The extraordinary political times we live in continue unabated.
We welcome a newly elected Conservative MP, Trudy Harrison, who won the Copeland by-election with a majority of 2,147. Her victory in taking a safe Labour seat highlights the growing impact of Prime Minister Theresa May’s robust and fair policies, which reach out to improve the lives of everyone.
The Article 50 Bill, giving the Prime Minister permission to tell the EU we are leaving, is chugging through Parliament, now in the House of Lords, then back to the Commons for final approval in early March. It’s fascinating to see the gentle move to agreement as the issues of concern are kicked about and calm thinking overcomes much of Project Fear.
Following my intervention in a debate about seagulls and their impact on coastal communities, I was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions whether, if I saw Donald Trump being attacked by a seagull in Berwick, I would intervene. My compassionate nature left me admitting that I would, but none of the other panellists showed such mercy.
Our prison, HMP Northumberland, has been given a bit of a going over by the BBC’s Panorama, highlighting problems with psychoactive drugs, the abuses of telephones, and so on. I have been concerned for some time, and have raised it with ministers, that the nature of the large estate of the prison means that the number of officers cannot meet the needs. The prison staff do an amazing job, but we must ensure that the commitment by the Justice Secretary for 2,500 more staff filters to our patch.
I have received a number of emails about Syrian refugees and the Dubs amendment, which is our scheme to take unaccompanied children from Europe. I should clarify that the Dubs scheme has not been closed, contrary to some reports.
The UK committed to providing homes for up to 3,000 unaccompanied minors who are already safely in Europe before 2020. In 2016, over 900 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were transferred to the UK. This included more than 750 from France as part of the Calais camp clearance. The figures do not include children reuniting with family already in the UK.
Local authorities can only provide safe homes for up to 400 children this year. It is my view that our priority ought to be providing homes for children who are still in the region, rather than those who are already safe in France, a nation which could do more to provide sanctuary to those young people already within its borders.
As I have repeated time and again, there is a shortage of foster carers willing to care for children aged 11 to 18, which affects the majority of the children in question. It is vital that unaccompanied minors have stable, suitable, vetted homes, with people trained in how to care for youngsters facing challenging situations.
As a result of my calls for those who contacted me to give these young people a home, Northumberland County Council has received two new applications for foster care training, specifically related to Syrian children. That is excellent news, but if that is the uptake in one county, you can see why the UK is struggling to find homes. It cannot create safe homes for children from thin air. In order for the UK to take more child refugees, we need ordinary people to offer their homes.
If you believe you, or someone you know, could provide a safe, welcoming home to these youngsters, please get in touch with the council, or I can put you in touch with the fostering team. There is no upper age limit for fostering, and I know from those who have gone down that path, how rewarding it can be.
Finally, my fantastic caseworker in my Alnwick office is going on maternity leave and I am searching for cover for her. Details about the role and how to apply are on my website.