• fracking

    Fracking is bad for local democracy, bad for the environment and bad for our climate. We should ban it.

    On local democracy,  The permitted development system and the nationally significant infrastructure project process are not appropriate for dealing with the complexities of fracking. Both processes ignore the voice of local people. Fracking has already begun in Lancashire through the Government’s overriding of both Lancashire County Council’s rejection of the fracking site and the opposition of local people. We should not be making changes that will further undermine local decision-making.

    On climate change, the leading international body of climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recently published a report setting out the huge task we face to avoid dangerous climate change. I believe fracking flies in the face of the evidence set out in this report. Shale gas is only a low-carbon option if it replaces coal. However, we are already replacing coal in our energy mix. Shale gas coming online now would displace genuinely low-carbon energy, not coal.

    Finally, on local environmental quality, a Government report from 2015 concluded that fracking increases air pollution, with substantially higher local impacts where activities are clustered. Researchers have also expressed concern about the large quantities of waste water generated by fracking. There are also legitimate concerns about earth tremors. Indeed, Cuadrilla has already had to pause fracking in Lancashire several times following seismic activity in the area.

    Fracking is unpopular with local communities. It will lock the UK into high-carbon energy infrastructure, increase local air pollution, create large volumes of waste water and do little for the UK’s energy security. The Government should not be promoting it at any cost. Instead, we should join France, Germany and other countries in banning it.

  • forced removal flights

    I understand that in December 2018, fifteen people were convicted of intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome. In January 2019, lawyers for the group lodged submissions asking for the case to be reviewed at the Court of Appeal.

    While I will not comment on an ongoing legal matter that is in the courts, I hope it is of interest if I set out my views on immigration policy and forced removal flights.

    There are longstanding concerns about the way migrants are treated on forced removal flights. On a general point of principle, I am clear that I would like to see an end to the practice of deporting people to countries they have little or no connection with.

    I also believe we need a complete change of policy and approach at the Home Office and I am calling for the hostile environment policy – which has ruined people’s lives – to be ended for good. People with a legal right to be here are getting caught up in what can only be described as a nightmare for them.

    More widely, I oppose indefinite detention and instead support a 28-day limit on immigration detention. I believe Yarl’s Wood and Brook House immigration detention centres should be closed, with the £20 million a year in savings from these closures instead directed to support services for survivors of modern slavery, trafficking and domestic violence.

  • DVLA guidance on the use of new monitoring technologies for people living with diabetes

    In January 2018 the law which required people with diabetes who are treated with insulin to test their blood before driving and every two hours during the journey was broadened to allow the testing of interstitial fluid. This means that new forms of testing – such as flash glucose monitoring and continuous glucose monitoring – can be considered for the use of testing while driving.

    Constituents  expressed  serious concern that the DVLA has not yet updated its guidance to come into line with this change in the law. I know that these types of monitoring devices are easier, quicker and less painful than routine finger-prick glucose monitoring and can transform peoples’ lives. I appreciate that the DVLA’s delay on this important matter must have been a significant cause of frustration.

    In January 2019, the Government indicated that the DVLA was amending its Assessing Fitness to Drive guidance on this subject. The revised guidance is due to be published in February 2019 and I can assure you I will follow updates on this closely.

    Diabetes is one of the most serious public health problems facing the UK today and I believe that there should be concerted action to support the estimated four million adults and children in the UK living with the condition.

    I am hopeful that in the future, artificial pancreas technology will be effective, safe and accessible to patients, and that eventually we will create a world without diabetes. However, until that time comes, I believe that it is paramount that we do all we can to support people living with the condition.

  • the Government’s Waste Policy Review

    I agree that it is important that central and local government work closely to ensure that we have an effective, efficient and environmentally friendly waste policy. In recent years there has been some positive progress on this issue, with waste generation falling and recycling increasing. Indeed, whereas in 2000/01 only 11% of UK waste was recycled, this has now risen to 40%.

    However, more than 50% of UK waste is still sent to landfill and I agree that more needs to be done in order to reach the previous Government’s goal of a zero-waste Britain where no recyclable or biodegradable material is wasted in landfill.

