Lots of organisations now choose to do their lobbying by identical mass email, and the amount of emails of this nature has increased significantly recently. I sometimes receive as many as 200 such emails a day, which makes it very difficult to reply personally to every one. I have therefore adopted a method used by many other MPs, of making my views on these issues available on this dedicated page of my website for all to see.

If the campaign you are looking for does not yet have a response on here, please check back in a few days, as my response will be placed here as soon as possible after an email campaign has been launched.

Of course, if you have any personal comments or specific concerns that you would like to raise with me then please do not hesitate to get in touch, and I will endeavour to respond to these queries as soon as possible.

A few constituents have contacted me about asylum for torture survivors.

I have been assured that all members of staff who make decisions in asylum receive the same level of training. This includes a dedicated five-week foundation training programme that includes training on international and domestic law and safeguarding issues, which is supplemented by a mentoring programme with an experienced caseworker that can last up to 6 months. More specifically, within this course there are specific sections that detail torture claims involving Medico Legal Reports.

The course is explicit that decision makers must not make clinical judgements and must properly consider evidence and give appropriate weight to all evidence presented in order to reach an informed decision, only rejecting claims when there is a significant reason to do so. The course includes example medico-legal reports which the trainees must analyse and interpret as part of a number of practical exercises.  
Similarly following training, there is a robust quality assurance process in place involving technical specialists embedded within each team, senior caseworkers within each unit and a national internal quality audit team who ensure that all policies are complied with when decisions are made.

I should also highlight that Asylum Operations recently received funding from the Asylum Migration and Integration Fund to review and redevelop its training prospectus. As part of that work, Asylum Operations is liaising with a range of external stakeholders, including migrant charities and non-governmental organisations, to ensure that there is robust and effective safeguarding training in place.

The cases of those who have been abused who claim asylum in the UK must be processed quickly and efficiently, and I have been assured that the procedures are in place to do so.

Thank you for contacting me about the progress made in delivering the NHS's own plan for its future, the Five Year Forward View.

I know that the Government is committed to making the NHS the safest and best healthcare service in the world. The Forward View sets out how the NHS will meet the challenges of an ageing population head on and deliver further improvements for patients in key priorities - better cancer treatment, expanding GP access, and transforming mental health care.

It is encouraging that standards have risen in recent years - ten years ago just under half of patients waited more than 18 weeks for treatment, now only around one in ten do. This is testament to the outstanding work of NHS staff, supported by the Government's additional investment of £10 billion per year for our NHS.

It is important to ensure that those who are most in need of urgent treatment are prioritised and that routine treatment can be delivered quickly. Progress continues to be made and in 2016 the NHS carried out more than 1.9 million more operations compared to 2010.

To support the NHS in delivering this plan, there are now 11,600 more doctors and 13,400 more nurses on our wards to help reduce avoidable harm and ensure that patient care remains a priority.

Some constituents have contacted me about police animals.
Police support animals make a valuable contribution in the detection and prevention of crime and in maintaining public safety. I am extremely grateful for the bravery and skill shown by police dogs and their handlers on a daily basis. Attacks of any sort on police dogs or horses are unacceptable and should be dealt with severely under the criminal law.
Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, an attack on a police dog or other police support animal can be treated as causing unnecessary suffering to an animal, and the maximum penalty is 6 months' imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both. Indeed, the financial element of the penalty was raised in 2015 from the previous maximum fine of £20,000. Similarly, an attack on a police animal could be considered by the court as an aggravating factor, which could lead to a higher sentence. Under some circumstances assaults on support animals could be treated as criminal damage which would allow for penalties of up to 10 years' imprisonment.
Sentencing guidelines were updated in January 2017 and now include a new aggravating factor of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal being used in public service or as an assistance dog under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
Whilst I believe the current penalties are appropriate, I do agree that it is unpalatable to think of police animals as merely 'equipment', as the charge of criminal damage might suggest, and does not convey the respect and gratitude felt for the animals involved and their contribution to law enforcement and public safety. I am assured that work is underway across Government to explore whether there is more that the law should do to offer the most appropriate protections to police animals and all working animals.

A few people have contacted me about Tax Credits, and the two child limit.

I believe those in receipt of benefits and those supporting themselves solely through work should face the same sorts of financial considerations when making decisions about having more children. While it's important to support families, it's also important to balance this support with the many families who contribute to the system but won't benefit from financial support of this kind.

I want to assure people that this will only apply to new claims; existing claimants will remain unaffected. It will not affect families in the event of a multiple birth as long as there were previously fewer than two children in the household.

In addition, any child conceived as a result of rape will not be included in the cap. It is also the case that families with a third or subsequent children born after April 2017 who are disabled will still be entitled to disability benefits for these children.

I am currently looking into the details and issues raised by this campaign, and I will ensure a response is posted here as soon as possible.

Some constituents have emailed me with a campaign letter about neonicotinoid insecticides and bees.

