• Israel and the United Nations

    I appreciate the points that have been raised by the Israel-Britain Alliance and others about the disproportionate focus on Israel by some UN bodies, including the Human Rights Council and UNESCO. While I understand these concerns, I believe it is important to remain a part of these organisations so that we can advocate for reform from within, particularly given the importance of their work. I therefore regret the recent decisions taken by the Israeli and US governments to withdraw from UNESCO. The UK and Israel have a relationship in many areas, from trade and investment, to technology, innovation and security. However, as a friend, I believe we also have a responsibility to promote human rights and adherence to international law. I continue to believe that a two-state solution, recognising the importance of security and stability and guaranteeing a viable and secure future for both Israel and Palestine, must remain the goal of the international community. This will require all sides to avoid taking action that makes peace harder to achieve, and that means both an end to the blockade, occupation and settlements, and an end to attacks. This is why the UK supported UN Security Council resolution 2334 last year, emphasising both of these points. I will continue to urge the Government to press for an immediate return to meaningful negotiations and to fully back all initiatives focused on a diplomatic resolution. I know from the many letters and e-mails I receive that there are strong views on this matter, and I can assure you that I will bear in mind the points you raise.

  • medicinal use of cannabis

    The law around drug use is a sensitive issue and I recognise that there are a range of strongly held views on this matter. I have enormous sympathy for anybody with a physical condition seeking the most effective pain relief and I know that several organisations are campaigning for changes in drugs laws, specifically the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use. I do not believe that we need to legalise cannabis in order to have access to its medical benefits. It is, of course, important that a medicine is thoroughly trialled to ensure it meets rigorous standards before being licensed so that both doctors and patients are sure of its efficacy and safety. As you may be aware, there is already a regulatory process in place to enable medicines, including those containing controlled drugs such as cannabis, to be developed and subsequently prescribed and supplied to patients. Indeed, Sativex – which is a cannabis-based mouth spray – has been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency for use in the UK as an add-on treatment for relieving symptoms in patients with spasticity due to multiple sclerosis. I understand, though, that Sativex is not currently available in England due to cost and, although this is a decision for NICE, I would like the Government to look again at this. I am concerned about the effects of cannabis, particularly on mental health, with regular users more likely to develop a wide range of psychological conditions. Indeed, there is a recognised link between cannabis use and the development of depression or anxiety, particularly amongst those who started using it at a younger age. In my view, there remains real public concern about the negative impact of recreational use of cannabis, and so I am therefore not persuaded that it would be responsible to support measures that may make the drug more readily available.

  • multiple sclerosis and social care

    I share residents concerns about the state of adult social care in England. The Care Quality Commission’s State of Care report found that the number of people not getting support for their social care needs has risen by 48% since 2010 and the future quality of care has been described as “precarious”. The Chancellor’s Autumn Budget offered no additional funding to support social care services. Indeed, it made no reference to social care whatsoever. I share the concerns of the MS Society that this will come as a huge disappointment to people with MS, and that unless the social care funding gap is addressed, people with MS, their families and carers will continue to pay the price for a system unable to cope with demand. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services finds that, by the end of this financial year, £6.3 billion will have been cut from adult social care budgets since 2010. The Health Foundation has also said that that six years of real-terms reductions in social care budgets has left 400,000 fewer people receiving essential help. The Government originally announced its intention to publish a Green Paper on social care by the end of this year. In November, it was announced that this will now be published by summer 2018, and it appears it will not consult on working age people with social care needs. At a time when the social care system is coming under increasing pressure, I believe this Government is failing to take the immediate action required to find a long-term and sustainable solution to social care funding. At the General Election I stood on a manifesto that promised an extra £8 billion to tackle the funding gap in social care, including an additional £1 billion for the first year. This would ensure care staff are paid the National Living Wage and extend publicly funded social care to thousands of people. Thank you once again for contacting me and for sharing your views. I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to give our social care system the resources it needs to provide the best possible care.

  • live animal exports

    I support British farming and want it to be economically viable, environmentally sustainable and to lead the world with high standards in animal welfare and food quality. I would like to see a growth in the trade and export of meat rather than live animals and I believe animals should be slaughtered as close as possible to where they are reared. The current Government has committed to examine the future of live animal exports and I will await any proposals that it brings forward on this issue. At the recent election, I stood on a manifesto which pledged to promote cruelty-free animal husbandry and to consult on ways to ensure agreed standards are better enforced. I will continue to press for the highest possible animal welfare standards across British farming. We must prioritise a sustainable, long-term future for our farming, fishing and food industries. We cannot allow Brexit to be used as an excuse for food standards to be reduced or to allow cheap and inferior produce to flood the UK market. I believe we should reconfigure funds for farming to promote sustainable practices so that the industry can thrive and succeed while benefitting local communities. I can assure you I will continue to call for action to promote a humane and sustainable British farming system. I will also press for our existing environmental and animal welfare standards to be retained and strengthened once we have left the EU.

