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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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 the latest 38 degrees email regarding a debate to be held on Monday 27th February.
The funding of health and social care is - as the pre-written email says - crucial, however it is important to point out that the debate is a general debate that is unlikely to lead to a vote. Unfortunately I am tied up on Select Committee business on Monday, so will not be able to attend, however this should not be taken as a reflection of the importance of the issue in my priorities. The Select Committee business was scheduled long before the debate.  
I raised the issue of funding long-term social care in my newspaper column several weeks ago, when I said that we needed to look at ways it could be funded and I was interested in people's views on possible solutions. My view is that we should revisit our commitment to international aid and ask ourselves whether we can afford to maintain the present 0.7% commitment. This could be unpopular and possibly controversial, however I think with social care costs escalating , we have to look at all ways of funding it.
I do know that the Government recognises the current pressures facing local areas, so the Government is giving local authorities additional funding and flexibility to enable them to have access to an additional £3.5 billion by 2020, providing a real terms increase in funding by the end of this Parliament.  On 15 December last year, the Government announced greater flexibility over the use of the council tax social care precept, so that local authorities can choose to raise extra money. Savings from the New Homes Bonus, totalling £240 million, will be retained by councils for social care. Taken together, this means almost an additional £900 million will be made available over the next two years.
Money alone will not fix the problem and the Government is clear that far-reaching reform is needed to encourage high standards across the whole country. Some councils are already providing high quality social care within their existing budgets, showing that reform can be achieved and half of all delayed discharges from hospital to home arise in just 24 local authorities. The Communities Secretary, Health Secretary and others across Government will work to ensure that long-term we have a sustainable system of social care for everyone that needs it.
Given the interest in this matter, I am sure it will be something that will come up at one of my new Friday Round Tables, and I hope that some of the senders of the 38 degrees emails will be able to attend.

A few people have contacted me about forthcoming changes to bereavement benefits.

Families who lose a loved one must be supported through what will often be one of the hardest periods in their lives. Bereavement can often lead to immediate costs for the family left behind, and it is important to ensure those costs are not unmanageable.

From April 2017, the current sources of support, such as Bereavement Payments, Bereavement Allowance and Widowed Parent's Allowance, will be replaced by a new Bereavement Support Payment (BSP). This will consist of an initial higher payment followed by a series of smaller monthly payments. I think it is right that the new system concentrates on helping with the additional and more immediate costs of bereavement, and shifts the focus away from replacing the deceased spouse's earnings. Importantly, the initial lump sums will be higher under the new benefit. This focuses support on the early stage of bereavement and ensures the immediate costs, which will often have been completely unexpected, are manageable.

The BSP will be much simpler and fairer than the current system, meaning claimants will better understand their entitlements and be able to plan their finances with more certainty. Unlike some of the old sources of support, the BSP will be non-taxable and non-means tested and will not be counted as income when calculating entitlement to other benefits.

After listening to representations from the Social Security Advisory Committee and third party organisations supporting bereaved families, the Government has also decided to change its original proposals so that the BSP will be paid for 18 months instead of 12. However, I do not believe bereavement benefits should be a longer-term source of support. After that initial 18 month period, there are other more appropriate welfare benefits available for those who qualify.

I understand the view that the BSP should be payable to cohabiting unmarried couples, but it has always been a principle of the National Insurance system that derived rights to benefits are based on legal marriage or civil partnership. Allowing entitlement to be derived through cohabitation as well as marriage would add a number of complexities, and proving cohabitation could be a lengthy and distressing process.

Some constituents have sent me a further campaign emails about plastic microbeads. These are very similar in content to a previous campaign email on the subject.
I do understand and share the concerns about the impact these ingredients can have on the marine environment and fish. So I am pleased that, following work with the industry to achieve a voluntary phase-out, the Government has announced plans to ban them from cosmetic products completely.
The Government has launched a consultation on proposals to ban the sale and manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products containing harmful microbeads. This consultation will run until 28 February. It will also gather evidence on the environmental impacts of microbeads found elsewhere, such as in household and industrial cleaning products, and consider what more can be done in future to tackle other plastics, such as microfibers, that also enter the marine environment.
Clearly there is an international dimension to this issue so I am also pleased that the UK, along with several of our neighbours, is party to an international organisation known as the Oslo and Paris Convention for the Protection of the North East Atlantic. In 2014 its members agreed a regional action plan to address marine litter, one of its most important objectives. The plan includes international action on microplastics.
I understand that manufacturers are exploring natural alternatives to plastic microbeads, including nut shells, salt and sugar. These have the same exfoliating properties but do not threaten the environment, so the products containing them should perform just as well.