In 2016 there were two separate sets of applications to use neonicotinoids on part of the country's oilseed rape crop, but in each case the Committee advised that the applications did not give sufficient assurances that the uses would be limited to those areas most in danger, nor that they would be controlled appropriately. Accordingly, Defra followed the advice of the Committee and has declined these applications.  They will act in the same way on any future application.
I entirely agree that bees and other pollinators play a vital role in the security of our food supply and the quality of our environment. I welcome the work the Government has done over the last few years to protect them, most recently through its National Pollinator Strategy.
Minimising risks from pesticides is just one component of the National Pollinator Strategy, whose purpose is to lay out plans to improve our understanding of the abundance, diversity and role of pollinators, and identify any additional actions that will be need to be taken. It also sets out new work to be done immediately, building on longer-term initiatives that were already under way.
Significant advances over the draft Strategy include raising the profile of existing initiatives to conserve and create good quality wild flower meadows, and minimising risks from pesticides. Organisations such as Network Rail, Highways Agency and the National Trust have agreed that railway embankments, motorway embankments and forests will be used to create bee- and insect-friendly habitats.
It also introduced the first ever wild pollinator and farm wildlife package, which makes more funding made available to farmers and landowners who take steps to protect pollinators. In its first year of its operation over half of the mid-tier applications to the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, which channels these payments, included this package, so I am confident it will make a real difference.
While we remain in the EU, the UK will continue to meet its obligations under EU law, including restrictions on neonicotinoids. As part of the preparation for exiting the EU, Ministers are considering future arrangements for pesticides. Their highest priority will continue to be the protection of people and the environment and, taking the advice of the independent Expert Committee on Pesticides, they will base these decisions on a careful scientific assessment of the risks.

The Conservative Party's 12 objectives amount to one big goal: a new, positive and constructive partnership between Britain and the European Union.

  1. Certainty: whenever we can, we will provide it. And the Government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament.
  2. Control of our own laws: we will bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain. Because we will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws.
  3. Strengthen the Union: we must strengthen the precious Union between the four nations of the United Kingdom. We will work very carefully to ensure that – as powers are repatriated back to Britain – the right powers are returned to Westminster and the right powers are passed to the devolved administrations. We will make sure that no new barriers to living and doing business within our Union are created.
  4. Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland: we will work to deliver a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland, while protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom’s immigration system.
  5. Control of immigration: the message from the public before and during the referendum campaign was clear: Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. We will continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain but there must be control.
  6. Rights for EU nationals in Britain, and British nationals in the EU: we want to guarantee these rights as early as we can. We have told other EU leaders that we can offer EU nationals here this certainty, as long as this is reciprocated for British citizens in EU countries.
  7. Protect workers’ rights: as we translate the body of European law into our domestic regulations, we will ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained.
  8. Free trade with European markets: as a priority we will pursue a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement with the European Union. This agreement should allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and EU member states. It cannot though mean membership of the EU’s Single Market. That would mean complying with European Court of Justice rulings, free movement and other EU rules and regulations without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. And because we will no longer be members of the Single Market, we will not be required to contribute huge sums to the EU budget. If we contribute to some specific EU programmes that we wish to participate in, it will be for us to decide.
  9. New trade agreements with other countries: it is time for Britain to become a global trading nation, striking trade agreements around the world. Through the Common Commercial Policy and the Common External Tariff, full Customs Union membership prevents us from doing this – but we do want to have a customs agreement with the EU and have an open mind on how we achieve this end.
  10. The best place for science and innovation: we will continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives.
  11. Co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism: we want our future relationship with the EU to include practical arrangements on matters of law enforcement and intelligence.
  12. A smooth, orderly Brexit: we want to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two year Article 50 process has concluded. From that point onwards, we expect a phased process of implementation. We will work to avoid a disruptive cliff-edge.

A few people have contacted me about NHS pay.

I believe strongly that the passion, commitment, and specialist knowledge our doctors, nurses and other NHS staff provide is what makes our NHS so special, and I recognise that staff morale is vital to maintaining staff commitment to services.

Delivering a safer 7-day NHS for patients is a priority for the Government and record numbers of frontline staff are now employed, with around 6,500 more nurses in the NHS compared to 2010.

I know that the independent pay review bodies, the NHS Pay Review Body and the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration apply their expertise and objectivity in making recommendations to Government.

The NHS is one of few public sector workforces that receive incremental pay. Around half of staff on Agenda for Change (AfC) contracts receive incremental pay of around 3 per cent on average. For example a typical qualified nurse (Band 5) can expect seven years of pay progression averaging around 3.8 per cent a year, in addition to annual pay awards.

To help support NHS staff in their duty of care, the Government has committed to increase NHS spending in England by £10 billion in real terms by 2020. By cutting bureaucracy and championing higher standards, Ministers have ensured this money goes on frontline care not administration.

I am proud the NHS has been rated the best healthcare system in the world, something that is only possible thanks to the dedication and hard work of all NHS staff, supported by a strong economy.

A few people have sent me identical emails about a bottle deposit system.

To support this important objective I am pleased the Government is developing a National Litter Strategy, advised by a Litter Strategy Advisory Group which includes representatives from local government, campaign groups and independent experts, as well as the packaging and fast-food industries.
This will complement existing work, including actions to address litter in the marine environment. It will promote action to reduce litter and littering on land, which should lead to a reduction in the amount of litter reaching the sea. The UK's Marine Strategy also sets out actions to tackle marine litter, and the Government is working closely with other countries sharing our seas.

