• European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

    The Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, also known as the “Repeal Bill” will convert EU law into UK law so that there is certainty from the moment we leave the EU. This will then allow Parliament to repeal, amend or replace any EU-derived laws as necessary in the future. I do not underestimate this task. However, in my view, the Government’s Bill as it stands at the moment is not fit for purpose.

    I appreciate concerns about the extent of powers that have been outlined in this Bill to allow Ministers to make changes to other laws. These are sweeping powers that require effective oversight or accountability. However, such safeguards are currently lacking from the Bill. The Bill also lacks clear enforcement mechanisms.

    I will fight against any attempts to diminish, qualify or limit existing workers’ rights, equality law, consumer rights or environmental protections throughout the consideration of this Bill. These should be protected without qualifications, limitations or sunset clauses. However, I also believe it is important that we make sure UK rights keep pace with EU rights after Brexit too. As the Bill does not currently provide for this, it will be something that I will be pressing for.

    Brexit should also not be an excuse to hoard powers in Westminster and I believe the Bill takes the wrong approach on devolution. I believe there should be a presumption throughout this process that devolved powers transferred from the EU will go straight to the relevant region or nation. I would also like to see all relevant and substantial rights in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights converted into domestic law. The existence of a single, clear document of rights is clearly beneficial in helping people understand their rights but the Government has refused to include this.

    I hope the Government will listen carefully to the points that have been raised, including by a number of organisations, and make the improvements that are necessary.

    My focus in the weeks and months ahead will be to keep the pressure in the Government to get the best Brexit deal for St Helens North, Merseyside, the North West and the country as whole.

     

  • Mental health provision for children

    I am concerned about mental health provision for children and at the recent General Election I stood on a manifesto which committed to end the neglect of children’s mental health. I believe we must invest in early intervention by increasing the proportion of mental health budgets spent on support for children and young people. I also believe that schools-based counselling should be extended to all secondary schools.

    I am aware that YoungMinds and the National Children’s Bureau have drafted a Wellbeing in Schools Bill which aims to change the education system to make the wellbeing of students a priority.

    I note that the Schools (Mental Health and Wellbeing) Bill has now been introduced in the House of Lords. This Bill seeks to make provision for state-maintained schools to promote the mental health and well-being of their pupils alongside academic attainment. I will follow the progress of this Bill closely.

    I agree that children must be supported to be happy and healthy at school and I would like to see a new Index of Child Health to measure progress against international standards, and to report annually against key indicators such as mental health.

    While I welcome the current Government’s proposal to publish a Green Paper on Children and Young People’s Mental Health, I remain concerned that mental health funding is not reaching the frontline and that money intended for children’s mental health has been used to plug funding gaps in the wider NHS. It is very worrying that a recent report has found that 80% of NHS bosses fear they will have too little money this year to provide timely, high-quality care to the growing numbers of people seeking mental health support.

    We must ring-fence mental health budgets and I believe that the Government should invest properly in children’s mental health services by increasing the proportion of the mental health budget that is spent on children and young people.

     

  • The ivory trade

    I share constituents concern about the serious threat that endangered species continue to face. While international trade in ivory has been banned since 1989, legal domestic markets continue in some countries, including the UK.

    I agree that we need a total ban on the domestic ivory trade in the UK. At the recent General Election I stood on a manifesto which committed to introduce and enforce a total ban on ivory trading.

    The UK already has a ban on trade in raw tusks, or ‘unworked’ ivory, of any age. In September 2016, the Government announced plans for a ban on sales of modern day ivory in the UK, to cover items containing ivory dated between 1947 and the present day.

    It is disappointing, however, that despite committing to consult on these proposals, the consultation was not launched before the 2017 general election. It is also the case that no commitment on the ivory trade was contained in the current Government’s election manifesto or the recent Queen’s Speech.

    I am concerned that the proposals outlined during the last Parliament are too limited because they do not include older ivory products. There are concerns that illegal modern ivory can be falsely claimed to be old ivory because only carbon dating can provide the necessary identification. The charity Action for Elephants UK has also said that the existence of a legal ivory trade serves as a cover for illegal sales of ivory.

