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All of the candidates standing in the General Election to represent Sutton Coldfield as our Member of Parliament have been sent a copy of the Bishops’ Letter on the General Election.

They have been invited to share with our parish their thoughts on the questions posed .

The second to reply is Councillor Mr Rob Pocock, who is standing as an Labour Candidate.

Particular issues raised by the Catholic Bishop of England and Wales

Leaving The European Union

There are over three million EU citizens living in the UK and about a million British citizens living elsewhere in the EU. They face an uncertain future. Where do your candidates stand on the future of EU citizens in the UK and reciprocal rights for UK citizens in the EU?

I believe the Brexit settlement should involve a very rapid agreement on the right of citizens to remain in the current countries in which they are settled. This to me, is a simple matter of human justice.

As our formal leaving of the EU approaches, new trade deals will be negotiated. It is important that in them human and workers’ rights, the environment, and the development of the world’s poorest countries are taken into account. What issues do your candidates think should be the top priority when forming new international partnerships?

Protection of employment rights and fair employment conditions in all agreements, to prevent the UK being dragged down into the mire of low wage, low rights employment. Secondly there should be strong environmental standards in the agreements, again to prevent the UK becoming enmeshed in trade and industry that creates pollution, damages ecosystems or endangers animal welfare.

Issues On Family And Life

In 2015 Parliament voted overwhelmingly to protect society’s most vulnerable people, by preventing the legalisation of assisted dying. Will your candidates uphold this decision? Will they support measures to promote the intrinsic value of life at every stage?

Legalisation of assisted dying is a dangerous pathway as the case of Dr Shipman has shown. The right of people to influence the direction of their ‘end of life care’ is the best way to approach the complex situation where the latest health and pharmaceutical technologies have the power to extend life beyond its natural span and beyond what nature intends.

The family is at the heart of the health and well-being of society, above all the well-being of children. What policies do your candidates propose for the flourishing of family life?

At root this rests on a culture of love and commitment to family and community life. My motto is ‘collective action for the common good’ which expressed both the loyalties of kith and kin, and the strength of collective social engagement bridging diverse communities and different faiths.

Criminal Justice

In a civilised society prisons should be places of redemption and rehabilitation. Our prison system faces unprecedented levels of violence and suicide. Do your candidates support urgent prison reform and better resourcing?

Prison reform is essential if we are to move away from punitive and towards restorative justice. The obsession with playing to the gallery of the ‘lock them up’ brigade is one of my objections to the policies of the right. Within prisons there are massive problems in mental health, addition, and moral and spiritual deficit. Better resourcing is not just a case of more money, but introducing the form of support that truly reaches these deep seated inner needs.

Migration

The UK has long been a place of welcome for people from other countries. There needs to be a clear policy on migration, which works for the economy and is respectful of the unity of marriage and family life. How will your candidates ensure that we operate a fair migration system for people wanting to enter and work in the UK?

Migration has to be managed and controlled, but not distorted by prejudice and racism, which has underlain much of the tub-thumping deployed by right wing forces and certain parts of the media. Wholesale and unregulated free movement of populations is not a pathway to economic and social stability but the use of selective immigration criteria and skills must not be used as a surreptitious disguise for bigotry and racism.

Refugees And Asylum Seekers

The UK is currently committed to resettling at least 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees by 2020. Will your candidates work to ensure that this commitment is kept and options to expand the scheme are considered? Will they promote a welcoming society and stand against hate crime?

The UK must play a stronger role in assisting and supporting genuine refugees and the distressed populations both from Syria and elsewhere, when war or famine create disasters forcing populations to flee their home lands. In such cases we must extend a welcoming and supportive hand. I am an active follower of ‘Hope Not Hate’ and the Love Thy Neighbour campaign where I feel the faith communities have given a great lead. Hate Crime must be fully recognised as a prosecutable offence and propagators firmly dealt with by the law of the land.

Freedom Of Religion And Belief

Across the world millions of people are persecuted because of their beliefs. How do your candidates intend to promote freedom of religion or belief for all, and what steps could be taken as a priority in UK foreign policy to protect religious minorities, including Christian minorities?

The protection of Christian minorities and other persecuted faiths and beliefs should be a cornerstone of UK foreign policy. We should make these standards a condition of trade and aid programmes and be prepared to sever diplomatic relations with states that offend against these standards.

Helping The World’s Poorest

Aid provided by the UK saves lives and helps people out of poverty. Will your candidates commit to protecting and enhancing the international development budget?

Yes I will commit to protect and enhance our overseas aid, and more specifically, to ensure our financial aid is firmly committed to supporting development and relief projects, and not disguised or manipulated into being in effect  a way of pursuing military or defence projects in Britain’s material or diplomatic interests, rather than for the relief of suffering, which is the worrying trend in the current government.

Caring For The Vulnerable

There are many in our communities who are financially vulnerable and struggle to make ends meet or in need of decent housing. Where do your candidates stand on helping the poorest, in terms of health, social care and housing? How will they support people with mental health problems? How will they finance these services?

This is a large set of priorities and they lie at the heart of Labour’s national manifesto, prioritising help and support for the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Mental health services have been one of the most neglected areas for NHS funding, and Labour has pledged to redress this, funded by our honest and open acceptance that those on the highest 5% of incomes should shoulder a higher tax rate to pay for it.

Education

Catholic schools make a positive contribution to society, serving over 845,000 children in England and Wales. Will your candidates support parental choice for the education of their children? Will they support Catholic schools as part of this choice for faith-based education?

Catholic schools have been integral to high quality education for many decades and are respected by all faiths for the standards the deliver. I will continue to support their place within the heart of our education system.

Modern Slavery

Modern slavery is a gross violation of human dignity affecting at least 14,000 people in the UK and millions more around the world. How will your candidate give political support to the fight against modern slavery and better assistance for its victims?

Modern slavery is a grievous stain on the face of the current economy and must be firmly eradicated. Regrettably the relaxation of regulations on employment, the black and ‘gig’ economy, contribute to a culture which at its extreme, has resulted in this appalling behaviour. By undermining employee rights, charging employees for employment tribunals, weakening trade unions and collective action, I believe the current government has give licence to a climate in which the excesses of modern slavery are the inevitable consequence. Our whole approach to the role of work and the employee, needs to be re-set against standards of fairness, equality and dignity in work and the value of work to society, rather than just a source of profit for the employer.

Response from: Rob Pocock, Labour Candidate, Sutton Coldfield. Date: 24 May 2017

Councillor Pocock’s Blog can be accessed here, and the Labour Party Manifesto can be accessed here.

Links are provided here for the letter from the Bishops, and the response from Dr Hanna Sophia, another of the local Candidates.

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