In addition, the 5p charge on single use carrier bags has brought about an 80 per cent reduction in the use of plastic bags, which will also help to address the issue of litter in the marine environment.

I am told that the Department for the Environment assessed the costs and benefits of introducing a bottle deposit scheme in its 2008 Review of Packaging Deposits System for the UK. It found that although it might increase recycling rates for some materials and reduce litter, the running costs would be much higher than alternative measures. It was therefore decided not to take forward this option for the time being and instead to concentrate on other ways to increase recycling and address litter.

A few people have sent me emails about pavement parking.
I appreciate that vehicles parked on pavements can cause particular problems for people in wheelchairs or with visual impairments, as well as those with pushchairs.

I am particularly aware of the real inconvenience caused to those with impaired vision, following a blindfolded walk I did with the Guide Dogs charity in Glossop last year. Street furniture and cars parked on pavements caused me real problems when I was trying to negotiate my way around, and this gave me a new insight into life for those with a sight problem.

I am assured that improving access for disabled people is a key priority for the Government. During 2016, the Department for Transport (DfT) worked with a range of stakeholders to examine the legal and financial implications of an alternative pavement parking regime, and the likely impacts on local authorities. This included a roundtable between Ministers and key stakeholders, to help inform the DfT's evidence base on this issue. I am told that a key issue identified was the process for putting in place Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) for the enforcement of pavement parking. The DfT is therefore now considering how best to address the general improvement of the TRO-making process and will provide further information once this is available.

More broadly, the Conservatives in Government have already taken steps to make it easier for councils to tackle pavement parking. While there is an historic ban on pavement parking throughout London, elsewhere any local authority that has taken up civil enforcement powers may introduce a ban on pavement parking where it sees fit. In 2011, Conservative Ministers gave all councils authorisation to use a sign banning parking on the pavement, removing the need to ask Whitehall first for permission.

Ministers have written to councils on several occasions, encouraging them to use their available powers to prevent parking on the pavement where it is a problem. The Department has also published guidance for traffic authorities, highlighting the difficulties that pavement parking causes for pedestrians and detailing ways that it can be prevented.

Some people have contacted me about loneliness.

I believe that we all have a responsibility at an individual, family, and community level to identify people with care needs such as loneliness, and provide support to improve their health and wellbeing. There is no single solution that can tackle loneliness and I think that it is useful to have a range of solutions.
Local commissioners are responsible for ensuring that health services match the needs of the population. Since 2012, local authorities have been expected to identify areas where older people suffer most acutely from loneliness to allow them to tackle the growing problem of social isolation and its harmful effects.
The Department of Health has also supported the development of a 'digital toolkit' for local commissioners, developed by the Campaign to End Loneliness, to support them in understanding and commissioning services to tackle loneliness and social isolation in their communities.
The Government also funded the Social Care Institute for Excellence to develop and run the Prevention Library, which includes examples of how to prevent, reduce or delay people's care and support needs from deteriorating. Local authorities can learn from emerging practice, and exchange ideas and experience of the impact that information, advice and befriending services can have on tackling loneliness.
I am aware that that the Government recognises the current pressures facing social care in local areas. So the Government is giving local authorities greater funding and flexibility so that they will have access to up to an additional £3.5 billion by 2020, providing a real terms increase in funding by the end of this Parliament.

A few constituents have sent me campaign emails about animal testing and Early Day Motion (EDM) 400.

I was unable to attend the debate in the House of Commons on 30 March but I understand it was a valuable opportunity to discuss these issues. A transcript of the debate is available to read here
The debate focused on a recent report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and in particular on the issues of sentencing for animal cruelty offences and pet sales by third parties.
The Government responded to the Committee's recommendations in full, noting the conclusions of its recent consultation on introducing a new Animal Activities License. Under its proposals, anyone breeding and selling three litters or more within twelve months will need to be licensed by their local authority, as will anyone breeding commercially. This should take the number of people in England who need a licence from 600 to around 5,000.
I am concerned that a ban in third-party sales would be extremely difficult to enforce. It would require local authorities, already under pressure to enforce licensing requirements, to expend further resources verifying that all sales to end customers were being handled directly by the breeder. There is also concern that such a ban would drive sales onto the black market, which would be worse for the animals involved.
When sentencing in cases of animal cruelty the courts must decide what penalty should apply in each case, taking into account its circumstances and the Sentencing Council's guidelines. Currently, in addition to the maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine, the courts can also disqualify offenders from keeping animals. While this issue is kept under review, recent experience does not suggest that the courts are finding their current sentencing powers inadequate.

I have been contacted by some constituents concerned about pregnancy discrimination.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is unlawful and wholly unacceptable. I am therefore encouraged that the Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have worked together to produce the largest independent research project of its kind to better understand this issue.

It was disappointing to see that around one in eight women reported feeling as though they had to leave work because of pregnancy or maternity leave. However, the report did show that the vast majority of employers believe it is important to support pregnant women and women on maternity leave. It is also worth noting that four in five mothers said their employer supported them during their pregnancy, and three in four of those returning to work said their needs as a new mother were met.  
I am confident that the Government is able to build on this. There are plans in place to work with a range of partners to promote opportunities for women, including pregnant women and new mothers. This will ensure that female talent is recognised, while also making more employers aware of their legal obligations.

