• Air pollution

    The World Health Organization has described air pollution as a “public health emergency” and there is clear evidence that poor air quality has serious environmental and health impacts. A report to the United Nations human rights council in September 2017 raised concerns regarding the effects of air pollution on vulnerable groups in the UK, including the risk of “mortality, morbidity and disability” to children.

    I am extremely concerned about the fact that the UK has routinely exceeded the legal levels for pollution and I believe that the air pollution crisis is a national scandal, and that urgent action must be taken. Too often it is people in the poorest areas suffering from the worst levels of air pollution, but clean air belongs to us all – not just a privileged few.

    Following several court cases, on 26 July 2017, the Government finally published its final plan on air quality, which includes the introduction of new Clean Air Zones, a new £23 million fund for hydrogen vehicles and a £64 million fund to promote the uptake of electric taxis. The Government also plans to ban the sale of all new diesel and petrol cars by 2040, and has suggested that new pollution taxes could be levied on diesel drivers who use the most congested roads in major towns and cities from 2020.

    After seven years of illegal air pollution, the Government has only acted after being dragged through the courts. I believe the Government must urgently set out their response to the concerns raised in the report to the UN human rights council, and take stronger and more immediate action on all areas of public health and environmental concern that have been highlighted.

    At the General Election in June 2017, I stood on a manifesto which committed to bring forward a new Clean Air Act to drive challenging emissions reduction targets.

     

     

  • Significant problems with Personal Independence Payment

    I am concerned about this issue and I believe we should, as a society, be caring for all sick and disabled people, rather than making their lives worse through punitive assessments.

    In St Helens North I have seen first-hand the devastating impact of delays to Personal Independence Payments, lengthy tribunal waits and difficulties challenging face to face assessment results.

    I have represented many constituents in this area in challenging Personal Independence Payment decisions and I am seeing a steady increase in constituents requiring help.

    The current average waiting time for a tribunal in St Helens North is 28 weeks following the mandatory reconsideration process which in itself can take 4 weeks. I have one constituent who has been waiting since April 2017 to obtain a tribunal date following an appeals process which started in February. I found it deeply concerning that eight in every 10 of those facing PIP assessments find it makes their health worse, and two thirds feel their claim was poorly represented by the assessor. These survey results are an indictment of the harsh assessments, and the miserable effect they are having on people in our area and across the country who are trying to access much needed support. There are clearly long-term issues with the PIP assessment process as a whole. I know that over a quarter of all assessments are challenged and referred for mandatory reconsideration, with the majority of the decisions being changed. 65% of tribunal appeals end with a ruling against the Government, in St Helens North this figure is 58%. The assessments should be right the first time and the statistics show the system is failing.

    I believe the Work Capability and PIP assessments should be abolished and replaced with a personalised, holistic assessment process that provides each individual with a tailored plan, building on their strengths and addressing barriers. I stood on a manifesto at the last General Election which pledged to bring this into effect.

    I am not convinced that those with lifelong or degenerative illnesses should be subjected to face to face health assessments to evidence an illness which by nature will only get worse, an issue which has impacted residents with Cerebral Palsey, Parkinsons and Dementia in St Helens North. I hope that the Government reads the Disability Benefits Consortium’s report and their recommendations, and works with them to make improvements to PIP.

  • The inspection of faith schools

    I recognise that there is some concern about the requirement for schools to promote “British values” and the implications of this policy for faith schools. As you may be aware, in July 2015, the Government commissioned an independent review by Dame Louise Casey into “opportunity and integration”. The review was published in December 2016 and recommended that British values such as “respect for the rule of law, equality and tolerance” should be “enshrined in the principles of public life”. The Government has accepted many of the recommendations made in the report and believes that the promotion of British values is an important strategy to promote integration and prevent extremism. Department for Education standards require all schools to actively promote fundamental British values, including respect for those with different faiths and beliefs. Schools are also required to teach about the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010. Characteristics such as sexual orientation and gender reassignment are protected under this Act. You mention the inspection of Vishnitz Girls’ School in north London. I understand concerns have been raised about this case, and the potential for tension between the freedom of parents to educate their children in accordance with their religious beliefs, and the duty of schools to comply with equalities legislation and promote British values. I note that Ofsted also raised concerns about the quality of leadership and management at this school. It is important that all genuine concerns about educational standards are properly investigated. Faith schools make a hugely valuable contribution to our schools system and all communities must be free to practice their religion. However, I also believe that age-appropriate, relationships and sex education is important to make sure that our young people are equipped to deal with the pressures of the modern world, and grow up aware of the diversity of modern families.

