My Views

I always try to respond to correspondence from constituents as quickly as possible.  Every day I receive a large number of campaign emails from people across Fylde, on a wide variety of issues, frequently, but not always, part of organised campaigns on specific policies.

In order to focus my time on casework and to manage my taxpayer funded staffing costs more effectively, I will be posting my views on topics where I am receiving large volumes of correspondence in this section of my website.  I will not be replying directly on topics where my views are available on this page.

I will continue to reply to all constituency enquiries, and specific policy concerns, but I can no longer guarantee an individual reply to each writing campaign email.  I prioritise cases where I am concerned someone may be at risk of harm.

Furthermore, I do not sign EDMs as they are costly, hardly ever get debated and I prefer to raise issues of concern directly with the relevant Minister. This way I know the Minister has received a letter regarding the issue.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me.

 

Animal Welfare Legislation

The vote against a Brexit amendment last week which mentioned animal sentience was not a vote against recognising it. It was a vote to block poor EU legislation being enshrined in UK law after Brexit. Of course I believe animals are sentient beings.

However, this amendment was not considered the correct way forward, and the Government will achieve the same, or an improved result, in other ways.

Let us not forget that UK regulations are already far more stringent than those from the EU – EU regulations allow for farm animals to be kept in conditions that the UK has already outlawed. The EU regulations, in other words, should not be considered the benchmark; the UK has already surpassed them.

The decision not to back the amendment was not a statement on animal sentience; the vote against it was due to the amendment not being good enough. As we leave the EU, we have an opportunity to improve these regulations and standards.

Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) mentioned in the amendment contains animal welfare laws which allow practices including live exports, bullfighting, foie gras production and other practices many of us find abhorrent.

Based on the Animal Welfare Act the Animal Protection Index, maintained by World Animal Protection, rates the UK’s formal recognition of animal sentience as grade A. Other Lisbon Treaty signatories such as France, Italy and Spain do not enjoy this rating, having each received grade C.

Article 13 of the TFEU created a qualified obligation on the EU and Member States “to have full regard to the welfare of animals [as they are sentient beings]” when formulating and implementing EU law.   The Government has said that it now consider how the ‘animal sentience’ principle of Article 13 might be explicitly reflected in far better legislation in the UK when we leave the EU.

The Government has passed many animal welfare initiatives in the past four months, and there are many more to come.

I am proud that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Ministers have been clear that they intend it to remain world-leading in the future and, as a minimum, to retain our existing standards of animal welfare once we have left the EU.

I therefore believe that existing UK legislation, which provides necessary and appropriate protection for animals in this country, will not be weakened when we leave the EU. I look forward to seeing a better piece of legislation to encapsulate animal sentience in the future. We will improve on our already high standards.

 

Repeal Bill

In the referendum, millions of people voted to leave the EU. The EU (Withdrawal) Bill, also known as the Repeal Bill, ensures that the UK does this in the smoothest possible way and this is why I support it. This Bill is not about whether we leave the EU or about the terms of our exit.

The Bill honours the referendum result and provides certainty for businesses. It repeals the European Communities Act 1972, which gives effect to EU law in the UK, and converts all EU law into UK law. It also provides ministers in the UK Government and in the devolved administrations with temporary powers to make corrections to the law. Without it there would be holes in our legal system and chaos for the British people.

The delegated power is important because not all laws will make sense after the UK leaves the EU. For example, references to the UK as a member of the EU will have to be removed and temporary delegated powers will allow ministers to do this in time for the UK’s departure. I do not believe that it would be sensible for MPs to debate such changes every time they arise.

The Bill does not, however, allow the Government to bypass Parliament. MPs will still be able to scrutinise any changes introduced by ministers using delegated powers and major policy changes will be introduced as separate Bills. The Queen’s Speech announced legislation on agriculture, immigration and trade. Future laws will be made in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. 

The Repeal Bill is receiving 8 days of debate in the House of Commons to discuss amendments tabled by MPs. This is more than the previous Labour Government provided for the Lisbon Treaty which was similar in its constitutional importance. The Government has said that further time may be considered if necessary.