Some constituents have emailed me about Lord Shinkwin's Private Members' Bill.
I appreciate that abortion remains a highly sensitive area of public policy and on which there are a range of strongly held views.  In 1990, on a free vote, Parliament voted to amend the Abortion Act 1967 to permit termination of pregnancy where two medical practitioners form the same opinion in good faith that "there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped."  These are known as ground E abortions and can be performed at any gestation in the pregnancy.
Not every pregnancy goes to plan and fetal abnormalities of varying degree of severity occur.  Women need support and information to reach an informed decision about how to proceed. I recognise that these decisions are extremely difficult and painful for parents.  Health professionals must adopt a supportive and non-judgmental approach regardless of whether the decision is to terminate or continue the pregnancy.
Lord Shinkwin's Bill would have the effect that abortions for fetal abnormality could no longer be performed for this reason specifically.  Women with a pregnancy where a fetal abnormality is diagnosed could however still seek a termination for another reason within the law. However, this would not be the case for women over 24 weeks pregnant unless the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the health of the pregnant women.  This seems to me to be a sensible change.

A few people have emailed me about personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) and sex and relationships education (SRE) being included in the Children and Social Work Bill.
Schools should be providing all young people with a curriculum that equips them for success in adult life. Part of that responsibility is to ensure every child has access to relevant, factually accurate and age-appropriate PSHE and SRE.
In order to allow teachers the flexibility to deliver high-quality PSHE education, it is a non-statutory subject, and there is no specified programme of study. SRE is compulsory in maintained secondary schools, and academies and free schools are encouraged to teach SRE within their broad and balanced curriculum. However, the Government is taking action on PSHE and SRE teaching and has committed to exploring all options and opportunities for improving the provision of these subjects in schools.
I know that the Secretary of State is personally committed to ensuring that progress in improving the availability and quality of PSHE and SRE is made a priority. As the Children and Social Work Bill progresses through Parliament, the Department for Education will outline the steps the Government intends to take to ensure PSHE and SRE is fit for purpose, inclusive and supports all young people growing up in our country today.
It is important to make sure that our young people have the right information and right advice, and that SRE is fit for the world that children live in today. Starting at an early age so that children can understand relationships with one another, is sensible. However, I agree that such teaching must remain age-appropriate. I understand that the Secretary of State for Education has committed to looking again at how schools deliver this and is carefully considering all the options.
I know that there are also concerns from religious organisations about their right to maintain their own beliefs in religious schools. In fact, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 includes measures to protect and promote religious freedom by enabling religious organisations to act in line with their doctrines and beliefs. As with any other issue, teachers are entitled to express their own faith or beliefs as long as they do so in a sensitive, balanced and professional way. Teachers in religious schools already do this on a range of issues such as divorce and contraception, and the same guidance applies to same sex marriage. The Government remains committed to freedom of speech and has given firm assurance that being able to openly follow a faith is a vital freedom it will protect.

Some constituents have contacted me about bilateral investment treaties.

The UK is signatory to over 90 bilateral investment treaties (BITs). The objective of BITs is to provide investors with fair and equitable treatment, protection against discriminatory action and a commitment not to expropriate investments without compensation. Fair, non-discriminatory and proportionate action taken by a state to protect human rights, development and the environment would not breach these agreements. The Government is not aware of any Investor-State Dispute Settlement claims made by UK investors under existing BITs that have led directly to or contributed towards a negative impact on any of these areas.

As we leave the EU, the Government has committed to Britain being the most active and passionate advocate of free trade anywhere in the world, and I welcome the Government's determination to secure the best deals for Britain. Once we begin to negotiate trade agreements on our own terms, Parliament will play its crucial role in ensuring the Government secures the best possible outcomes for the whole of the UK.