On the issue of employment tribunals, the Ministry of Justice has announced a review of the introduction of fees for tribunals. This is now well under way, and will report later in the year. Following this, I will be interested to see whether the current fees or the remission scheme should be adjusted.

I am encouraged that the Government has made a clear commitment to social justice and equality for all at the heart of its mission. This work will continue throughout this Parliament, and I look forward to doing my part to support it.

Some people have sent me identical campaign emails about the badger cull. Unfortunately I am unable to attend the debate on Monday 27 March. It is the case, however, that as it is a Westminster Hall debate it will have no effect on the law.

I was supportive of the pilot culls, even though I withstood a lot of pressure locally over that position - including threats against my home. I have always tried to cast my vote on this subject in the House of Commons based on scientific advice and at that time, advice was that the pilot culls needed to be tried. I thus supported the culls.

However, following the report on the pilot culls, there was a further debate in the House about the badger cull. I was at that stage, and remain today, concerned about the effectiveness of the culls as the study carried out on them did not give a glowing report.  

I know that Bovine TB is a serious disease with greater incidence in England than all the other EU member states combined. It increased nine-fold between 1997 and 2010 and caused 26,602 cattle to be slaughtered in 2013 alone. The Government remains committed to using all available means to address it and is pursuing a comprehensive Strategy for England to become TB free by 2038: this involves a wide range of tools, and three key components.  

The Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme is supporting badger vaccination projects in parts of the country that border the high-risk areas. This ‘edge area’ covers counties in the middle of the country, including parts of Derbyshire, which are most at risk from the disease spreading from the West Midlands. Vaccinating healthy badgers is intended to create a buffer zone to help prevent the spread of TB to new areas of the country where the incidence of TB is low.  This I warmly welcome and hope that it will prevent any culls from having to take place in these areas in future.

International experience shows that to eradicate bovine TB, the problem must be tackled in both cattle and in any significant wildlife sources. In 2013, Professor Charles Godfray’s independent review of the science, which brought together leading UK experts, concluded that TB spreads within and between populations of badgers and cattle and that spread from badgers to cattle is an important cause of herd breakdowns in high-incidence areas. This is why badger control in those areas of England where the disease is rife is a vital part of any eradication strategy.

As a result of the difficult decisions which have been taken, the Low Risk Area, covering over half of England, is on track to achieve officially TB-free status by the end of 2019. This would be the first time anywhere in England has enjoyed this status.

The Chief Veterinary Officer’s current advice is that the results show that industry-led badger control can deliver the level of effectiveness required to be confident of achieving disease control benefits. Last year, as part of the comprehensive strategy, seven additional licences for badger control have been granted for parts of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. This is in line with the CVO’s advice on what is needed to realise disease control benefits at a regional level.

Bearing down on the disease by tightening and extending cattle movement controls, as well as improving farm biosecurity, is a key part of the strategy. All cattle herds are regularly tested for TB, with those in high-risk areas tested annually or more often and any cattle that test positive slaughtered. This Spring the Government introduced further controls, including compulsory testing of cattle moved into the Low Risk Area of England from areas where cattle herds are tested annually (post-movement testing) and more rigorous testing of TB affected herds in the High Risk Area. The Government is now consulting on further measures, including more sensitive skin tests for herds in the High Risk Area and increased surveillance testing - to six month intervals - for all herds in the Edge Area.

The Government is continuing to promote risk-based trading to reduce the risk of spreading the disease associated with cattle movements and is working closely with farmers and others to deliver improved farm biosecurity, including a new TB Hub to provide advice to farmers on the actions they can take to protect their herds. Other initiatives due to be launched include an industry-led cattle health accreditation scheme for TB and training for vets to help them better advise their clients on TB biosecurity.

While badger vaccination cannot cure sick animals, the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS) supports vaccination projects in the Edge Area bordering the area where TB is most prevalent. The four-year package of support included funding of up to 50 per cent of costs, in addition to free advice from experts, free loans of equipment and free vaccine supply.

The first year of the six badger vaccination projects funded under BEVS was completed in 2015. However, the ongoing shortage of BCG vaccine and the need to prioritise available stocks for humans is impacting on the supply for badger vaccination. Following the advice of Public Health England, the Government took the decision to suspend attempts to source BCG vaccine for badger vaccination projects until the supply situation is resolved. This follows the Welsh Government’s decision to do the same.

I remain concerned about this strategy and whilst I am a reluctant supporter of culls, given that scientific advice appears to marginally support their use, I remain sceptical about their effectiveness as a means of stopping the disease. I thus continue to follow the debate with interest and will consider all evidence carefully should this come to a vote in the House of Commons again.

A few people have written to me about ancient woodland.
I agree that ancient woodland is a precious habitat, and would note that the National Planning Policy Framework already contains protections for it. It states that planning permission should be refused for development that would result in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and aged or veteran trees elsewhere. This can only be overridden if the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss.

