18 AUG 2016

Stem cell transplants

In response to second stem cell transplants for blood cancer patients who have relapsed, there are clear concerns over the decision not to consider second bone marrow transplants for routine commissioning this year.

Although the overall budget for specialised services in England is considerable, at around £14 billion per year, NHS England has to make difficult decisions on behalf of tax-payers about how to prioritise the funding that is available. To ensure that investment decisions are affordable and offer value for money NHS England has established an annual prioritisation process led by clinical experts.

This year's annual prioritisation process by the Specialised Commissioning Oversight Group, out of twenty two proposals considered, second bone marrow transplants for patients with relapsed disease was one of four treatments with the lowest cost/benefit priority. This means that it will not be considered for routine commissioning this year. Decisions by Specialised Commissioning Oversight Group are based on expert recommendations made by Clinical Priorities Advisory Group which uses a defined process to prioritise treatments.

All of the policies will be considered again next year in the prioritisation process for 2017/18 and this review will consider any additional new peer-reviewed publications.

The Department of Health continues to invest to improve the provision of stem cells for patients requiring a transplant. This year, the Department of Health is investing over £2.5 million to enable our delivery partners NHS Blood and Transplant and the charity Anthony Nolan to collect umbilical cord stem cells and recruit adult donors from communities currently under-represented in the donor register. Since 2011 the Department has invested over £19 million to improve the provision of stem cells for patients requiring a transplant. This investment has significantly increased the chances of patients finding a suitable matching donor and established a single UK register of donors.

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18 AUG 2016

Stand as one with refugees

The Government is taking action to combat any hatred or intolerance towards any section of our society. It has published a new hate crime action plan, developed in partnership with communities and government departments. This action plan will increase the reporting of hate crimes, prevent hate crimes on transport and provide stronger support for victims.

On the issue of the refugee summits, it is expected that the Government is represented at a senior level. Making sure that the UK continues to be a welcoming and tolerant society for those fleeing persecution is of the upmost priority, as well as the Government's efforts in pledging £2.3 billion in aid in response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and relocating up to 20,000 refugees over the course of this Parliament.

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18 AUG 2016

Prescription charges

The prescription charge has recently increased by 20 pence, from £8.20 to £8.40 for each medicine or appliance dispensed. However, there is also an extensive system of prescription charge exemptions in England. This includes provision for people on low incomes who can apply for free prescriptions through the NHS Low Income Scheme, or who get free prescriptions due to the receipt of certain benefits. The system of exemptions taken as a whole means that 90 per cent of prescription items are dispensed without charge.

It is also the case that prescription charges generate a valuable income to the NHS budget of several hundred million pounds per year – money contributing to patient care that would have to be found elsewhere if these charges were abolished.

There is already a provision in place for people who require multiple prescriptions, such as those with long-term conditions who have to pay charges. The Prescription Prepayment Certificate allows holders to pay no further charge at the point of dispensing, with no limit of the number of items which can be obtained under the certificate. The Government has supported this scheme by freezing the cost of the PPC for another year.

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18 AUG 2016

Democracy and social progress in Brazil

The ongoing impeachment process in Brazil is a domestic issue for the people of Brazil and their elected representatives. The Government believes that the Brazilian people and their institutions will resolve the matter in a democratic way and in accordance with their Constitution.

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28 JUL 2016

Protect supported housing

The changes to Housing Benefit announced in the 2015 Autumn Statement involve aligning the rules for claimants in the social sector with those for claimants renting privately. The Government says it recognises the importance of ensuring those who are providing supported accommodation to some of the most vulnerable members of our society receive appropriate protections. The Government says its departments will be working closely together and listening carefully to the concerns raised, to make sure that the right protections are in place.

The Government has commissioned an extensive review into supported housing to get an accurate picture of the sector's needs, and says it will report back in due course. This will help to determine how best to make sure the appropriate protections are in place, and the Government needs to provide workable and sustainable solutions for the supported housing sector. The details on this policy are still being considered. Reductions will not apply until April 2018 and the change will only apply to new or renewed tenancies from April 2016. It was confirmed in the 2016 Budget that for supported accommodation this will be delayed until April 2017 to allow time for the review to be considered.

The aim of these reforms is to make the system fairer and address the rising social sector Housing Benefit bill.

