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.

 

The Green Investment Bank

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

However, as the Independent Chair 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 can assure you 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.

 

Football Association Governance

I understand that there are strong feelings on this subject and welcome the Government’s desire for reform. 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 to the FA. 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 do think we need to be careful that we do not tarnish the growth and success of English football because of concerns about governance at the FA. However, 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.

 

Animal Slaughter

The Government shares my own commitment to maintaining high standards of animal welfare at slaughter, and there are strict legal requirements in place. In slaughterhouses, these requirements are monitored and enforced by Official Veterinarians of the Food Standards Agency to ensure that animals are spared unnecessary suffering, distress or pain during the slaughter process.

CCTV, as with other monitoring methods, does have limitations and relies on businesses to monitor their operations appropriately, but can be beneficial to animal welfare. I am pleased to note that the Food Standards Agency estimates that 94 per cent of slaughtered cattle, 96 per cent of pigs, 90 per cent of sheep and 99 per cent of poultry are now processed on premises with CCTV, and the Government is keen to see the minority of abattoirs still without CCTV move quickly to introduce it.

Although the Government would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter, I recognise the requirements of Jewish and Muslim communities and accept the importance they attach to slaughter in accordance with their beliefs. I am, however, determined to ensure that religious slaughter is only carried out by licensed slaughtermen in approved or regulated slaughterhouses.

 

Animal Cruelty

I am pleased that we have a robust legal framework 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 cap in the fine charges of animal abuse can attract has been removed, and that the Ministry of Justice is now looking at whether there is a case for increasing the penalties further.

The courts must decide what the penalty should be for each individual case, taking into account its 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.

 

Yemeni Lives
The first point to make is that no British forces are involved in this war. However, the UK supports the Saudi-led campaign to restore the legitimate Government in Yemen. President Hadi and the coalition that has been created to support him has the backing of the UN, through resolution 2216, so the call to support President Hadi is a legitimate one.

The Government takes its legal obligations seriously as with regards to the licensing of arms for export to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere and the UK has one of the most rigorous licensing regimes in the world.

Saudi Arabia has publicly stated that it is investigating reports of alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law. This is an important process and the UK is fully behind through investigations into all allegations of violations of International Law. I believe that our important working relationship with Saudi Arabia can enhance our ability to ensure that investigations into such matters take place in an appropriate and timely manner. In addition, in the absence of such a relationship, the Gulf, and arguably, the region and the UK could easily become a more dangerous place.

I believe the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal is a worthwhile cause. That is why I was pleased to see the UK Government pledge to match donations from members of the public to the Disasters Emergency Committee Yemen Crisis Appeal up to a total value of £5 million in match funding.

I am pleased that the Government is working hard in Yemen to address the urgent humanitarian needs and support an effective international humanitarian response. Ministers have more than doubled our humanitarian funding to Yemen over the last year, making the UK the fourth largest donor to the humanitarian crisis. We are providing vital medical supplies, water, food and nutrition, and emergency shelter to those most in need and have so far supported more than 1.3 million Yemenis. We need to build resilience and protect key institutions to help lay the foundations for post-conflict recovery.

Ultimately, I share the view of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that a political solution is the best way to bring long-term stability to Yemen and end the conflict. The suffering of the people of Yemen is deeply concerning, which is why making progress on peace talks is the top priority. The UN has drawn up a road map for ending the conflict, which outlines the security and political steps the parties must take. The UK is taking a central role in this and in the effort to garner the necessary support for the pending UN resolution that supports it.

 

Reunited Child Refugees with their Families

The Government’s refugee family reunion policy allows immediate family members of a person in the UK with refugee leave or humanitarian protection status – that is a spouse or partner and children under the age of 18, who formed part of the family unit before the sponsor fled their country of origin – to reunite with them in the UK. I am very glad that such a scheme exists, which makes sure that family members that have been divided can once again be reunited.

Currently, there are no plans to widen the criteria. The criteria is fully compliant with the UK’s international obligations, and enable thousands of people each year to be reunited with their families in the UK. Three discretionary resettlement schemes are also in place for recognised refugees for whom resettlement is the most appropriate answer. These schemes are operated in partnership with the UNHCR: Gateway; Mandate; and the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) scheme.

The Government continues to work with key EU Member States to ensure the family reunification process works effectively. The UK and France have committed to ensuring that the provisions of the Dublin III Regulation are used efficiently and effectively. To assist the handling of such cases, the two Governments have established a permanent official contact group, agreed single points of contact within respective Dublin Units and the UK has seconded an asylum expert to the French administration to facilitate the improvement of all stages of the process. The UK and France are running regular joint communication campaigns in northern France which inform unaccompanied children and others of their right to claim asylum in France and of the family reunion process.

