• New parliamentary group launched to fight for St Helens and Liverpool City Region

    Conor McGinn has been elected to a senior position in a new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) set up to champion the Liverpool City Region at Westminster.

    Mr McGinn will act as Secretary of the APPG for the Liverpool City Region (LCR), which is chaired by Labour Wirral West MP Alison McGovern. It brings together over 20 MPs and members of the House of Lords to work alongside LCR Mayor Steve Rotherham, local council leaders and representatives from the private and voluntary sector to maximise opportunities and bring jobs, growth and funding to the city region. Former Liberal MP now Lord David Alton and ex-Tory deputy Prime Minister now Lord Michael Heseltine are the other officers of the cross-party group.

    Speaking about the launch of the group, Mr McGinn said: “By working together through this new group, the city region and in turn St Helens will have a stronger voice in Parliament. Alongside colleagues, I will be working to fight for increased investment for St Helens and will challenge the government to use the Autumn Budget to support the city region.

    He continued: “I will also be working to ensure the benefits that can be created through the LCR are felt not just in Liverpool, but across the entire region. I was delighted to be elected Secretary of this dedicated new group and look forward to working alongside Alison as Chair, my St Helens colleague Marie Rimmer and fellow MPs to campaign for the best future for communities here in St Helens and across the region.”

  • the impact of the General Data Protection Regulations on GP practices.

    Under the GDPR, the ability for GP Practices to charge for subject access requests has been removed in most cases. I understand and sympathise with your concerns about the financial burden this is having on GP practices, particularly at a time when NHS resources are already overstretched.

    The Government has confirmed that the right of access under the GDPR provides more personal information than is needed or is justified for insurance underwriting and that, accordingly, insurance companies should instead use the established mechanism of the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988 (AMRA). This allows GP practices to charge a reasonable fee to cover the cost of providing reports.

    The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has expressed concern about the practice of insurance companies obtaining medical records through Subject Access Requests, as opposed to following the AMRA. The ICO said that the right of subject access is not designed to underpin the commercial processes of insurance companies and takes the view that the use of subject access rights to access medical records in this way is an abuse of those rights.

    However, the ICO has made clear that Subject Access Requests from third parties for non-insurance purposes, for example, a solicitor acting on behalf of a client, are appropriate and should be made available free of charge. I realise that this is likely to have a significant impact on practices right across the country.

    I assure you that I will press the Government at every opportunity to ensure that GP practices are not adversely affected by the changes under the GDPR. I will bear in mind the points you have raised and follow this issue closely.

  • The wedding of Princess Eugenie

    I appreciate there are strongly held views on both sides about this issue and the funding of the Royal Family more generally. While I understand that the wedding itself will be funded by the families of Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank, I recognise that the cost of security and extra policing for the event will be met by taxpayers.

    Thames Valley Police has said that, at this stage, it is not possible to know what the exact cost of policing the event will be. Indeed, that information is unlikely to be known until the wedding has taken place. I note that Police and Crime Commissioners are able to apply for extra funding from the Home Office to cover the cost of ‘unexpected and exceptional events’ within their area.

    As you may know, the Sovereign Grant Act provides a mechanism for the accounts of the Royal Household to be inspected and audited by the National Audit Office. These accounts are laid before Parliament and the Public Accounts Committee is able to hold hearings on the accounts and question the way that the Royal Household uses public money.

    There are no plans from the current Government for further reform of the way in which the Monarchy is funded. However, I will certainly bear in mind the points you have raised if and when this issue is next debated in Parliament.

  • claims for whiplash injury

    The Civil Liability Bill will soon be debated for the first time in the House of Commons. The Government says this Bill will crack down on fraudulent whiplash claims and ban the settling of claims without medical evidence, while introducing a new system of fixed tariffs for compensation payments for pain, suffering and loss of amenity in whiplash claims with a duration of up to two years.

    Current proposals mean that the Lord Chancellor will be able to set the level of these tariffs, but I believe these should be determined by the judiciary – based on Judicial College guidelines rather than by the levels proposed by the Government. If there is to be a tariff, the Judicial College should be involved in determining these.

    The Government is also bringing a package of other measures by secondary legislation alongside the Bill. The limit for claims on the small claims track in civil courts would be raised from £1,000 to £5,000 for road traffic accident-related personal injury claims, and from £1,000 to £2,000 for other personal injury claims.