Around £50 billion is spent every year on benefits to support people with disabilities or health conditions, and that spending will be higher in every year until 2020 than it was in 2010. Funding for the Disabled Facilities Grant, which helps disabled people make adaptations to their home, is due to increase by nearly 80 per cent next year. The Government is also spending £400 million on delivering 8,000 specialist homes for the vulnerable, elderly or those with disabilities.

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27 MAY 2016

Let them fly update

The Prime Minister announced last week that the UK will resettle unaccompanied asylum seeking children from Europe. The situation in the Middle East and particularly Syria remains a serious concern. Therefore, the Government's focus remains on supporting countries most affected by the continuing migration crisis in the Middle East and North Africa where aid can make the biggest difference and provide resettlement to those most in need of support in the region.

In any response, the UK needs to be very careful not to inadvertently create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children ahead, putting their lives at risk. The new announcement builds on this by helping the most vulnerable while not encouraging new perilous journeys into Europe. Only children who were already registered in Europe before the EU-Turkey deal on 20th March will be eligible for resettlement where it is in their best interests. This makes sure that the UK can focus on the most vulnerable children already in Europe without encouraging more to make the journey.

The Government have taken the decision to not put a fixed number on arrivals, but to work with local authorities across the UK to determine how many children will be resettled and to ensure that this new initiative is fully aligned with existing schemes for resettling refugees and unaccompanied asylum seeking children, including the new national transfer scheme which will be rolled out over the summer.

This compliments the significant steps that the UK is already taking, as we continue to be at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The UK is the second biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid, doubling the aid available to £2.3 billion. Moreover, the Government continues to meet its commitment to spend 0.7% of our economy on aid; is focussing on resettling up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years; providing a DFID fund of £10 million to UNCHR and Save the Children to care and assist unaccompanied children; as well as the new Children at Risk Resettlement Scheme designed to resettle children at risk direct from the Middle East and North Africa.

The refugee family reunion policy allows immediate family members of a person in the UK with refugee leave or humanitarian protection status - that is a spouse or partner and children under the age of 18, who formed part of the family unit before the sponsor fled their country of origin - to reunite with them in the UK. The scheme shows the progress made to ensure that family members that have been divided can once again be reunited.

The migration crisis is not something that will just sort itself out any time soon. We know deep down that we cannot sort it out alone. We need to take action in co-operation with our fellow European nations. To help the people who are most in need in conflict zones while ensuring that people do not continue to take the dangerous crossings across Europe which often end in disaster. We must press on European nations to adopt a similar approach, and collectively focus our support on those who are most in need.

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27 MAY 2016

Junior doctor settlement

Following ten days of intensive talks to seek to resolve the long running junior doctors' dispute, an independent employment council, ACAS, has presented an agreement to the Government, NHS employers and to the BMA.

This has now been agreed by all parties to resolve the current dispute. The next step is to secure the support of BMA junior doctor members by presenting a ballot.

Saturday and Sunday pay rates will be reformed. Unsocial hours payments will be made on a sliding scale. This will rise as doctors work more weekends. This will increase to a maximum of 10% on top of basic pay for those working every other weekend. Doctors are required to work 1 weekend day a month. The more weekend work doctors do, the more they will be paid. This fundamental shift in the way doctors are paid for weekend work will mean it is a third less expensive for hospitals to roster doctors over the weekend, while still enabling high standards of care, achieved at affordable rates.

Dr Johann Malawana, the BMA junior doctor committee chair, said:

"I believe that what has been agreed today delivers on these principles, is a good deal for junior doctors and will ensure that they can continue to deliver high-quality care for patients. This represents the best and final way of resolving the dispute and this is what I will be saying to junior doctors in the weeks leading up to the referendum on the new contract."

This agreement delivers important changes to the junior doctors' contract necessary to deliver a safer seven day NHS. To see a copy of the ACAS statement that has been agreed between all parties, visit this website:

http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/l/p/ACAS_FINAL_AGREED_NHS_Emp_BMA_DoH_Package_180516.pdf

This is a historic agreement between the Government, NHS Employers and the BMA that will make our NHS better for both doctors and patients. The new contract meets the Government's commitments for delivering a seven-day NHS, and remains within the existing pay envelope.

This is a win for doctors, patients and the NHS.