People have contacted me about sentencing for offences of animal cruelty.
I am pleased that we have a robust legal framework to tackle this vicious behaviour in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.
The law, and the penalties for breaking it, were reviewed by the Parliamentary Select Committee for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2012. At that time the Committee did not recommend increasing the maximum sentencing available to the courts. However, I am pleased to say that the previous fine cap for charges of animal abuse has been removed, and I can also tell you that the Ministry of Justice is now looking at whether there is a case for increasing the penalties further.
It is the case, though, that the courts must decide what the penalty should be for each individual case, taking into account the circumstances and the guidelines laid down by the Sentencing Council. There has recently been a public consultation into sentencing guidelines for these crimes, which resulted in the Council confirming the removal of the cap on the financial element of the penalty, and clarifying a range of relevant factors that would indicate a more serious offence. I welcome these moves.

Constituents have contacted me about the costs of children's funerals.

This is an incredibly important issue, and the death of a child is always a tragedy for which families cannot plan.
I understand that a number of local authorities already choose to waive fees for children's funerals, and I would hope all local authorities would carefully consider their policy in this area. As democratically elected organisations, however, they are independent of central Government and are responsible for managing their budgets in line with local priorities.
There is, however, a role that central government can play, which is why the Department for Work and Pensions operates the Social Fund Funeral Payment scheme. This continues to provide valuable help for people in receipt of a qualifying benefit. With an average award in 2015-16 of £1,410, the scheme is making a real contribution to the funeral costs of those who need it. Indeed, the average award has increased by 27 per cent since 2006.
The scheme meets the full necessary costs of a cremation or burial. Other costs are limited to a maximum scheme payment of £700. There is, however, no restriction on the type of funeral expenses that can be claimed under this category.

A number of people have contacted me about child migrants.

First of all, I'd like to be clear that the relocation scheme has not closed, as reported by some. The Government was obliged by the Immigration Act to put a specific number on how many children we would take, based on a consultation with local authorities about their capacity. This is the number that has been published and the UK Government will now be working in Greece, Italy and France to transfer further children under the amendment.  The Government has made it clear that behind these numbers are children and it's vital that we get the balance right between enabling eligible children to come to the UK as quickly as possible and ensuring local authorities have capacity to host them and provide them with the support and care they will need.

At the height of the crisis, I personally went and helped in an area where refugees were landing and saw for myself that we do not want to incentivise perilous journeys to Europe, particularly by the most vulnerable children.  That is why I support the Government's position that children must have arrived in Europe before 20 March 2016 to be eligible under section 67 of the Immigration Act.

In the last year, we have granted asylum or another form of leave to over 8,000 children and of the over 4,400 individuals resettled through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme so far, around half are children.

The Government has announced that in accordance with section 67 of the Immigration Act (the so-called Dubs amendment) we will transfer 350 children to meet the intention and spirit behind the amendment.  This number includes over 200 children already transferred under section 67 from France, and will include a further 150 over the coming months.

I am told that the Government consulted extensively with local authorities over several months to reach this number.  Where local authorities have extra capacity to take children then they should offer to participate in the National Transfer Scheme. We are facing around 3,000 unaccompanied asylum seeking children arriving in Britain each year and only a small number of councils are taking a disproportionate share of the burden in caring for these children. Constituents may wish to contact the Council to enquire what is being done locally, or perhaps offer to take in a child migrant themselves.  The more people who can help, the greater the number we can bring in. I am fully aware of the level of positive help and support being shown by the High Peak in what is a dreadful situation.  If anyone is able to help personally with accommodation, I'd ask them to please copy me in to their correspondence so that I can be sure that all offers of help are taken up.

I have had a few template campaign emails sent to me by residents, about the sentences of the Rev. Hassan Abduraheem, Mr Petr Jasek and Mr Abdumonem Abdumawla in Sudan.

I was deeply concerned by the verdict in this case. The British Government has raised its concerns over this case, as well as the wider issue of freedom of religion and belief, directly with the Government of Sudan - most recently on 17 January - and I am assured that they will continue to do so as part of the dialogue on human rights.

I understand from the Foreign Office that the defendants do have the right to appeal against their sentences, and I will follow any appeal closely.

A few people have sent me a standard email template about private renting solutions for homeless and vulnerable people.

I share the concern expressed about this issue, and I am encouraged by steps the Government is taking to both tackle homelessness and make the private rented sector more affordable and secure.

The £1 billion Build to Rent fund, for example, has contracted investment worth over £636 million to deliver more than 5,600 high-quality homes specifically for private rent. This has been supported through the £3.5 billion Private Rented Sector Housing Guarantee Scheme, which will increase the stream of investment in new private rented sector housing. I am encouraged that the recent Housing White Paper contained measures to support further Build to Rent developments.