The Prime Minister has promised that Parliament will have a say over the final withdrawal deal but it is not within the Government’s power to unilaterally extend the negotiation period for further discussions. EU law is clear that the UK will leave the EU in March 2019 whether or not a withdrawal agreement is reached. By voting for this Bill, the UK will leave the EU in a smooth and orderly way. Voting against the Bill would create chaos and uncertainty.

 

Environment and exiting the EU

Here in Lancashire and across Britain we benefit from some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, so I am delighted that Ministers are committed to safeguarding our vibrant natural environment. Until we leave the European Union, the existing arrangements remain in place. I am particularly pleased that the Treasury has confirmed that any structural fund projects, including agri-environment schemes, signed before our departure from the EU will be honoured for their lifetime even if they run beyond this point.

Throughout the negotiations, Ministers will work with environmental organisations and the public to develop new policies. Leaving the EU means we can tailor them to the needs of our precious habitats and wildlife, instead of following a one size fits all approach for 28 different countries. Ministers are committed to seizing this opportunity as they work on an ambitious 25-year plan for the environment.

I am proud of the Government’s record in creating and improving habitats, and I welcome the commitment to plant 11 million more trees by 2020. Tackling air quality is another priority. Alongside national action and continued investment in cleaner technologies, in those cities with the most persistent air quality challenges, Ministers will legislate to implement Clean Air Zones. I welcome the recently-announced plans on this issue that aim to put the UK at the forefront of ULEV development, manufacture and use.

The UK will continue to play a leading role in combating climate change, as we did at the Paris Conference. Britain’s share of electricity generated from renewables has doubled since 2009 and Ministers are determined to ensure we become a world leader in the new green economy.

All in all I support, and share, the overriding goal to ensure that we are the first generation to leave our environment in a better state than we found it.

 

NHS Funding

I believe fully in the NHS and its values, and I would like to assure you that the Government is committed to a tax-funded NHS, free at the point of use, wherever and whenever you need it. As Ministers plan a new relationship with the EU, I know they will continue to ensure that the NHS is given the priority it deserves.

Despite tight public finances, the Government has actively supported the NHS’s own plan for the future. That is why it is increasing NHS spending by a minimum of £8 billion in real terms over the next five years. This will ensure that by the end of this Parliament, everyone will be able to access GP services at evenings and weekends.

At the 2017 Spring Budget, additional capital funding was announced to support the NHS, with £325 million for local improvement plans and £100 million to improve A&E services.

More money is being invested in mental health than ever before, with an estimated record £11.4 billion this year and investment continues to rise. Additional mental health funding has been invested since April 2017, rising to £1 billion by 2020/21 for mental health to support crisis care and perinatal services, and respond to the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. For children and young people, £1.4 billion has been committed to transform mental health and eating disorder services over five years.

The NHS will earmark an extra £2.4 billion a year for GP services by 2020/21, a 14 per cent real terms increase. This investment includes a £500 million Sustainability and Transformation package to help GP practices add to the workforce and tackle workload.

On top of this, to secure the best value for taxpayers, tough new financial controls have been introduced to cut down on waste in the NHS, including introducing caps for agency staff and management consultants, and introducing central procurement rules. I am glad to say that the limits on agency spending have saved the NHS roughly £1 billion between 2014 and 2016, and the NHS believes there is still significant progress to be made.

I understand that the NHS is putting into practice the Getting it Right First Time scheme, first piloted by orthopaedic surgeon Professor Tim Briggs. In 2016, the Health Secretary announced new plans to reduce infection in the NHS and improve surgical practice, which aims to save the NHS a further £1.5 billion per year, which can be reinvested in patient care.

In recognition of the pressures facing social care in local areas, the Chancellor has announced a package of measures in the recent budget which go even further to help the health and care system. Local Authorities in England will receive an additional £2 billion for social care over the next three years. This will help to ease pressures on the NHS by supporting more people to be discharged from hospital and into care as soon as they are ready.