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23 MAY 2016

TTIP & the NHS

The Government is committed to an NHS that is there for everyone who needs it, funded from general taxation and free at the point of use. TTIP will not affect how the NHS decides who is best to provide its services.

The EU's chief negotiator on TTIP has stated that EU countries will continue to be free to decide how they run their public health systems.

Negotiators from the United States and the European Union have confirmed that it will continue to be for EU member states to make decisions about whether and to what extent they involve the private sector in the provision of public services.

There is no reason to fear either for the NHS as it stands today or for changes to the NHS in future as a result of TTIP.

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23 MAY 2016

Animals in research

The Government has outlined how it will work to reduce, replace and refine the use of animals in research – known as 'the 3Rs'. The UK's National Centre for the 3Rs has been leading the way in this area, and has already invested over £35 million to support this work. As a result, trials into cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, as well as toxicity testing, have all seen reductions in animal use.

Animal research still plays a small but important role in providing vital safety information for potential new medicines. As a result of findings from animal studies, a large number of potential new drugs never get as far as being tested in humans. Some aspects of the toxicological assessment of new medicines cannot be adequately assessed in humans, and animal data will be the only kind available.

Without animal testing it is highly likely that a large number of potentially dangerous new medicines would be tested in healthy volunteers and patients in clinical trials. This would be unacceptable. Animals are only used when there are no suitable alternatives, and by encouraging new cutting-edge approaches to science we will ensure that standards of animal welfare are improved.

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11 MAY 2016

Let them fly campaign

The Prime Minister announced last week that the UK will resettle unaccompanied asylum seeking children from Europe. The situation in the Middle East and particularly Syria remains a serious concern. Therefore, the Government's focus remains on supporting countries most affected by the continuing migration crisis in the Middle East and North Africa where aid can make the biggest difference and provide resettlement to those most in need of support in the region.

In any response, the UK needs to be very careful not to inadvertently create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children ahead, putting their lives at risk. The new announcement builds on this by helping the most vulnerable while not encouraging new perilous journeys into Europe. Only children who were already registered in Europe before the EU-Turkey deal on 20th March will be eligible for resettlement where it is in their best interests. This makes sure that the UK can focus on the most vulnerable children already in Europe without encouraging more to make the journey.

The Government have taken the decision to not put a fixed number on arrivals, but to work with local authorities across the UK to determine how many children will be resettled and to ensure that this new initiative is fully aligned with existing schemes for resettling refugees and unaccompanied asylum seeking children, including the new national transfer scheme which will be rolled out over the summer.

This compliments the significant steps that the UK is already taking, as we continue to be at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The UK is the second biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid, doubling the aid available to £2.3 billion. Moreover, the Government continues to meet its commitment to spend 0.7% of our economy on aid; is focussing on resettling up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years; providing a DFID fund of £10 million to UNCHR and Save the Children to care and assist unaccompanied children; as well as the new Children at Risk Resettlement Scheme designed to resettle children at risk direct from the Middle East and North Africa.

The migration crisis is not something that will just sort itself out any time soon. We know deep down that we cannot sort it out alone. We need to take action in co-operation with our fellow European nations. To help the people who are most in need in conflict zones while ensuring that people do not continue to take the dangerous crossings across Europe which often end in disaster. We must press on European nations to adopt a similar approach, and collectively focus our support on those who are most in need.

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10 MAY 2016

Pharmacy Funding

Spending on health continues to grow, with a £10 billion real terms increase in NHS funding in England between 2014/15 and 2020/21. This will focus on lifesaving treatments and the Government expects to spend up to an extra £2 billion per year on the new drugs that patients need by the end of 2020.

In the Spending Review the Government re-affirmed the need for the NHS to deliver £22 billion in efficiency savings by 2020/21 as set out in the NHS's own plan, the Five Year Forward View. Community pharmacy is a core part of NHS primary care. A clinically focussed pharmacy service that is better integrated with primary care and public health will help relieve the pressure on GPs and A&Es, ensure better use of medicines and better patient outcomes, and contribute to delivering seven-day services.

The Government wants to transform the system to deliver efficiency savings and ensure the model of community pharmacy reflects patient and public expectations as well as developments in technology. It wants to promote the use of online, click and collect or home delivery models, to help patients to get their prescriptions in a way that fits into their lifestyle.