    I will oppose this move as I believe people who are injured should be able to get compensation, and they need proper legal advice to do so.

    There is disagreement about the extent of fraudulent claims, but the insurance industry’s own estimates showed the amount paid out for whiplash claims falling by 17% between 2007 and 2016, while premiums rose by 71% on average. I do not want to see victims left unfairly liable for greater legal costs while insurance companies pocket the savings.

    I also note the Justice Committee, in its report earlier this year, stated regret that the Government has not considered it relevant during consultation to consider the “potentially substantial” impact of the proposals on the personal injury legal sector.

    I hope the Government will now listen to the concerns that have been raised and make substantial changes to the Bill to protect injured people. We should not be punishing genuine claimants for the misdemeanours of the fraudulent. If the real concern is the prevention of fraud, I think we should be looking at other measures.

  • pension annuities

    As you know, a number of pension reforms were introduced in 2015 which gave people aged 55 and over more flexibility about when and how to draw their pension savings. Previously, most people with defined contribution (DC) pension schemes had to use them to buy an annuity – an insurance product which provides a guaranteed income for life.

    Following these reforms, the Government consulted on plans to create secondary market for pension annuities, which would have allowed pensioners to sell the income they receive from their annuity in return for a lump sum of money. However, these plans were cancelled as the Government said it was unwilling to allow an annuity market to develop which could produce poor outcomes for consumers. I understand that this reversal may have caused confusion among pensioners who are already worried about their long-term future.

    I appreciate that the Government looked at this issue in detail during its consultation period and I am concerned about the significant complexities and costs in creating a secondary market. In light of this, I am not convinced that a secondary market for annuities should be resurrected at this time.

    However, I would like to reassure you that I am committed to ensuring that older people have dignity and security in retirement. For example, at the 2017 general election, I pledged to guarantee the state pension triple lock, so it will rise by at least 2.5% a year or be increased to keep pace with inflation or earnings, whichever is higher. In addition, I also believe that more work needs to be done to improve the adequacy of returns on DC savings, including by looking in more depth at costs and charges.

  • Tommy Robinson

    Tommy Robinson was sentenced to 13 months in prison for contempt of court after live streaming on Facebook outside an active trial at Leeds Crown Court on 25 May.

    In the video, Mr Robinson discussed the case and attempted to film defendants arriving at court. The judge had placed a reporting restriction on the trial, meaning details could not be published until it concludes later this year. This is to ensure that the trial is fair. Breaching this restriction can amount to contempt of court. It is also illegal to take photographs or film in a courtroom or its precincts.

    Mr Robinson had previously been convicted of contempt of court after attempting to film and talk to defendants outside a rape trial at Canterbury Crown Court in 2017. On that occasion, he was sentenced to three months imprisonment suspended for 18 months.

    Mr Robinson was told that if he broke the law again by filming outside a court during a live trial, he would go prison for the three months of his suspended sentence on top of anything else given by any other court.

    At his sentencing on 25 May, the judge said that if the jurors had seen the video the jury may have needed to be discharged and the case re-tried, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds. The judge also said that a retrial would mean witnesses in the case would have to give evidence again before a jury.

    I agree that freedom of speech is vital and is a cornerstone of our democracy. However, the right to a fair trial is also extremely important.

    In Robinson’s case, the judge emphasised that our rights, including freedom of speech, come with responsibilities to exercise them within the law. He concluded that Mr Robinson’s actions were highly prejudicial to the defendants’ in the trial and therefore interfered with the administration of justice.

  • NHS staffing and Tier-2 Visas

    The Government should remove all health professionals from the cap on skilled workers to tackle the NHS’s growing staffing crisis and ensure that there are enough highly-skilled professionals to care for patients.

    Despite the brilliant efforts of NHS staff who work tirelessly in the face of increasing pressures, years of pay restraint and a failure to invest in and plan properly for the workforce has resulted in vacancies for nearly 100,000 staff, including 35,000 nursing vacancies and 10,000 doctor vacancies. The Government has also abolished bursaries for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals resulting in the number of applications for nursing courses falling by over 15,000.

    Our health service has always relied on the contribution of overseas workers. The NHS must be able hire the staff it needs from abroad to provide safe levels of care and I believe Ministers should be doing more to ensure that hospitals can get the right numbers of staff in place.