 

Mental Health Policy

I agree that tackling poor mental health must be a priority and Ministers have legislated to treat it with the same importance as physical health. Progress is being made with more Government investment in mental health and an estimated 1,400 more people accessing mental health services every day compared to 2010 – up 40 per cent, as well as around 750,000 more people accessing talking therapies since 2009/10.

In February 2016, an independent Mental Health Taskforce published a new national strategy, setting out an ambitious vision for mental health services.

To make these recommendations a reality, the Government will spend an additional £1 billion on mental health by 2020-21 so that people receive the right care in the right place when they need it most. This includes increasing the number of people completing talking therapies by 600,000 per year, and helping 20,000 more people to find or stay in work through individual placement support and talking therapies.

A further £1.25 billion for perinatal and children and young people’s mental health, helping professionals to intervene early and more than doubling the number of pregnant women or new mothers receiving mental health support; and training around 1,700 new therapists. To support teenagers with eating disorders, the Government is investing £150 million.

The Government has also introduced the first-ever mental health access and waiting time standards, so that 75 per cent of people referred for talking therapies to treat common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety start their treatment within 6 weeks, and 95 per cent within 18 weeks. These targets have been met and the latest data shows that in May 2016, 84 per cent of people waited less than 6 weeks and 97 per cent of people waited less than 18 weeks. Also, patients experiencing psychosis for the first time must be treated within two weeks.

I am encouraged to note that the Government has announced reform to mental health policy in the latest Queen’s Speech, in order to continue to reduce the number of people detained in police cells under the Mental Health Act. You may be pleased to know that in October 2017, the Prime Minister announced that the Government would embark on a comprehensive review of the Mental Health Act, which has remained unchanged for more than three decades. This review will examine existing practices, and address the disproportionately high rates of detention of people from ethnic minorities. I am happy to note that the review will be led by Professor Sir Simon Wessely, a former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and he will consider the needs of all users of mental health services and their families, and improve the system’s support for those during a mental health crisis.

I appreciate the concerns raised by the Private Member’s Bill, sponsored by Steve Reed MP. I hope you are assured by the announcement of the independent review into the Mental Health Act. This review will specifically address issues regarding detention, and how recent practice can be out of step with a modern mental health system which must be responsive to the needs of service users and families. As I understand, the Government expects some of the solutions to lie in practice, leadership, and culture, as well as potentially legislation.   

It should be noted that on 3rd November 2017, this Bill was supported by the Government, and passed its second reading unanimously. This bill will be next considered by MPs in a Public Bill Committee on a future date, yet to be announced.

 

 

Neonicotinoid insecticides and Bees

I entirely agree with you 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.

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.

 

Factory Farming

There are a large number of independent farms across Fylde. The way in which animals are treated, both on these farms and in slaughterhouses is essential when assessing agricultural policy. I understand the strength of feeling about the issue and I am committed to the highest standards of animal welfare, including on farms.

The UK’s strong commitment in this area is reflected in World Animal Protection’s recent Animal Protection Index, which judged 50 countries on their policy and legislation for animals and saw the UK ranked joint top alongside New Zealand, Austria and Switzerland. Recent changes to legislation regulating the quality of cages for hens shows this protection in action.

I believe animals should be slaughtered locally wherever possible. I am pleased the Government has announced plans to make CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses. However, under European Union single market rules, it is illegal to ban the export of animals to other EU countries; there are instead EU and UK laws to protect the welfare of live animals during transport. As the UK withdraws from the EU there are great opportunities to re-evaluate existing structures and tailor them to the UK’s unique needs.

Mandatory labelling for method of production has to be weighed against the costs involved for businesses, which could be significant. Legislation already provides scope for producers to label their products voluntarily, and several assurance schemes are also in place. Consumers who have a preference for a particular farming method can therefore readily find meat products labelled with information to inform their choice.