    I believe the most significant issue for animal welfare is the distance that animals are transported and the condition those animals are housed in rather than exports, it is for this reason I am unable to sign this EDM.

  • Cosmetics testing on animals

     The humane treatment of all animals should be a benchmark for any civilised society and I have long believed that the UK must lead the world on high animal welfare standards and in the fight against global animal cruelty.

    I am proud that in 1997 the UK Government banned the testing of cosmetics on animals. In 1998, this was extended to cosmetic ingredients. After 2009, other EU countries adopted a near-total ban on the sale of products tested or containing ingredients tested on animals for cosmetic purposes, with a complete ban on the sale of cosmetics developed through animal testing in place since 2013. This applies to all new cosmetics and their ingredients sold in the EU, regardless of where in the world testing on animals takes place.

    While the UK has shown strong leadership on this issue, as you know there are a number of countries around the world where cosmetics animal testing and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics are still permitted.

    I am aware that Cruelty Free International is calling on the UK Government to press the United Nations to develop an international agreement to end cosmetics animal testing everywhere. I believe that national governments have a duty to work together to fight animal cruelty across the world and I would like to see the UK do more to encourage other countries to ban animal testing for cosmetics.

     

  • leasehold

    I believe using leasehold to sell new homes is unfair and unjustifiable. I know from the correspondence I have had on this matter from residents across St Helens North that many leaseholders are reporting a whole range of problems, including: high service charges and a lack of transparency over what they are being charged for; freeholders who block attempts by leaseholders to exercise the Right to Manage; and excessive costs associated with administration charges and applications to extend lease agreements or enfranchise.

    I have joined the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) looking into Leasehold and Commonhold reform to consider ways in which leasehold and commonhold legislation and regulation might be improved and examine those elements of current legislation and regulation which are seen as defective.

    The Government published a Housing White Paper in February which included a commitment to improve consumer choice and fairness in leasehold. A consultation on tackling unfair practices in the leasehold market ran until 19 September 2017. It includes proposals to tackle the sale of new-build houses on a leasehold basis and to control ground rent levels in new lease agreements. While I welcome the Government’s proposals, I believe that legislation is needed to ensure the end of unfair leaseholds, to cap unfair rises in ground rent and to deal with existing contracts that contain unfair buy-out clauses. Nearly half of all newly-built properties were sold leasehold last year; I believe existing leaseholders need stronger rights too. At the General Election I stood on a manifesto which pledged to end the routine use of leasehold ownership for all new homes, and cap charges on ‘ground rents’ to stop unfair rises, giving leaseholders security against unforeseen rises in housing costs. The manifesto also pledged to commission a review into ending the routine use of leasehold ownership in developments of all new homes, and on making it easier for existing leaseholders to buy the freehold of their homes.

  • Adult social care

    I share constituents concerns about the state of adult social care in England. In October, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) published its annual state of care report which found that 3,952 care services were rated as “requires improvement” and more than 300 were rated as “inadequate”. That means that some 92,000 vulnerable people are receiving poor care and 16,000 people are receiving inadequate care. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services finds that, by the end of this financial year, £6.3 billion will have been cut from adult social care budgets since 2010. The Health Foundation has also said that that six years of real-terms reductions in social care budgets have left 400,000 fewer people receiving essential help. The State of Care report found that the number of nursing homes beds fell by 4,000 in two years. The number of people not getting support for their social care needs has also risen by 48% since 2010 and the future quality of care has been described as “precarious”. I believe the detail of this CQC report reveals evidence of the Government’s inability to maintain health and care services at the standard which patients expect. Reductions in social care budgets since 2010 have caused problems of recruitment and retention of staff, which are at the heart of the poor care that is being reported. At the General Election I stood on a manifesto that promised an extra £8 billion to tackle the immediate funding gap in social care, including an additional £1 billion for the first year. This would ensure care staff are paid the National Living Wage and extend publicly funded social care to thousands of people. I am aware that Independent Age is working with Healthwatch England to improve the information available to help local people assess the quality of care homes. I believe the Government must step in and give our health and care system the resources it needs to provide the best possible care. The Chancellor should use his budget in November to finally put the NHS on a secure financial footing for the long term.