    The Waste Review was a real opportunity to adopt the ambitious, bold approach the country needs to boost recycling and cut waste. I am very disappointed that the Government’s plans – which were published on 15th June – lack the necessary commitment to tackle waste, to create green jobs or to establish ambitious targets for recycling.

    Indeed, by merely requiring 50% of waste in England to be recycled by 2020, the Government has set the minimum possible target under EU law and has left England with the lowest recycling targets in the UK. The devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland have set a 70% target to be achieved by 2025 and the Northern Ireland assembly has a 60% target for 2020 .

    I fear that local recycling and waste collection services will be seriously affected by the substantial cuts that the Government are making to local authorities (28% over the next four years) and to Keep Britain Tidy and WRAP – the agencies that help local authorities reduce waste and tackle littering.

    I am therefore very concerned about the Government’s Waste Policy Review and I know that environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth have also criticised the Review for ‘lacking new ideas and ambition’.

     

  • train services in the north

     

    I share many constituents frustration and disappointment at the Tories decision to cancel or downgrade plans to electrify railway lines in Wales, the Midlands and the north.

     Research has shown that electrification cuts the cost of trains, increases reliability and reduces carbon emissions by 20%-30% compared with diesel trains. There are also benefits in terms of connectivity, capacity and economic growth.

     I am concerned that pulling the plug on electrification will lengthen journey times, increase carbon emissions and raise the cost of the rail network.

     The Government says it will instead introduce faster trains with more seats. The new trains on the Great Western and Midland Mainline will now be “bi-mode”, meaning they could run on electrified sections of track and then transfer to non-electrified sections. Despite saying for years that failure to electrify the network costs more in the long run, worsens air quality, lessens capacity and makes services slower and less reliable, the Government now claims that diesel bi-mode trains will deliver the same benefits as electrification.

     I am deeply concerned that the Government is undermining the Crossrail for the north project, which aims to boost east-west rail services in northern England, as the route will not be fully electrified. I believe that the promised electrification must be delivered and that the railway network should be enhanced and expanded across the UK, in order to address the imbalance in transport infrastructure spending and drive economic growth.

     At the General Election in June 2017, I stood on a manifesto that committed to transform our transport network, bringing our railways back into public ownership and putting public service before private profit. It also committed to real improvements for passengers by capping fares, introducing free Wi-Fi across the network, ensuring safe staffing levels, ending the expansion of driver only operations, and introducing legal duties to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

     

     

  • access to NHS in vitro fertilisation

    Difficulty conceiving is a problem that affects one in seven couples. That means millions of people face a severe and lasting impact on their lives. I sympathise profoundly with anyone who has tried and been unsuccessful in conceiving naturally.

    The current guidance on infertility, outlined by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), is clear that all eligible couples should have access to three full cycles of IVF where the woman is aged below 40, and women between 40 and 42 should have access to one full cycle. However, local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are not legally required to commission services in line with NICE guidance. Indeed, there is substantial variation between CCGs in England in terms of what fertility treatments are routinely funded.

    The national stakeholder organisation, Fertility Fairness, undertakes an annual survey of the provision of fertility services across England. Information collected for 2016-17 shows that only 9% of all CCGs offer services in line with current NICE guidelines and seven CCGs offer no routine service.

    I am concerned that guidelines can be ignored, and I understand the disappointment that will be felt by many that the Government has no plans to change the arrangement for the commissioning of NHS fertility services. Ministers should take a more robust stance when CCGs overlook NICE guidance. If they do not, I believe they are not only accepting but entrenching the idea of a postcode lottery.

  • Health and Care Professions Council plans to increase its registration renewal fee

    I have joined Unison in raising concerns regarding the potential impact of these changes for healthcare practitioners both within St Helens North and across the country.

    I know that there has been widespread concern from HCPC-registered professionals and trade unions regarding HCPC’s decision to increase registration fees from £90 to £106. This is the third rise in five years and it represents a 40% increase since 2014.