Ministers are fully committed to ensuring that antibiotics are used responsibly. In September 2016 further plans were announced to tackle the issue, including a commitment to reduce antibiotic use in animals significantly. Long term, sector-specific reduction targets are being set that will bring sustainable change across the agricultural industry, from farm to fork.

 

Executive Pay

The Government has now announced its plans on corporate governance reform following a thorough consultation process. I am pleased to say that a large focus of these reforms will be to tackle abuses and excesses in the boardroom, specifically that of executive pay.

Previous reforms introduced by the Government in 2013 have gone some way to strengthening and increasing transparency in the UK executive pay framework – in particular the requirement to gain shareholder approval for executive pay policies every three years and the need to disclose the pay of each director as a single figure. However, I appreciate that executive pay has continued to be a key factor in public dissatisfaction with large businesses, and a source of frustration to UK investors.

That is why action is being taken which will address concerns that a minority of companies are not responding adequately when they encounter significant shareholder opposition to levels of executive pay. Under new measures the Government will name listed companies on a public register if 20 per cent or more of their shareholders revolt over proposals for executive pay package.

In addition, the Government will require listed companies to reveal the pay ratio between bosses and workers. At the same time, remuneration committees will be made to do more to engage with the workforce to explain how pay at the top relates to wider company pay policy.

 

Northern Train Services

Rail investment in the north is a hugely important issue.

I have been assured by Ministers that they are committed to ensuring every part of Britain benefits from investment in the railways. To this end, the Government’s investment in railway infrastructure through Network Rail’s Great North Rail Project will stimulate economic growth through better connections between towns and cities in the North. It will enable hundreds more trains to run each day, with more seats and faster services. Projects underway as part of the Great North Rail Project include electrifying key routes across the north west, including the Blackpool North to Preston line, connecting Manchester’s three stations with the new Ordsall chord and developing plans for upgrading the TransPennine route between Manchester and Leeds and York.

Manchester and Leeds will also both benefit from the £55.7bn HS2 railway when it opens in 2026. By 2033 there will be up to 18 trains an hour running in each direction on HS2, carrying up to 1,100 passengers each.

Further to this, the current Northern and TransPennine Express franchises are set to help bring the Northern Powerhouse to life, with 500 brand-new modern carriages, room for 40,000 more passengers, 2,000 extra services a week and a host of improvements. This will provide the biggest transformation to rail journeys in the north of England in decades, with the operators overseeing a massive £1.2 billion investment. This will help to rebalance the economy, creating jobs, opportunity and growth, and providing significantly better journeys across the region.

The Department for Transport is also working closely with Transport for the North on Northern Powerhouse Rail, which aims to provide faster and more frequent rail services across the region. The Government has committed £60 million to developing the scheme and is working with Transport for the North on potential route options and their costs and benefits. This analysis is due to be completed by the end of 2017.

Locally, during the electrification of the Blackpool North line, stations on the Blackpool South line will be improved and have ticket machines installed.

At Kirkham and Wesham, where the Blackpool South and Blackpool North lines meet, there will be an extensive revamp of the station. A new platform will be built for the Blackpool to London direct trains and most importantly, two lifts will be built and installed making the station completely accessible for all. Talks are ongoing to find a suitable place for car parking.

I’m also delighted to hear that the current Pacer trains will be taken completely out of commission by the end of 2019, to be replaced with much-improved rolling stock. This will increase both the capacity and comfort levels experienced by passengers.

These improvements, which I have campaigned and long-called for, are an absolute necessity to give us the rail network we deserve. Talks are ongoing to increase the frequency of trains on the line, be it through a passing loop, or through some other method.

 

Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a major reform that will transform the welfare state in Britain. At the heart of Universal Credit is a belief that work should always pay. Under the new system, benefit will be withdrawn gradually as claimants start work or increase their earnings, meaning their total income always goes up.

Rightly for a programme of this scale, the priority continues to be its safe and secure delivery. The controlled expansion of Universal Credit started in April 2013 and I am pleased that significant progress has been made to date. Universal Credit is now available for single claimants in every jobcentre in the country.