The Government is also providing support to the Dublin Units in Greece and Italy bilaterally and through the European Asylum Support Office.

Regarding the Dublin Regulation, I would like to stress that there will be no immediate change. The Prime Minister will consider the UK’s future policy in this area and will take part in discussions with our EU neighbours through the exit negotiation process.

The Department for Exiting the European Union has also been set up, which will work on delivering the outcome of the referendum, advising on issues such as the Dublin Regulation, and objectively exploring options for our future relationship with Europe and the rest of the world from outside the EU. The Home Office will play a leading role in trying to work out the options for leaving the EU at the same time as maintaining good levels of co-operation on issues such as this.

 

 

The Ivory Trade

I am concerned about the effect of illegal poaching and ivory trafficking on the long-term prospects for the survival of the elephant.

Just how seriously the Government takes this issue 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. The UK has been working through CITES to increase protections worldwide.

 

NHS

I believe in the NHS and its values. I recognise that the NHS has been under sustained pressure with the number of people aged over 80 rising by 340,000, and life expectancy rising by 12 months in the last six years alone. As a result, the NHS is facing an unprecedented demand. However, I know that the Government is determined to protect the service through an extremely challenging period and ensure its future sustainability.

This winter, the NHS has made more extensive preparations than ever before and there are now 11,400 more doctors and 11,200 more hospital nurses in the NHS since 2010. To support the NHS, investment of £350 million was included in local Clinical Commissioning Group budgets in 2016/17 for resilience planning, and £50 million was made available for national initiatives. The NHS also assured the winter plans of every trust, launched the largest ever flu vaccination programme and bolstered support outside A&Es, with 12,000 additional GP sessions offered over the festive period.

As a consequence of this preparation and, most importantly, the hard work of frontline staff, the system overall is coping and even performing slightly better than last year. Earlier in December, it treated a record number of patients within four hours and we are seeing 2,500 more patients within the four hour standard every single day compared with 2010.

However, I am aware that there are a number of trusts where the situation has been extremely fragile and NHS England is considering a series of further measures to be taken forward on a temporary basis at the discretion of local clinical leaders. Taken together, these actions will give the NHS additional flexibility to take further measures if appropriate at a local level.

Despite tight public finances, the Government has actively supported the NHS’ own plan for the future. That is why it is providing the additional £10 billion of investment per annum in real terms by 2020/21 – compared to 2014/15 – requested to fund a transformation in care. I know that the Government recognises the current pressures facing local areas. That is why the Government is giving local authorities additional funding and flexibility so that they will have access to an additional £3.5 billion by 2020, providing a real terms increase in social care funding by the end of this Parliament.
The Government is committed to maintaining and delivering the vital four hour A&E standard to patients. It is widely understood that too many people are going to A&E unnecessarily, and therefore we must look at ways to protect the four hour target for people who need it most. This will be done through triaging more people at the ‘front doors’ and pointing them towards more appropriate services, as well as giving more information to the public so they can make the right decisions about the services they need to access.

The Government remains committed to ensuring that the NHS offers the safest, highest-quality care available anywhere in the world.

 

Finn’s Law

Police support animals make a valuable contribution in the detection and prevention of crime and in maintaining public safety. I am extremely grateful for the bravery and skill shown by police dogs and their handlers on a daily basis. Attacks of any sort on police dogs or horses are unacceptable and should be dealt with severely under the criminal law.

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 an attack on a police dog or other police support animal can be treated as causing unnecessary suffering to an animal, and the maximum penalty is 6 months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both. Indeed the financial element of the penalty was raised in 2015 from a maximum fine of £20,000. Similarly an attack on a police animal could be considered by the court as an aggravating factor leading to a higher sentence. Under some circumstances assaults on support animals could be treated as criminal damage which would allow for penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

The Government has also requested that the Sentencing Council considers assaults on police animals as an aggravating factor as a part of their current review on guidelines for sentencing in the Magistrates’ Courts, which includes animal cruelty offences.

While the current penalties are appropriate, it is unpalatable to think of police animals as merely ‘equipment’ as the charge of criminal damage might suggest, and does not convey the respect and gratitude felt for the animals involved and their contribution to law enforcement and public safety. Work across Government is underway to explore whether there is more that the law should do to offer the most appropriate protections to police animals and all working animals.