• the Pensions Dashboard

    As you know, in 2016 the Government committed to launch a Pensions Dashboard. It was designed to be a digital platform that allows an individual to view their various pension pots and see how much they have saved for their retirement.

    I believe that it is deeply concerning that many people across the country currently have a limited understanding of the value of their pension. They may be in multiple schemes and as a result, they may have no idea what their returns might be.

    I think the Pensions Dashboard is a welcome step in the right direction, as it will make pensions guidance more effective and give people a better insight into their future earnings after they retire.

    The Government recently published its response to its consultation on the Pensions Dashboard. Under the plans, the initial industry dashboards are expected to be developed and tested this year. The majority of schemes will then begin providing data via dashboards within a three to four-year timeframe.

    It also sets out that state pension information will be included at the earliest opportunity and includes assurances that legislation will be brought forward to compel all pension providers to make consumers’ data available to them through a dashboard.

    There is considerable cross-party support for the Pensions Dashboard and I hope that the Government introduces primary legislation on this as soon as possible. Indeed, Labour has said it stands ready to work with the Government to ensure that this issue progresses to the next stage.

  • the labelling of meat products by method of slaughter.

    As you know, British and EU law requires animals to be stunned before slaughter but makes an exemption for religious slaughter carried out by members of the Jewish and Muslim communities.

    I appreciate that organisations including the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming and the British Veterinary Association have expressed concerns about the animal welfare implications of non-stun slaughter. However, I am also aware that these are strongly contested by Jewish and Islamic communities.

    Although I would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter, it is important to recognise the rights of certain communities and to accept the importance they attach to their religious beliefs. There are no plans to ban religious slaughter in the UK and I agree it would not be appropriate to implement a ban. I believe we must strike a balance between animal welfare law and important cultural and religious practices.

    Each UK nation has national rules which are stricter than the relevant EU regulation and which are aimed at reducing stress and providing greater protection for animals slaughtered in accordance with religious rites. In addition, it is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (in England and Wales) and the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 (in Scotland) to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.

    I am aware that there is concern about meat products from animals that are not stunned before slaughter being sold to consumers who do not require their meat to be prepared in this way. There are currently no requirements to include information on the method of slaughter on meat labelling. However, any information provided voluntarily must be accurate and not be misleading to the consumer.

    The UK Government has said that consumers should have the necessary information to enable them to make an informed choice about their food and is considering this issue in the context of the UK leaving the EU.

    I believe food labelling must be clear and unambiguous so that consumers know exactly what they are buying, and so that farmers can compete fairly within any new trade deals after Brexit.


  • minimum income requirement this high for those seeking to come to the UK

    The UK’s Immigration Rules were changed in 2012 so that an applicant within this category must be able to prove that their partner has an annual income of at least £18,600.

    Applicants must also prove they have extra money if they have children who are not British citizens, EEA nationals, or permanently settled. Because of Brexit, the Government plans to extend these requirements to EU citizens too.

    The Government has argued that the financial requirement supports integration and prevents a burden being placed on the taxpayer.

    However, I believe this is unfair. Around 40-45% of UK residents earn less than £18,600.
    I do not believe that there should be a minimum income requirement this high for those seeking to come to the UK to be reunited with their family members who are entitled to be here. I would like to see this requirement replaced with a prohibition on recourse to public funds.

    As you know, the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill is currently making its way through Parliament. This Bill will make changes to our immigration legislation as the UK leaves the EU. The Bill is now being considered by a Public Bill Committee.

    I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to reviewing the minimum income requirement, so that people with the right to be in the UK also have the right to bring their families without excessive minimum income restrictions.


  • human rights defenders

    I believe the UK should lead the world in promoting human rights and they should be at the heart of our foreign policy.

    In my role as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe, which upholds and champions the importance of human rights and democracy, I have spoken on this issue.

    HRDs champion and fight for the human rights of others, challenging oppression and injustice. It is therefore reprehensible that HRDs and their families continue to be mistreated, arrested, disappeared or killed for standing up for the rights of others.