Figures have shown that people claiming Universal Credit are 13 per cent more likely to be in work than people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, earning more money and more willing to take a job.

The taper rate has also been reduced since April of this year to help people to progress in work. I welcome this change, which will mean people will keep more of what they earn and will be better rewarded for increasing their hours or pay.

Under Universal Credit, support worth up to 85 per cent of childcare costs is now available regardless of hours worked, significantly higher than the support that was available under tax credits. This will give parents more flexibility to work and earn more money.

 

Energy Market

While I want the market to thrive and maintain the view that promoting competition is the best driver of value and service for customers, I am encouraged that the Government is prepared to act when markets are not working for all consumers.

As you are aware, the Government made a manifesto commitment to extend the price protection currently in place for some vulnerable energy consumers to more of those on the poorest value tariffs. In June, it wrote to Ofgem asking what action they intend to take and I welcome Ofgem’s commitment to protect a further one million families from expensive standard variable tariffs for the first time. This will take the total number of families protected from expensive standard variable tariffs to over five million.

I recognise, however, that this does not address the scale of the detriment suffered by all consumers on expensive default tariffs. That is why the Government has published a draft Bill which will provide for Ofgem to set a cap, or ‘safeguard tariff’, on the Standard Variable Tariffs that 60 per cent of people are on. The Safeguard Tariff will be designed by Ofgem, who will be tasked with setting it at such a level that it still leaves considerable motivation for consumers to shop around for the best deal, but improves the terrible prices paid by some people.

More broadly, there is already a prepayment price cap in place protecting households least able to benefit from competition. In April 2017 a prepayment price cap came into force protecting over four million households using pre-payment meters. This will remain in place until the end of 2020 and will save the average household £80 a year.

 

Public Sector Pay

Public sector workers deserve to have fulfilling jobs that are fairly rewarded. The Government has confirmed that it will be moving away from the 1 per cent public sector pay policy, towards a more flexible approach on pay.

We still need to deal with our country’s debts to ensure we have a strong economy to enable us to invest in our public services. This means that it is vital that we continue to take a balanced approach to public spending.

The Government will consider each specific workforce to ensure pay is set so that the public sector can continue to both attract and hold on to the excellent staff that support our world-leading public services.

Before Ministers make final decisions on pay awards, they will seek the views of the eight independent Pay Review Bodies, which will consider the evidence on how best to ensure they can recruit and retain the very best people within our public services, like giving people more flexibility over their working hours. They will report in spring 2018, at which point the Government will consider their recommendations and announce public sector pay awards for each of those workforces.

Since 2010 the deficit has been cut by two thirds, helping secure our economy for the future. There is more to be done, but thanks to the actions that have been taken to get the public finances back into shape, the Government can now apply greater flexibility to public sector pay. Ministers will continue to ensure that the overall package for public sector workers recognises their vital contribution and ensures that they can deliver world class public services, while also being affordable and fair to taxpayers as a whole.

 

Civilian Enforcement Officers

The Government takes the recovery and enforcement of court fines extremely seriously. It is committed to ensuring that offenders with outstanding fines either pay or are brought back before the court. 

It is encouraging therefore that a record £440.5 million was recovered in 2016/17. However, it is also important that the Government continues to look at how it can improve this service and provide the best value for the taxpayer in the years to come.

It is for this reason that the Government is considering a range of options about how best to deliver this service. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) currently uses private contractors known as Approved Enforcement Agencies (AEA) to undertake some of its enforcement functions. The work that HMCTS civilian enforcement officers do is already undertaken by these Agencies in many areas of England and Wales, where there are established links with the police.

A tender process has now started which will allow the Government to make informed decisions about which steps to take. As part of this process, discussions are also being had with providers to consider extending the current use of Approved Enforcement Agencies. However no decision has been made at this time. Ministers will engage with the National Police Chiefs’ Council and local Police Forces once the details of the contracts to be awarded are known.