Ministers made a significant investment of £14 million from 2010 to 2016, working with Crisis, to develop a programme for single people to access private rented accommodation. I very much welcome that more than 9,000 people were helped, and 90 per cent of those maintained a tenancy for more than six months.

In addition, £100 million is being invested to deliver low-cost accommodation for those ready to move on from a homelessness crisis, including rough sleepers leaving hostel accommodation. Details of the bidding process outside London will be announced by the Homes and Communities Agency in the spring.

The Government has also established a private rented sector affordability and security working group, which includes Shelter, Crisis, Generation Rent and landlord and letting agent representatives. Policy proposals to help vulnerable people and low income households to access and maintain tenancies in the sector were discussed at recent meetings of this group, and it is now finalising its report.

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the debate on 8 February, but I will follow progress in this area with interest.

I have been forwarded various different campaign emails by a number of people, all concerning different amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.

I consider calls for Parliament to be given a vote on the deal before it goes to the European Parliament, and to be handed a say if no agreement is reached, to be impractical. If deals were repeatedly rejected then the country would face years of uncertainty. In addition, if the rest of the EU knew that MPs and peers were able to hamper the process it would hamstring British negotiators during the two-year period, leading to a less favourable outcome.
I do not underestimate the complexity of negotiating our withdrawal and reaching new arrangements with the EU. I know that the Government's priorities in the months ahead will be to limit uncertainty during the transition, ensure that our new relationship with the EU works for all. At every step of the process I will work with my colleagues in Government to ensure the best possible outcome.  We should not, though, seek to tie the hands of the Government who are seeking to reach the best possible deal.

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 couple of constituents have forwarded identical campaign emails to me, about a UN inquiry into human rights abuses against the Rohingya in Burma

I am deeply concerned by the human rights and humanitarian situation in Rakhine. A range of human rights organisations have reported human rights violations by the security forces. Humanitarian access is also restricted, which is particularly impacting those already affected by malnutrition.

The UN Special Rapporteur, Yanghee Lee, recently visited the region and has publicly criticised the crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority and urged the military to respect the law and human rights.

I am encouraged that Ministers share concerns about this crisis and continue to engage with the Burmese Government on this. Most recently, the Foreign Secretary visited Burma in January and discussed the need for a restrained security approach with the Home Affairs Minister, as well as the importance of resuming humanitarian access and of ending discrimination against the Rohingya. He also raised these issues with the State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi.

I know that the Government has considered the viability of a UN Commission of Inquiry into this issue. However, I understand that establishing an inquiry would require broad international support; unfortunately this simply does not exist in the current international environment.

As you may be aware, the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which is led by Kofi Annan, was put in place last year and is due to produce a report in August. Ministers have had a number of conversations with Kofi Annan about the work that is ongoing and it is my hope that it will bring about real improvements to the welfare of all in Rakhine State.

A couple of constituents have emailed me, using a template email campaign, about the plight of the elephant and the ivory trade.

Like them, 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 know that the Government takes this issue very seriously. 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 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, and the UK has been working through CITES to increase protections worldwide.

Some people have contacted me, using a standardised campaign template, about families in debt.

The Families with Children and Young People in Debt (Respite) Bill, introduced by Kelly Tolhurst MP, would place a duty on lenders to provide financial respite for families with children and young people in debt.

The Government has already taken some action to reduce levels of personal debt. Household debt as a proportion of income has fallen to 142 per cent in 2016, down from a peak of 160 per cent in 2008. The Government's plan for a higher wage, lower welfare society makes it easier for families and working people to save, and the new National Living Wage will mean a pay boost for 1.7 million workers this year.

However, I am pleased that the Government is also committed to exploring whether some form of 'breathing space' would be a useful and viable addition to the range of debt solutions. HM Treasury and the Insolvency Service have been asked to explore and identify possible options and have begun work on a review, which I will be interested to read when it is published.

A few people have sent me standard email campaigns about the governance of the Football Association (FA).
I understand the strong feelings on this subject and welcome the Government's desire for reform. Indeed, I sit on the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee, and was one of three Members of the committee who proposed the motion in question.

