• sex selective abortions

    It is illegal, and in my view morally wrong, to perform an abortion on grounds of sex selection alone. I believe more should be done to stop pre-natal tests being used to discover a baby’s sex for sex selection.

    I share concerns over a recent BBC investigation which found evidence of women coming under pressure to undergo sex-selective abortions. The investigation found thousands of British women discussing using the Non-Invasive Prenatal Test (NIPT) to determine sex, on an online forum.

    The Non-Invasive Prenatal Test (NIPT) is used by the NHS to test for genetic conditions, but people can pay for it privately to discover a baby’s sex. It could be used by those who might pressure women to undergo an abortion based on gender. I appreciate that this situation can put a great strain on women.

    I believe NIPT screenings should only ever be used for their intended purpose – a view shared by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which has recently called on the Government to restrict their use.

    I can assure you that I will continue to follow this issue closely and press the Government to look into this exploitative practice and enforce appropriate restrictions.

  • eating disorders and NHS services

    Eating disorders are serious mental health problems which can have severe consequences. I believe it is right that the Government does everything possible to improve early intervention and treatment.

    As you know, in 2015 NHS England published guidance which established standards and requirements for providing community-based eating disorder services for children and young people. It sets a new access standard that 95% of patients should be treated within four weeks of their first contact with a designated healthcare professional.

    I understand your concerns that the Government is not currently planning to extend a similar waiting time standard for adults with an eating disorder. The charity Beat Eating Disorders (Beat) published research which found that 40% of adults have waited 18 weeks or more from their first GP appointment to treatment and in some cases the wait can be years.

    I am aware that the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) published a report highlighting how NHS services are currently failing adults in this area. It recommends that the Government should review the existing quality and availability of adult eating disorder services to achieve parity with child and adolescent services.

    Ministers have said NHS England is committed to meeting the PHSO’s recommendations and in July confirmed that a working group has been established to oversee this. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also published an updated quality standard in September. It focuses on promoting early access to treatment and accepts the PHSO’s recommendation that greater emphasis needs to be put on the need to coordinate care across different services.

    While charities have welcomed the new standard, concerns have been raised that a lack of resources for frontline NHS eating disorder services means there is still a postcode lottery when it comes to access to and quality of treatment. Data from NHS digital shows that the number of beds for people with serious mental health conditions, such as eating disorders, has fallen by nearly 30% since 2009. More widely, 40% of NHS trusts saw cuts to mental health budgets in 2015-16 and there are now 5,000 fewer mental health nurses than in 2010.

    If the Government is to be taken seriously on mental health, I believe it must increase spending on services and ring-fence budgets. I will press Ministers in the meantime to do more to improve early intervention and treatment for everyone with an eating disorder.

     

  • Yemen and the role of Saudi Arabia.

    Over 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since 2015 and the humanitarian situation in many parts of the country is extremely dire. Indeed, the UN estimates that almost 18 million people are food insecure and over 8 million people are at risk of starvation. Millions more also lack access to safe water and sanitation or adequate access to healthcare.

    There is no military solution to this conflict and it is vital that a peaceful, negotiated resolution can be secured. It is incredibly disappointing therefore that, despite promises from the Government to bring a ceasefire resolution to the UN Security Council in October 2016, there has still been no progress on this.

    I have shared my deep concern about potential violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) in Yemen for some time now. This is why I have consistently called for a comprehensive, independent UN-led investigation into alleged violations of IHL in Yemen, including air strikes on civilians by the Saudi-led coalition.

    Resolving this situation could not be more urgent. The people of Yemen have suffered so much throughout this ongoing conflict and the Government must now play its part in bringing it to an end. I have long been calling on the Government to use its influence to secure a UN resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire and resumption of peace talks in Yemen and I will continue to do so.

     

  • New Brain tumour support group set up in St Helens

    As a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Brain Tumours, I was really pleased to give my support to this new group set up in St Helens.

    It’s clear from the fantastic turnout of people who attended the launch of the St Helens Brain Tumour Support Group that this is needed in our borough. This collaborative project set up with assistance from St Helens Public Health and The Brain Charity will be a valuable link for those in St Helens dealing with this difficult diagnosis in all its forms.

    Recently, the Brain Tumour Charity has been raising awareness of the challenges they are facing around the cost of data sharing and its impact on research. The Brain Tumour Information and Analysis Network (BRAIN) has been created to improve people’s lives and outcomes through research but its facing a large financial outlay in order to access the available data, its important ensure that this pioneering project is not put at risk due to high costs.

    Well done to all those involved and a special mention for my friend and St Helens Labour Councillor Jeanie Bell who has been heavily involved in this initiative, and to Claire at Momo’s Coffee Shop who doing such fantastic work in the community.

  • organic farming and the Agriculture Bill

    I appreciate there is a great deal of support for organic farming and that people have become much more concerned about where their food comes from. I agree that we should work with farmers to support sustainable practices and promote biodiversity.

    I believe it is important that we prioritise a sustainable, long-term future for our farming industry. There are currently many examples in the UK of good farming practice, such as changing crop mixes, planting grasses, using green manures, investing in agro-forestation schemes, moving to organic farming and using winter cover crops to secure the soil.

    The Government, too, has acknowledged that organic farming and food can make a significant contribution to UK agriculture through helping to achieve environmental objectives and providing additional consumer choice.

    In recognition of this, funding is made available to farmers within the Rural Development Programme. Under this programme, organic farming is supported through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme where there are options available for conversion to organic farming and for management of land registered as organic.

    As you will be aware, the Agriculture Bill marks a shift in farming policy, as the UK will leave the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and aims to introduce a new framework based upon rewarding farmers for the contribution that they make to the environment and wider society.

    I would like to see the Agriculture Bill address the long-term food security of our nation, prioritise the production of nutritious, good quality food, and ensure, in measurable and enforceable terms, the future of our environment, wildlife and habitats.

    The Bill had its First Reading in Parliament on 12 September and is expected to have its Second Reading on 10 October 2018. I can assure you that I will be scrutinising the Bill very carefully and I will certainly bear in mind the points you have raised as it makes its way through Parliament.

  • 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.

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