  • ‘The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill’

    I believe this is an important Bill which would strengthen the Modern Slavery Act. I share the concerns raised that at present specialist support funded by the Government ends very quickly after a person is confirmed to be a victim of modern slavery. This is potentially very damaging for victims, and non-Governmental organisations are all too often having to pick up the pieces. I believe granting leave to remain with recourse to benefits and services would help with long-term recovery of victims, prevent re-trafficking, and help to secure convictions of the people involved in this awful crime. There are an estimated 10,000 to 13,000 people in modern slavery in the UK. The Modern Slavery Act was passed two years ago, yet it has been left to go stale through a lack of enforcement, additional legislation or desire. Modern day slavery is complex, and in-depth, sophisticated investigations are needed. With the pressure of cuts to police numbers and budgets, it is unfortunately not surprising that investigations are prematurely closed and victims not identified. I am aware of Government announcements made last October about a range of measures intended to improve the National Referral Mechanism. The Government stated in January 2018 that detailed implementation plans, including timescales, are being made, and I will monitor any developments closely. Thank you once again for contacting me and for sharing your views. I can assure you I will continue to follow this issue and bear in mind the points that you raise. I hope the Government will support the aims of the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill. Modern slavery is a scourge with historical roots, and we must make sure that we offer victims robust, reliable and effective support.

  • car parking charges in hospitals

     I share your concern about this and I know that when people are coming into hospital the last thing they want to worry about is parking fees or keeping the parking ticket up to date.

    I also appreciate that for people such as cancer patients who need to visit hospital frequently these costs can really mount up. Indeed, as the ‘Stop the Hospital Car Parking Rip off’ campaign has noted, staff and visitors can pay as much as £12 to park for 4 hours in NHS hospitals. Macmillian Cancer Support have also highlighted that the average hospital parking cost for cancer patients is £7.66 per day and that this can be much higher in different parts of the country.

    This is an issue the previous Labour Government drew attention to and left fully costed plans in place to phase out charges for in-patients. These plans would have ensured patients were given a permit to cover the length of their stay which visitors could use to park for free. However, in 2010 the Coalition Government scrapped these plans.

    As you may be aware, in August 2014 the Department of Health issued updated guidance for hospitals on car parking charges, which stated that concessions, including free or reduced parking charges or caps, should be made available to certain groups. This was followed by a Department of Health document in March 2015 which was designed to aid implementation of these guidelines.

    I welcome any action that could help to ease the financial burden of car parking charges on patients and their visitors. However, I believe a number of questions remain regarding the implementation of the Government’s updated guidance, including whether money is being made available to Trusts to offset additional costs, if there is a risk that some Trusts will be left with the choice of either implementing the principles or threatening to cut back on services, and what measures are in place to ensure Trusts follow these guidelines.

    I believe it is important that we look at what more can be done to ensure patients, their visitors, and carers are not subject to unfair car parking charges and practices.

    It is welcome, therefore, that a Private Members Bill – the Hospital Parking Charges (Exemption for Carers) Bill – has recently been introduced to Parliament by my colleague Julie Cooper MP. This Bill is due to be debated in the House of Commons on 30th October 2015. I hope this provide an opportunity for this important issue to be debated and I can assure you that I will follow its progress closely.

     

  • detention of victims of torture and other vulnerable people

     The UK has a proud history of helping people fleeing violence and persecution and we have both moral and legal obligations to vulnerable people seeking asylum. I am aware of the High Court ruling in October 2017 that found that the Home Office’s redefinition of torture in its Adults at Risk immigration detention policy was unlawful and that hundreds of torture survivors had been wrongly detained. The Government has said that it is now considering how best to address the court’s findings in relation to its Adults at Risk policy.

    The idea that this country would lock up people who were victims of torture is truly shocking. I believe that the court’s verdict must be accepted and acted upon. The Government should not attempt to work around or simply ignore the ruling, as has happened in previous cases.

    As you are aware, the Government introduced their Adults at Risk policy as an integral part of its reforms following Stephen Shaw’s report into the welfare in detention of vulnerable persons. Stephen Shaw is currently undertaking a follow up review to assess Government progress on these issues in the past two years and I look forward to reading the report when it is published later this year.

    I assure you that I will continue to follow this issue closely and push the Government to take action to reform its immigration detention policy.

     

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