The recent Housing White Paper went further, announcing a proposal to clarify planning policy on ancient woodland and aged or veteran trees, upgrading their protection to the same level as the green belt. I have been assured that Ministers will consider everyone's views and develop this further.
I know from conversations with Ministers that they want to protect and enhance our woodland habitats. Over 11 million trees were planted in the last Parliament and there is a pledge to plant a further 11 million in this one. England's woodland cover is now expanding at a rate that has not been seen since the fourteenth century.

A few people have contacted me about the protection of pubs from change of use and demolition.
Permitted development rights allow the change of use of public houses to shops and supermarkets without the need for a planning application. Planning regulations enable councils to remove these permitted development rights to protect local assets.
When a pub is listed as an Asset of Community Value, permitted development rights are removed and a planning application is required for its change of use or demolition. This provides an opportunity for local people to comment and enables the local planning authority to determine the application in accordance with its local plan, any neighbourhood plan and national policy. Over 1,280 pubs are now Assets of Community Value.
The local planning authority may also take the listing into account as a material consideration when determining any planning application.
The Government has launched a new £1.5 million Pub Loan Fund to enable local communities to take control of pubs at risk of closure. Local people will be able to apply for small loans to help restore their pub, to help pay for feasibility work or lawyers' fees.

Some local residents have contacted me about assistance dog owners and taxis.
I know that taxis and private hire vehicles (PHV) are essential for many disabled people, and drivers are required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled passengers. The Equality Act 2010 places duties on taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) drivers to carry assistance dogs at no additional charge. The Department for Transport (DfT) has issued guidance to the licensed trade on the provisions in the Equality Act that require taxis and private hire vehicles to carry guide and other assistance dogs.
Failure to comply with this requirement can result in prosecution and a fine on conviction of up to £1,000. I am told that a driver was recently fined £1,546, including legal costs, for refusing access to a guide dog. I think this sends a strong message right across the industry, and I hope my ministerial colleagues will draw it to the attention of licensing authorities.

I was made aware of such incidences in the High Peak and similar examples in retail outlets and I made it very clear at the time in the local press that refusals of admittance for guide dogs was contrary to the law.
Although there is no legal requirement for taxi and private hire vehicle drivers to undertake disability awareness training, the Department for Transport's Best Practice Guidance on taxi and private hire vehicle licensing recommends that local licensing authorities to work with the industry in their area to improve drivers' awareness of the needs of disabled people. This includes encouraging their drivers to undertake disability awareness training, and is something that I welcome.

Some constituents have sent me identical campaign emails about cycle safety.

I am pleased to be able to say that the number of cyclists killed on our roads fell to its lowest level on record in 2015. However, we can never be complacent. I have been assured that Ministers remain fully committed to creating a safe environment for all road users, and in particular vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. Sections 204 - 225 of the Highway Code aims to educate and remind drivers of the needs of more vulnerable road users, including both cyclists and pedestrians.

Revised Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions (TSRGD) came into force in April 2016, which contains a number of measures designed to improve the safety of cyclists on the road, including low level cycle signals, a new type of crossing and changes to advanced stop lines. TSRGD also includes changes that make it easier for local authorities to introduce 20mph speed limits in residential areas.

The Department for Transport is also working on wider cyclist safety in other ways, including changes to vehicle design, publicity, campaigns, as well as mandatory training for HGV drivers and optional training for cyclists.

I understand that the Department for Transport is looking at the issues raised in the Turning the Corner campaign, and that they are currently determining the best way forward.

A few people have sent me campaign emails about the recent Israeli law concerning people who have publicly called for a boycott of Israel and/or settlements.

It is my understanding that on 6 March 2017, the Israeli Parliament passed a law giving authority to deny entry to Israel to foreign nationals who have publicly called for a boycott of Israel and/or settlements, or who belong to an organisation which has called for a boycott. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has updated its travel advice on Israel accordingly. It is the case that Israel, like every other country, is ultimately responsible for determining its own rules on immigration and on visits.

I understand, however, that the Government is seeking urgent clarification from the Israeli authorities as to what the application of this new policy might be, and I will be following closely how this law will be applied, and what diplomatic pressure can be exerted to ensure that this does not unduly affect British citizens.

A few people have sent me campaign emails about heart disease and genetic testing.
The UK and the NHS are world leaders in genomic research, and the Government is committed to ensuring people across the country have access to the most advanced treatments.
I am encouraged that NHS genetic testing is already available for many inherited cardiac conditions, and the Department of Health is working to increase the accessibility of these services across the country. Full details of availability are published by the UK Genetic Testing Network (UKGTN) at: www.ukgtn.nhs.uk.
People may be aware of the '100,000 Genomes Project', launched in 2014, which aims to sequence 100,000 whole human genomes from 70,000 patients by the end of 2018. This £300 million project seeks to transform how rare diseases and cancers are diagnosed and treated and will establish a world-leading genomics service within the NHS.
The project aims to increase consent rates amongst patients and to train health professionals across the sector in the application of genomics for improved treatment and patient care. The UK will become the first country in the world to sequence human genomes on this scale and this will stimulate further development and investment in genetic medicine moving forward.
The Government's commitment to genomics was further underlined through an additional £250 million investment pledge by the Department of Health in January 2016. This will ensure the continued role of Genomics England in delivering the service beyond the life of the project and ensure that NHS patients continue to benefit from the prospect of better diagnosis and better treatments.
Alongside this, NHS England and Public Health England are working to raise the profile of inherited heart conditions such as familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) and break down the barriers to genetic testing. An FH steering group has been launched which has established FH specialist nurses in many areas of England. This aims to increase FH cascade testing so that more affected families can be identified. In addition, a cholesterol test is included as part of an NHS Health Check which alerts practitioners to consider the possibility of FH in line with guidance published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Some constituents have sent me copies of a campaign email about the status of EU Nationals in the UK.
Securing the status of EU citizens, as well as that of British nationals in the EU, is a priority as soon as Article 50 is triggered and the negotiations have begun. It goes without saying that EU nationals make an invaluable contribution to our economy, our society and our daily lives. I can assure you that there has been no change in their status in the UK.