    As the UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs has noted, women human rights defenders, in particular, continue to face systematic discrimination, marginalisation and repression.

    I hope the UK’s diplomatic network will continue to find practical ways to support HRDs and considers groups who may face additional risks, such as those defending the rights of women.
    Such actions could include attending trials, raising cases privately with the host government, making public statements, and lobbying for safe and open space for civil society and HRDs to operate.

    I believe the UK Government should also urge respect for human rights in bilateral discussions with other governments and lead international efforts through the UN and other bodies to ensure human rights are protected and upheld around the world.

    I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to support human rights and those who defend them globally.

  • the netting of hedgerows

    I understand concerns have been raised that hedgerows, bushes and trees are being covered with netting to prevent birds from nesting. I am aware that a parliamentary petition with more than 200,000 signatures is calling to make the netting of hedgerows a criminal offence. The petition will be considered for a debate in Parliament and the Government is due to publish a response shortly.

    Labour has asked the Government what plans it has to strengthen regulations to prevent developers and landowners from putting netting on hedgerows. The Government responded saying that wild birds are protected by law and therefore any development project must consider the impact on local wildlife and take precautionary action to protect their habitats.

    The Government has also recently consulted on plans to make biodiversity net gain compulsory for developments when granting planning permission. It will also review the link between biodiversity and economic growth.

    Hedgerows have an important role to play in enhancing biodiversity. Research has found that the UK has lost significantly more nature over the long term than the global average, with 56% of species, including birds, having declined between 1970 and 2013.

    It is concerning that the budget for Natural England, the body responsible for biodiversity, has more than halved over the past decade. Moreover, the UK is on track to meet only five of the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets.

    There is an urgent need for effective action to end the catastrophic decline in species that we are seeing. One of the Opposition’s key priorities for environmental action is reversing the decline of biodiversity and protecting natural habitats.


  • the persecution of Christians globally

    The persecution of Christians is entirely unacceptable. All people should be able to practice and profess their religious faith free from persecution, as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
    It is deeply concerning that persecution of Christians has risen across the world in the last year, according to the 2019 World Watch List report by Open Doors. Indeed, nearly a quarter of a billion Christians now face persecution and I was shocked to learn that over 4,300 Christians were killed for their faith in 2018.

    I know the Foreign Secretary has launched an independent review of how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) supports persecuted Christians. I have asked questions on this matter directly to the Secretary of State and you can view a record of this and my other contributions on the Parliament.UK website. This review will be an important piece of work and it is a good opportunity to reflect on the action currently being taken and to consider what more can be done. I hope the review and the Government will look closely at the suggestions that have been made in response to it.

    I believe the protection of human rights, including freedom of religion and belief, should be at the heart of UK foreign policy. We must do everything in our power to ensure that people of faith around the world have the freedom to pursue their beliefs without fear of harassment or victimisation. This should include using all diplomatic means available, including bilateral relations and multilateral forums such as the UN, to ensure that international law is adhered to where there are humanitarian issues and breaches of human rights.

    I look forward to the outcome of this review later this year.

  • bowel cancer awareness and diagnosis

    I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected by bowel cancer and I pay tribute to Bowel Cancer UK for the vital work it does in funding research, championing improved outcomes and providing information and support to patients and their families.

    As you know, April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. It provides an important opportunity to raise awareness of symptoms, as well as the services and support available to sufferers and their families.

    Early diagnosis is critical to improving cancer survival and investment in local screening programmes can make a real difference. Evidence from Beating Bowel Cancer shows that, when diagnosis is made early, bowel cancer can be cured in over 90% of cases.

    The NHS long-term plan identifies cancer as a clinical priority and aims to boost survival by speeding up diagnosis. It includes a welcome ambition to diagnose three-quarters of all cancers at stages one or two by 2028, a specific commitment to lower the starting age for bowel cancer screening, from 60 to 50, and a modernisation of the screening programme to detect more cancers earlier.

