practices in other parts of the world which are banned in the UK is to press for higher animal welfare standards worldwide. Brexit must not lead to any watering down of existing standards on animal welfare and it is therefore welcome that the existing bans on cat, dog and seal fur imports will be maintained.

However, there is a real opportunity now for more progressive and ambitious policies which set the UK apart as a standard-bearer on animal welfare. The Labour Party is currently consulting on a new Animal Welfare Plan and is considering measures to tackle the trade in fur by requiring shops to prominently label items containing real fur. The Party is also considering the potential for phasing in a ban on all fur imports.

Parliament will soon be given the opportunity to debate these important issues further and I will continue to press for the highest possible standards of animal welfare at home and abroad.