The discussions that the Government has with the European Union to agree the arrangements for the UK's exit will undoubtedly reflect the immense contribution made by EU citizens to our economy, our NHS and our schools, and in so many other ways.

The Prime Minister has been clear that she wants to protect the status of EU nationals already living here, and the only circumstances in which that wouldn't be possible is if British citizens' rights in European member states were not protected in return.

I understand people may be concerned about how long this is taking to resolve, but the Government remains committed to providing reassurance to EU nationals here and UK nationals in the EU as a priority once Article 50 has been triggered. Some EU countries have insisted that there can be 'no negotiation before notification', and therefore that nothing can be settled until Article 50 is triggered.

It is in the best interests of all for this issue to be reconciled as quickly as possible.  Until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force.

I have had a number of constituents contact me about parliamentary approval of the final terms for leaving the EU.

In the run up to the debates on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, I took the view that Parliament needed a say on the country's withdrawal from the EU. The Government agreed and promised that there would be frequent reports to Parliament during the negotiations - as it has already provided in the run up to the negotiations.

I was also glad to learn that the final deal would be put to a vote in the House of Commons and the House of Lords before it is concluded. Parliament will be able to accept the deal or not. I expect this vote to take place before the European Parliament votes on the agreement. The Government has also made clear that there will be a significant amount of legislation passing through Parliament during the process of exiting the EU. Parliament will be able to debate, scrutinise and vote on these important decisions. This means that MPs will have their say at every stage.

I do not believe, however, that giving Parliament the power to send Britain back to the negotiating table would be helpful. It would undermine the country's negotiating position and deliver a worse deal. For these reasons, I did not believe that new clause 99 or the House of Lords amendment was necessary, and I did not support them.

Once Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is invoked, there is a two year period in which to agree a withdrawal deal. EU law is clear that if a withdrawal agreement is not reached by the end of this period, the withdrawing country will simply leave the EU without any deal.

It is also not in the hands of the UK Government to unilaterally extend the negotiating period. EU law states that this period can only be extended with the unanimous agreement of the remaining member states of the EU. As such, I did not believe that new clause 54 provided any further benefit to the UK and it may well not be in the gift of the Government to fulfil it. As such, I did not support putting it into law.

A few constituents have contacted me about local bus services.

In many areas, including across the High Peak, buses are essential. They enable people to get to work, to school, to the doctor's or to hospital, and can drastically improve quality of life. The Government has a role to play in supporting local bus services, and continued investment in buses is essential.

In the 2015 Spending Review, the Government committed to protecting the Bus Service Operator's Grant. This amounted to approximately £250 million last year, with around £40 million of this paid directly to English local authorities to help deliver bus services. This central funding has also been ring-fenced this financial year. The Government also funds almost £1 billion of local authority spending on concessionary bus passes every year, which the Government is committed to maintaining in this Parliament.

Bus projects and infrastructure are also important, so I am pleased that around £200 million is expected to be spent on bus infrastructure schemes up to 2020. This builds on the work of the Coalition Government, which allocated around £300 million for major bus projects.

Ministers are also taking forward the Bus Services Bill, to provide local authorities with the means to improve local bus services. Local authorities will be able to set required standards of service with bus providers, including ticketing and the frequencies of services. It will also give powers to franchise services to combined authorities with directly elected Mayors to allow them to take control of their services, as Transport for London does in London.

Some concern has been raised about Clause 21 of the Bill, which prohibits a relevant local authority from forming a company for the purposes of providing a local bus service. Existing municipal bus companies are not, however, affected by this clause.

This was discussed at both second reading and in committee in the House of Lords. The Government's position is that authorities, with the knowledge of the local area and needs, and control over other aspects such as local roads and parking policies, are well placed to help shape and influence services that are provided, with private-sector bus operators using their operational experience to deliver services on the road. The Government believes that the commissioning and provision of bus services should be kept separate, which will help ensure the strengths of the private sector are retained.

I have been forwarded the latest campaign email from 38 Degrees, about 21st Century Fox's proposed purchase of Sky.

As people may be aware, Sky has stated that it received an approach from 21st Century Fox to acquire the 61 per cent share of Sky that it does not yet already own.

Under the powers set out in the Enterprise Act 2002, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has a quasi-judicial role that allows her to intervene on the basis of specified media public interest considerations. These considerations refer to the need for there to be a sufficient plurality of media ownership, for the availability of a wide range of high-quality broadcasting and for those with control of media enterprises to have a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards objectives.