    I await further details on the current Government’s plans to tackle the ivory trade and on the status of the promised consultation and I will follow developments on this closely.

    However, I believe that the time for consultation is over and that it is now time for action. I can therefore assure you that I will continue to press for a total ban on ivory sales in the UK and for progress towards stopping the poaching of elephants and other endangered species. Thank you once again for contacting me about this important issue.

     

  • Anthony Nolan Campaign

    I sympathise profoundly with anyone affected by blood cancer and I pay tribute to Anthony Nolan for the work it does in conducting vital research and supporting those with this disease. Anthony Nolan and NHS Stem Cell Registry has given thousands of people the opportunity to have a transplant where they previously may not have been able to be matched with a donor. A stem cell transplant can offer a second chance of life for people with blood cancer and other blood disorders. However, for some patients the recovery after a stem cell transplantation can be a long and difficult journey. I know that patients often experience severe psychological and emotional stress due to the aggressive nature of the treatment and the need for prolonged hospital stays. I was therefore concerned to learn from a survey by Anthony Nolan that only half of patients recovering from stem cell transplants received emotional and psychological support. Anthony Nolan’s report, Recovery after Transplant, calls for a review of existing arrangements for commissioning post-transplant care and support to identify gaps in services. It also calls on health commissioners to work with the clinical community to develop a plan to ensure post-transplant commissioning works for every patient. I hope the Government gives careful consideration to the recommendations outlined in Anthony Nolan’s report.

  • Human rights in Colombia

    Human rights defenders continue to face death threats and violence in Colombia, and I know that this has been highlighted in a number of reports. There was a worrying increase in attacks against human rights defenders over 2016, and I was shocked to learn that 80 were murdered over the course of last year alone. Disturbingly, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has already received reports of at least ten murders so far this year where the victims appear to have been targeted for their role as human rights defenders, or because they were members of unions or political groups. These issues have been raised directly with the Government in Parliament on several occasions over recent months, and I know that the Prime Minister also raised this matter with the President of Colombia. For more than five decades the people of Colombia have endured violent armed conflict, resulting in the deaths of more than 260,000 people, many of whom were civilians. As you will know, a peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was reached at the end of last year and I welcome this significant progress. I believe it is crucial that we continue to urge others to respect the rule of law and the freedoms and rights that every human being is entitled to. I hope the UK Government will therefore make urgent representations to the Colombian Government to ensure that the proliferation of paramilitaries and private armies is countered, and that those responsible for attacks are brought to justice.

  • Household energy bills and price increases

    Household energy bills and price increases is an important issue. I have long supported a cap on energy price rises and believe we should go even further to lower bills. Since 2010, household energy bills have increased by 9.2% in real terms, while this year all of the “big six” energy companies have announced dramatic increases to household energy prices. I do not believe such increases are justifiable. Last year, the Competition and Markets Authority concluded an investigation into the energy market. It found that 70% of big six customers are on expensive default standard variable tariffs and that households had been paying £1.4 billion a year more for energy than they would have if the market was working properly. For too long the big six energy companies have been allowed to make excessive profits. It is clear that the market is broken and is no longer doing its best for customers – many people do not have time to shop around, but just want reliable and affordable energy. While the Government has said that it will act to deal with energy price rises, I am concerned that it has yet to take effective action. During the June 2017 General Election, the Prime Minister pledged to introduce a cap on energy bills that would save 17 million households up to £100 a year. However, the energy regulator Ofgem is considering a safeguard tariff that would only benefit around two million energy customers. I believe we must go further. The Government must legislate for a price cap. If a price cap to ensure that the average dual-fuel household energy bill remains below £1,000 per year had been in place since 2010, it would have saved the average consumer £1,149 so far and a further £142 per year in future. At the June 2017 General Election, I stood on a manifesto that promised to introduce such a cap, while we move to a fairer system for bill payers. I also committed to bringing energy back into public ownership, to make it more affordable and accountable to local communities. I can therefore assure you that I will continue to push for further action to ensure fair energy bills.

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