    The British Medical Association (BMA), NHS Employers and medical royal colleges have written to the Home Secretary calling for the Tier-2 visa cap to be “urgently reviewed”. The BMA has expressed its deep concerns that at a time when the NHS is struggling to fill vacancies, visa restrictions and caps for non-EU workers are preventing overseas doctors from caring for patients.

    I will press the Government to remove the cap on NHS staff visas so that hospitals right across the country can recruit enough skilled medical professionals to provide the care patients deserve.

     

  • Tier 1 migrants

    The Tier 1 (General) visa allowed highly skilled migrants to come to work in the UK without the requirement of a job offer in advance. This visa category was closed to new applicants in December 2010. Paragraph 322(5) of the Immigration Rules is one of the general grounds for refusal of leave to remain and – according to Home Office policy guidance – should be used for cases of criminality, threat to national security, war crimes or travel bans.

    Roughly 1,000 highly skilled migrants seeking indefinite leave to remain are wrongly facing deportation due to paragraph 322(5), with a large number of refusals made on the basis of minor tax errors which many individuals corrected themselves. This is while our country needs many of these people as NHS doctors, teachers and engineers.

    I believe the Government’s treatment of highly skilled migrants has been shortsighted. These migrants have made legitimate and lawful changes to their tax returns but are being put in the same category as serious criminals. The effect of a refusal can be devastating and long-lasting for those concerned – who could become ineligible for another visa and banned from returning to the UK for 10 years, refused the right to employment or to access NHS services.

    I am aware that the Immigration Minister is conducting a review of Tier 1 (General) migrant cases who were refused due to discrepancies with their HMRC records. I look forward to scrutinising this review when it is reported to Parliament.

     

  • Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and Special Rules for Terminal Illness (SRTI)

    I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected by MND. I would also like to pay tribute to the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA) for the invaluable role it plays in providing support and campaigning for improved services for those who suffer from the disease.

    As you are aware, the SRTI application process is intended to enable social security claimants who are terminally ill to access support quickly. For example, people claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP) who are terminally ill and apply through the SRTI process have their claim fast-tracked and are eligible for the enhanced rate of the daily living component from the date of their application.

    However, to be eligible for the SRTI a person must have a progressive disease and life expectancy of six months or less. I understand this can exclude many people with unpredictable terminal illnesses, such as MND. I am also aware that a recent report from the MNDA found that only 28% of individuals with MND claimed SRTI.

    I understand that MNDA is asking the Government to review this criteria, as MND is a terminal condition in all cases, but its progression can vary significantly. I agree that this is deeply concerning and I hope the Government will listen carefully and respond.

    I am also aware that the Government recently announced its intention to end unnecessary PIP reassessments for people with severe health conditions. For too long reassessments have placed a cruel and unnecessary burden on people living with terminal and progressive conditions. However, this announcement falls short of the urgent action needed to end the unnecessary stress and anxiety being inflicted through the PIP assessment process.

    I believe the Government should scrap the current assessment regime, put an end to the privatisation of assessments and work to deliver a social security system in which people can have confidence. I am also in favour of legislating to make terminal illness a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.

     

  • policing cuts

    There are currently just under 3,500 police officers in Merseyside Police, serving and protecting a population of nearly 1.5 million, including communities here in St Helens.

    In 2010, this figure stood at 4,500, meaning that eight years of austerity on this Tory Government’s watch has resulted in 1,000 fewer officers across Merseyside – a drop of 22 per cent.

    Ministers said that cutting the number of officers would not affect crime rates, but this has categorically not been the case, with total recorded crime in Merseyside up 25 per cent over the same period.

    It’s particularly concerning that crimes involving violence against the person are up 129 per cent and sexual offences have risen by 186 per cent.

    But new figures that I obtained from Ministers in a series of parliamentary questions show staff cuts and the resulting pressure on police officers has also damaged Merseyside Police behind the scenes.

    The answers revealed that Merseyside Police’s “wastage rate” – which is the number of officers leaving as a percentage of the force of – has increased from 4.7 per cent to 8 per cent between 2010 and 2017, an increase of 3.3 per cent compared to a national increase of just 1.6 per cent over the same period.

    And Ministers could not say how many officers would be in Merseyside Police in the next five years in a refusal to rule out further cuts, meaning that numbers could fall further as crime continues to rise.

    Police officers in Merseyside are working incredibly hard under difficult circumstances, but all the Government has to offer is cuts and a hollowing out of staff as wastage rates continue to climb.