On 3 March 2017 the European Commission confirmed that it had received formal notification of the proposed merger, following which the Secretary of State wrote to the parties informing them that she is minded to intervene on two public interest grounds - media plurality and commitment to broadcasting standards objectives.

This letter does not constitute a final decision. The parties have been invited to make further representations, following which the Secretary of State will come to a final decision on whether to intervene and will aim to do so - in line with guidance - within ten working days of the merger being formally notified.

A few people have contacted me about abortion, and Diana Johnson's Private Member's Bill

I understand what an important issue this is for many people in the constituency. This is an incredibly delicate area of law and, regardless of the views of individual MPs, one which is treated with the utmost rigour.

The approach to abortion in the UK is set out in the Abortion Act 1967 and this remains unchanged.  Abortion legislation can only be changed by Parliament. It is accepted Parliamentary practice that proposals for changes in the law on abortion come from backbench members and that decisions are made on the basis of free votes.
I am aware that an update to the procedures that detail the conditions that independent sector abortion clinics must adhere to was published in 2014 to take into account a number of regulatory changes and to bring the requirements in line with current policies and guidance.

The Department of Health issued guidance for doctors on how to comply with the Act in 2014. This makes clear that abortion on the grounds of gender alone is unlawful and further sets out how the law is interpreted by the Department of Health. Full details can be found online here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-doctors-on-compliance-with-the-abortion-act

The Abortion Act sets out that two doctors must certify that in their opinion, which must be formed in good faith, a request for an abortion meets at least one and the same ground set out in the Act.  I am encouraged that the Department of Health has taken the view that registered medical practitioners should be able to show how they have considered the particular facts and circumstances of a case when forming their opinion. 

Some constituents have sent me campaign emails about beer duty and business rates.

I recognise the important contribution that pubs make to their local communities, and I welcome the Government's efforts to support this through the taxation system.

At the 2017 Spring Budget, tax on beer will only increase by RPI inflation this year, in line with previous forecasts. This follows the removal of the beer duty escalator in 2013 and the unprecedented freeze in beer duty.

The Scottish whisky industry is a national success story, with exports of over £4 billion per year making up a fifth of UK food and drink exports. Local cider breweries also play a similarly vital role supporting rural communities. I am therefore heartened to see that duty on spirits and most ciders has also be frozen.

I am also encouraged by the introduction of a £1,000 discount on business rates bills in 2017 for all pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000. This applies to 90 per cent of pubs and is in recognition of the valuable service they provide to our communities. Additionally, at the Budget the Chancellor also announced a £300 million fund for local authorities to deliver discretionary relief to target individual hard cases in their local areas.

Some contituents have contacted me about hunting.

I do appreciate the strong feelings which the hunting issue generates on both sides, which is why it is important that any solution is driven by all the available evidence.

It is the case that the Hunting Act never banned hunting entirely as it contains exemptions under which dogs can be used for certain purposes.  The Conservative Government pledged at the last election to revisit the Hunting Act and proposed a small number of amendments which sought to address inconsistencies in the existing Act, improve animal welfare and help farmers. I must stress firmly that they were not a repeal of the Hunting Act; the use of dogs to pursue and kill wild mammals would remain a criminal offence, as would hare coursing. 95% of those cases successfully prosecuted under the existing Act would still be capable of being prosecuted under the Act, even if the law was amended as proposed.

I have received several campaign emails me about Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

Around £50 billion of public money a year is spent to support people with disabilities and health conditions. Spending on disability benefits has risen by over £3 billion in real terms since 2010, and will remain higher in each year to 2020 than in 2010. PIP is an important part of this. It has been designed to focus more support on people who have higher costs associated with their condition. Entitlement is not based on what condition a person has, but on how their condition affects their ability to live an independent life.

Recent legal judgments have interpreted the assessment criteria for PIP in ways which are different from what was originally intended when the Coalition Government introduced the system. For example, one ruling held that needing support to take medication and monitor a health condition should be scored in the same way as support to manage therapy, such as dialysis, which takes place in the home. A second ruling held that a person who cannot make a journey without assistance because of psychological distress should be scored in the same way as a person whose need for assistance results from difficulties in navigating, for example if they are blind. The Government says it is clarifying the criteria to ensure PIP maintains its original policy objectives and support continues to be focused on those most in need.

I am told this will not result in any claimants seeing a reduction in the amount of PIP previously awarded by the Department for Work and Pensions, and the intention is not to make any new savings. These amendments are solely intended to reiterate the original policy intent following legal judgments in which the Tribunals commented that the existing regulations were not completely clear.

PIP has been designed to better reflect our modern understanding of disability, including giving mental health conditions the same recognition as physical ones. Over two thirds of PIP recipients with a mental health condition receive the enhanced daily living component, compared with 22 per cent who used to receive the higher rate under Disability Living Allowance. I have been assured that PIP claimants with mental health conditions will continue to be properly supported after these amendments have been made. The changes are simply about ensuring that the assessment criteria properly reflect the barriers to independence a claimant faces, and the costs they might incur as a result.

PIP is an important source of support for many disabled people, and these changes will ensure those people continue to be supported.