The Government published its Code of Governance for Sport in October last year, to help ensure that all sports governing bodies are creating the most effective environment for their sports to thrive. Bodies, including the FA, that fail to comply with the Code will not be eligible to receive public funding after the Code comes into force in April.
Public money helps the FA deliver important initiatives on the ground, but it should come with conditions. Non-compliance with the Code would result in the loss of its £30-40m of public funding. Sport England and UK Sport are currently in the process of working with football's relevant governing bodies on reforms needed to ensure compliance.
At the grassroots level, the FA has been slow to evolve in line with people's playing habits and lifestyles; and for too long the FA failed to realise the true potential of women's and girl's football. By the end of March, the FA should have in place an action plan agreed with Sport England setting out what steps it is taking to become compliant with the code.

I am encouraged by the Sports Minister's reassurances that if legislation is something that has to be considered in the longer term, then that is something the Government will do. Although I hope that threatening to cut public funding will drive the FA to act before that step becomes necessary.

A few people have forwarded a campaign email to me which asks me not to support HS2. However, I remain supportive of the project.

I am of the opinion that HS2 is a vital project for the UK, which will not only promote economic growth, but also drive regional regeneration and support job creation.

HS2 is supported by all the major conurbations that it will serve, as they recognise the key benefits that it will bring to their areas. It will provide more capacity by trebling the number of seats into London Euston in the peak times, with up to 18 trains an hour running in each direction. Estimates suggest that, for every £1 invested in the project, the UK economy will receive over £2.50 in benefits. The construction alone will create around 25,000 jobs and 2,000 apprenticeships.

The Department for Transport did assess the potential alternatives to HS2. The study concluded that the alternatives did not provide sufficient additional capacity to meet long-term needs and failed to provide the same level of connectivity benefits.

HS2 Ltd has sought to design HS2 to avoid environmental impacts, including those on ancient woodlands, wherever reasonably practicable. Where this is not possible, I have been assured that mitigation or compensation measures will be undertaken.

I would also like to emphasise that HS2 is only one part of the Government's ambitious programme for improving the UK's infrastructure, and will not come at the cost of other transport investment.

A number of people have sent me a standard campaign email about Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs).

The UK Government's position on this issue is clear: they are illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace and make a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, harder to achieve. Ministers consistently urge the Israeli authorities to cease all settlement building and to remove illegal outposts, as required under international law and in fulfilment of Israel's obligations under the Roadmap.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in the OPTs, about one third of land within the outer limits of settlements is privately owned Palestinian land. Illegal settlements are therefore reducing the amount of land, including agricultural land, available for Palestinian use, and restrict access to water sources. Settlements also contribute to the fragmentation of the West Bank and impede movement and access around the West Bank, making it difficult for Palestinians, particularly those who live close to settlements, to move around and to access agricultural land, or to travel for employment purposes.

There are currently no plans for legislation to ban the import of settlement products. The UK introduced voluntary guidelines in 2009 to enable produce from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories to be specifically labelled as such. This was in order to enable consumers to make a more fully informed decision concerning the products they buy. In addition, the Government recently updated its online guidance for citizens and businesses on overseas markets, including Israel and the OPTs, in line with the UK Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. This guidance is available here.

I strongly believe that the UK Government's determination to support a two-state solution is the only way to give the Palestinian people the state that they need and deserve, and the Israeli people the security and peace they are entitled to.

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.

I have been sent some template campaign emails about Brexit and the future of UK trade.

I have been assured that the Government are committed to a free trade agenda including exploring all the benefits that this can bring. Since establishing the Department for International Trade, Ministers have visited 55 countries, promoting UK exports of goods and services and encouraging investment. More than £16 billion has been invested in the UK from overseas during this time.

I am pleased that the Government want to go further, and develop new trading relationships with countries around the world. I welcome the Secretary of State confirming that the UK has already begun informal talks with many of our partners around the world, including Australia, New Zealand and India, and is working with these countries to understand where barriers to trade and investment can be removed to our mutual benefit.

We need maximum freedom to achieve these aims, so the Prime Minister has ruled out full EU Customs Union membership, as membership of this union would prohibit our ability to establish new trade deals. Instead, I am pleased that the UK's aim will be to seek a bespoke agreement with the EU to ensure that cross-border trade remains as barrier-free as possible.

There is a big world for Britain to do business with. Through trade policy, I welcome the Government's opportunity to make Britain stronger, fairer, and more global.

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