  • Protection of ancient woodland

    The Woodland Trust is dealing with an unprecedented number of threats to Ancient Woodland and has long called for planning policy to be changed to address this.

    In 2005 the then Government published a statement of policy for England’s Ancient and Native Woodland. This statement set out a vision to maintain and increase the area of ancient woodland, to improve its ecological condition and protect and conserve the cultural heritage associated with Ancient Woodland.

    However, Ancient Woodland is currently not a statutory designation in law and this sets it apart from many other precious habitats, and means it is liable to suffer from a lack of protection.

    As you know, in February the Government published a Housing White Paper which proposes to clarify which policies provide strong reason to restrict development when preparing plans. The proposed changes would amend the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to further protect Ancient Woodland.

    A consultation on the White Paper sought views on the specific proposals to amend the NPPF. This includes protections for Ancient Woodland and aged or veteran trees. The consultation closed on 2 May 2017 and the Government is currently analysing feedback.

    I am pleased that the Government has committed to work to clarify protections in this area as part of the planning framework. A number of organisations, including the Woodland Trust, do important work in restoring, managing and conserving Ancient Woodland to help it survive, but that work will ultimately prove futile while those habitats remain insufficiently protected in the planning system.

    I can assure you I will follow the outcome of the consultation on the White Paper proposals closely and will continue to bear in mind the points you have raised.

     

     

  • We Own It campaign

    NHS professionals provides a “bank” of staff who work flexibly across the health service. It is used by over 65 NHS trusts in England and saves the NHS money by supplying staff more cheaply than private sector agencies. The Government is currently in the process of selling over 70% of NHS Professionals to a private company. I am disappointment that this Government has chosen to sell off such a large stake in an organisation that saves the NHS approximately £70 million per year. The NHS is under unprecedented financial pressure and is struggling to cope with excessive sums being spent on agency staff. According to figures from the NHS Institute, £3.64bn was spent on agency and contract staff in 2015-16. The Government believes that NHS Professionals requires significant investment to enable it to expand, so it can deliver improved services to NHS trusts and reduce the reliance on agency staff. Nevertheless, the answer is not simply more privatisation. I believe that if the Government treated NHS staff with the respect they deserved, there might not be such a need to rely on agency staff in the first place. The Government is currently in negotiation with several private companies who are bidding for the majority stake in NHS Professionals.  I will follow this process closely and press the Government to put patients before profit.

  • 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.

     

  • Agreement between the Government and the Democratic Unionist Party

    As you know, the Government is in talks to reach an agreement with the DUP in order to support a minority administration. I understand that there is concern about the position of the DUP on several issues including LGBT rights, creationism being taught in schools, a woman’s right to an abortion, and the death penalty. The Government has stated that the deal will focus on issues such as Brexit, the economy and security. It has also stressed that it will not be changing its views on social issues. While I welcome any assurances that social issues will not be up for negotiation, I believe the Government should urgently set out the terms of any deal and the date that this will be put before Parliament. I can assure you that I will do all that I can to ensure that any agreement does not set back LGBT and women’s rights. I also oppose the use of the death penalty in every circumstance. I believe that more must be done in the fight for equality, for example on issues such as education, gender equality, equal access to public services, levels of LGBT hate crime, and mental and physical wellbeing. I will monitor the terms of any agreement closely and continue to defend Labours principles of equality and social justice for all.

  • 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.

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