Some people have sent me campaign emails about the breeding and sale of pets.
Everyone who owns or is looking for a pet will want to know it has had the very best start to life. I entirely share the concerns that for thousands of animals born each year to irresponsible breeders, their first weeks can be spent in cramped and squalid conditions without the care and attention they need.
I am therefore pleased to say that the Government is cracking down on the worst offenders by strengthening the licensing system and giving councils the power they need to take action.
These plans will ban sales of puppies or kittens at too young an age, which in both cases will be less than eight weeks. It will also require anyone breeding and selling three or more litters of puppies a year to apply for a formal licence. Irresponsible breeders who break these rules face an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in prison.
They will introduce a single 'animal activities licence' covering pet shops, boarding houses and riding stables, to improve the process and make enforcement easier. Pet shops will also need to give customers written information about the animals they buy, with details of the five welfare needs owners must meet around environment, diet, behaviour, housing and freedom from pain. This is particularly important when buying exotic pets, which can have very specific needs.
With more and more pet sales now taking place on the internet, this market should be subject to the same strict licensing criteria as other breeders and pet shops. Anyone trading commercially in pets online will therefore need to be properly licensed, to help make reputable sellers easily accessible to prospective buyers.

A few constituents have sent me identical campaign emails about EDM 948 and changes to the health education system.
Nurses, midwives and allied health professionals (AHPs) are vital to our NHS, and so everybody with the qualifications and commitment to undertake these degrees should have the chance to do so. The current system prevents this, as the cost of training nurses, midwives and AHPs is largely borne by the NHS. This has effectively meant that there has been an artificial cap on the numbers in training, limited to only those numbers needed as a minimum to meet NHS workforce requirements in line with Health Education England's annual workforce plan.
These limits currently prevent two in every three people who want to be a nurse from doing so. The Government is committed to increasing the number of training places for home-grown nurses, midwives and allied health professionals, with those in training getting around 25 per cent more financial support while they study. This is a huge advantage to the NHS, which has had to rely on expensive agency nurses and staff from overseas in order to compensate for a lack of UK-trained professionals.
In order to deliver more nurses and health professionals for the NHS, a better funding system for health students and a more sustainable model for universities, it is necessary to move health students' grants and bursaries onto the standard student support system - in line with all other degrees. This will not affect existing students. This change will be introduced for new students only from August this year.
The Government recognises that nursing students in particular often have unique circumstances. Following a consultation on these reforms, the Government will be providing extra funding to help cover additional expenses like travel and more support for students with children. Ministers will work with the Royal College of Nursing, hospitals and other partners in taking this forward.

These changes will also create up to 10,000 more training places by the end of this Parliament, and the Government is also running a campaign to get experienced nurses back to work.

I have received several copies of a standard campaign email about the Green Investment Bank (GIB).

First of all, I am proud of the work done by the Government to support green infrastructure through the GIB. The GIB has proven to be a pioneering venture into sustainable investment, and has committed £2.6 billion of capital to 79 green infrastructure projects across the UK since its launch.

However, as the Independent Chairman of the Bank, Lord Smith, has said, attracting new investors is vital if the GIB is to fund its ambitious plans to double the size of its business, expand into new parts of the green economy and deliver more environmental benefits. Indeed, the Government has always been clear that the GIB was designed with a view to a possible transfer to the private sector. The company was designed to leverage the maximum amount of private capital into green sectors for the minimum amount of public money. Moving the company into private ownership is a natural development that further delivers this aim.

It is with this in mind that plans to explore the privatisation of the Bank were announced in 2013. Since then, the Government and GIB have continued to work together to facilitate the introduction of private capital into the bank, and a two stage auction process was formally launched in March 2016.

While the detail of the sale process is commercially confidential, I have been assured that the Government has no interest in selling to an asset stripper. Potential investors have been asked to confirm their commitment to GIB's green values and investment principles, and how they propose to protect them, as part of their bids for the company. In addition, the Government has approved the creation of a special share, held by independent trustees, to protect GIB's green purposes in future.

A few people have sent me campaign emails about the plight of the elephant and the ivory trade.

I am seriously concerned about the effect of illegal poaching and ivory trafficking on the long-term prospects for the survival of the elephant. I am heartened, however, by how seriously the Government takes this issue.

Just how seriously was demonstrated when it held the London Conference on Wildlife Trafficking. Over 40 countries adopted the London Declaration in an effort to save iconic species, including elephants, from being poached to the brink of extinction. The Buckingham Palace Declaration followed with a range of commitments to help the private sector tackle this illegal trade.

The UK made available £13 million for various projects through the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, and is now doubling that funding. It is also training rangers in Gabon, home of Africa's largest population of forest elephants, to combat poaching.

UK law does not permit trade in raw ivory tusks of any age, and I am pleased that Ministers are pressing for this approach to be taken internationally. The Government has also announced plans to ban sales of modern-day ivory, which will put the UK's rules on ivory sales among the toughest in the world. This is an important step as we press for a complete ban and I am delighted that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has adopted a proposal calling for the closure of all domestic ivory markets.

Ministers also recognise the growing threats to the Asian elephant from the illegal trade in live animals, fed by demand from the tourist and entertainment industries. The UK has been working through CITES to increase protections worldwide.

Get Involved

Email Newsletter Signup


Follow Me