    As you may know, in 2015 the Coalition Government introduced regulations to require the HCPC, and other professional regulators, to pay the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) to oversee its work. The Government’s rationale was that the PSA would become a self-funded organisation. As a result, the HCPC increased its fee from £76 in 2014 to £90 in 2015.

    The HCPC conducts important work as a health and care regulator by maintaining a register of practitioners and setting standards of professional conduct, performance and professional development. It has defended its decision to raise registration renewal fees as necessary to “safeguard the HCPC’s financial sustainability”.

    Health and care professionals work long hours, often in extremely difficult circumstances. The HCPC’s decision to raise fees comes at a time when public sector workers have faced nearly a decade of pay freezes and pay cuts. This decision will affect a wide range of staff and I hope that the Government will listen and respond to the concerns being raised by health and care professionals.

    This Tory government has imposed real term pay freezes on health professionals and this decision has not taken into account the difficulty faced by many staff.

    I was disappointed with the response to the joint letter signed by myself and many colleagues in conjunction with Unison, as a result I will be signing an Early Day Motion calling on the HCPC to think again about the increase.

     

  • changing places campaign

    I understand constituents concerns that standard accessible toilets do not meet the needs of all people with a disability and I appreciate the importance of access to Changing Places toilets.

     At the 2017 general election, I stood on a manifesto which pledged to incorporate the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) into UK law. The UNCRPD emphasises the importance of accessibility of public facilities and services, to enable disabled people to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life.

     As I am sure you will be aware, the Equality Act 2010 places a duty on building owners, employers and business operators to make reasonable adjustments to buildings to ensure disabled people are not placed at a disadvantage. Current building guidance also recommends that Changing Places facilities be provided in larger buildings and complexes with public access, or where visitors might be expected to spend long periods of time.

     However, I understand there are calls for existing regulations to be strengthened and I would like to see a review of access and inclusiveness in sports, arts and leisure venues, considering the needs of people with different disabilities.

     As you know, my colleague, Paula Sherriff MP, introduced a Private Members’ Bill on 27 June 2018 which seeks to make the provision of Changing Places toilets mandatory in certain buildings. I understand this Bill is now scheduled to have its second reading debate in the House of Commons on 25 January 2019. However, the order of business has not yet been confirmed for this day and it may not be debated.

     The Government has stated that it is keen to promote the provision of Changing Places toilet facilities and that it is considering what more can be done on this. It has also said it will continue to be supportive of other initiatives to encourage existing business and building owners to voluntarily install Changing Places toilets.

     

  • visiting our local Jobcentre plus

    I visited Job Centre Plus in St Helens town to look at the support available to constituents in St Helens North.

    I voiced the many concerns that constituents have raised with me on the Universal Credit roll-out – worries about the assessment period and 28-day wage cycles, delays in payments for childcare and the identification required to set up the claims.

    Despite my strong opposition to this Tory Government’s policies on welfare, I was pleased to meet some of the staff – the vast majority of whom are from our community – working in the Job Centre, and thanked them for their efforts at a really tough time. I could see that locally in St Helens a whole person approach to supporting people is being implemented and I was particularly impressed by the Health Hub which links people with health conditions with community support organisations to help them fulfil their potential – including a mental health nurse with a remit to support the vulnerably housed.

    While recognising this support and the dedication of local staff, I am very clear that the Tory Government’s policies are wrong. I am currently working with hundreds of constituents to challenge these unfair cuts that cause daily misery in St Helens North and across the country and remain committed to working for the reversal of changes to Personal Independence Payments and cuts to Employment and Support Allowances.

  • Helens Law update

    For 31 years, Marie McCourt has been tormented because the man who murdered her beloved daughter refuses to reveal the location of Helen’s remains. Now Marie and the McCourt family have the added pain of seeing Ian Simms walk the streets & enjoy freedom. It is an appalling affront to common decency and any sense of justice.

    I spoke to Marie this morning and on her behalf have sought an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State for Justice. The law must change. This man and others like him should never be released. We need Helen’s Law.

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