    While the aspirations for improving cancer diagnosis are welcome, I remain concerned that Ministers have delayed setting out a workforce plan. There are more than 100,000 vacancies across the NHS and Cancer Research UK has found one in 10 diagnostic posts are unfilled. I am also disappointed that the Government has repeatedly missed the national cancer waiting time target. Nine years of cuts, privatisation and the most significant financial squeeze in its history have pushed our health service to the brink and it is patients who are paying the price.

    I believe the Government must guarantee and uphold the standards of service enshrined in the NHS constitution. I will press Ministers to improve treatment and support for patients and ensure that raising awareness of bowel cancer is a key priority.


  • autism awareness

    More needs to be done to raise awareness and improve understanding of autism both in our constituency and across the country.

    As you know, this year marks the tenth anniversary of the Autism Act 2009, passed under the last Labour Government. This placed requirements on Ministers to publish an autism strategy and provided statutory guidance for local authorities and local health bodies on supporting the needs of people with autism. The strategy focused on increasing awareness and understanding of autism; developing a clear pathway for diagnosis and personalised needs assessments; and helping autistic people into work.

    Securing an early diagnosis is fundamental to ensuring that people with autism, and their families, can access the right support. I am concerned that too many people wait too long for a diagnosis. National targets set out a maximum three-month period between referral and a first diagnostic appointment. Yet research from the National Autistic Society (NAS) has found that people are waiting years for an autism diagnosis. Indeed, a survey by Public Health England found that in one local authority waiting times stood at 125 weeks.

    I pay tribute to the NAS and all involved in the campaign to end delays in diagnosis and I am pleased that, from April 2018, NHS England started collecting data on autism diagnosis waiting times for the first time. I hope this will allow the Government to identify gaps in treatment and support and act on these findings. I also want to pay tribute to the many local groups and charities across St Helens North who are working hard to support people living with Autism and their families, groups such as Little Smarties and Inspire to Aspire.

    In December 2018, Ministers launched a review of services and support for autistic children and adults. This will inform a new joint adults and children autism strategy to be published towards the end of this year. The Government said it will collect evidence from autistic people, their families, carers and professionals on how to improve services and support. A related consultation has been published by the Departments for Education and of Health and Social Care, which will run until 16 May 2019. I will follow its outcome closely.

    I have consistently campaigned on the issues facing people diagnosed with autism across St Helens having met with parents to discuss the needs of children with autism in the constituency and backed Saints launch of a replica shirt for Rugby League’s Magic Weekend which carried the logo of St Helens Autism Support.
    There are some great organisations in St Helens such as St Helens Autism Support which make a massive difference in the area by helping raise awareness of the condition and aiding people, particularly children, with all levels of autism.

    In the meantime, I will press the Government to do more to promote awareness and improve understanding of autism. I am committed to making our country autism-friendly and ensure that autistic people can access the services and support they need.

  • the recent Asthma UK report

    I am concerned by the findings of Asthma UK’s report that many people are struggling to afford their prescriptions and some people are not collecting their medication because of the cost. Skipping medication can have a severe impact on the health of people living with asthma. I agree that nobody should be forced to neglect their health and put themselves at risk of a life-threatening asthma attack because they cannot afford prescriptions.

    Asthma is unlike other conditions in that it varies over time and seasonal triggers can make it difficult for patients to predict how much medication they will need throughout the year. I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected.

    Prescription charges in England have risen by 25% since 2010. I believe this is a reflection of the Government’s financial mismanagement of the NHS. At a time when the cost of living continues to rise, the Government should be doing much more to help people with the cost of healthcare.

    I recognise that there is strong support for making prescriptions free for people with asthma, as demonstrated by a recent petition which received more than 57,000 signatures. While there is a broad system of exemptions from prescription charges, including for those on low incomes and for people with some long-term medical conditions, asthma is not included on the medical exemption list. I understand the disappointment that will be felt by many that the Government has no plans to extend free prescriptions to people with asthma.

    The list of medical exemptions was agreed in 1968 and the only addition to the list since then has been the treatment of cancer in 2009. I believe the exemption list is outdated and I support a review into which long-term health conditions should be exempt from NHS prescription charges. I will press the Government at every opportunity to undertake this review and ensure that Ministers listen and respond to the concerns raised by people living with asthma.

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