I want to see community pharmacies that people depend on continue to thrive. The Government is consulting on introducing a Pharmacy Access Scheme, which will provide more NHS funds to certain pharmacies based on factors such as location and local needs.

Community pharmacies are important community assets. The Government is therefore consulting on how best to introduce a Pharmacy Integration Fund to transform the way community pharmacy operates in the NHS, bringing clear benefits to patients and the public.

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10 MAY 2016

Acadamies

The Government set out its vision to continue to rise education standards in England over the rest of this Parliament. The Government is committed to ensuring every child has an excellent education which allows them to achieve their full potential. The reforms of the past 6 years have led to 1.4 million more children being taught in 'good' and 'outstanding' schools. Central to this improvement has been the academy programme.

Since launching its proposals in the White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, the Government has listened to feedback from MPs, teachers, school leaders and parents. What is clear from those conversations is that the impact academies have in transforming young people's life chances is widely accepted, as is the case for putting greater responsibility in the hands of school leaders.

As a result of these conversations, the Government has decided that it is not necessary to bring into force legislation across all schools at this time- especially when it comes to schools that are performing well.

But the goal to achieve academisation by 2022 remains. This is because it is still viewed as the best way to tackle failing schools. The Government will continue to require underperforming schools to convert to academy status where they can benefit from the support of a strong sponsor. It will also legislate so that all schools within a local authority area are converted if the local authority can no longer viably support the remaining schools, or where a local authority is consistently failing to meet a minimum performance threshold and is unable to bring about meaningful school improvement.

The Government is focussing its efforts on those schools most at risk of failing young people. It also hopes that after demonstrating the positive impact this will have on schools, 'good' and 'outstanding' schools will make their own choice to become an academy by 2020, further empowering frontline heads and school leads, and transforming even more children's education.

The Education Secretary says that there are sufficient resources available through the budget and the Department of Education's settlement in the spending review to accommodate these changes. £600 million will be made available to support and assist sponsors turning around failing schools.

By confirming that there is no longer a universal rollout through legislation to turn all schools into academies shows that the Government are taking this matter very seriously, and are listening to all concerns.

1 comment

Charlie - small typo in title - it's an "academy".
- James H

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06 MAY 2016

The National Planning Policy Framework

The National Planning Policy Framework sets out the Government's planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied. Development means growth. We must accommodate the new ways by which we will earn our living in a competitive world. We must house a rising population, which is living longer and wants to make new choices. Before the Coalition Government came into office in 2010, the UK had the lowest levels of

housebuilding since the 1920s. By contrast, since 2010, over 700,000 homes have been built. Priority is now being given to the development of brownfield sites and the latest statistics show that the level of Green Belt development is at its lowest rate since modern records began in 1989.

I strongly agree that our fields, woodlands and countryside should be protected against excessive development and the Government attaches great importance to Green Belts. The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open. Once Green Belts have been defined, local planning authorities should plan positively to enhance the beneficial use of the Green Belt, such as looking for opportunities to provide access; to provide opportunities for outdoor sport and recreation; to retain and enhance landscapes, visual amenity and biodiversity; or to improve damaged and derelict land. The general extent of Green Belts across the country is already established. Local planning authorities with Green Belts in their area should establish Green Belt boundaries in their Local Plans which set the framework for Green Belt and settlement policy.

The aim should always be to minimise pollution and other adverse effects on the local and natural environment and this has been set out clearly in the National Planning Policy Framework.

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06 MAY 2016

PIP/ Cuts to Disability

Everyone should have the support to achieve their full potential and to live independent lives. This means ensuring that opportunity is extended to people with disabilities, further closing the disability gap.

But this does not mean that support for the most vulnerable will be cast aside. This is because the reforms have seen support for disabled people increase. The Government is now, rightly, spending £50 billion on benefits alone to support people with disabilities and health conditions, devoting a high level of resources to an important group of people. Spending on those with disabilities or health conditions will be higher in every year to 2020 than in 2010.

PIP was introduced to be a more modern and dynamic benefit to help cover the extra costs faced by disabled people. Unlike Disability Living Allowance (DLA), PIP is designed to focus support on those with the greatest need. It is working. For example, 22% of claimants are receiving the highest level of support, compared to 16% under DLA.

Before Christmas, the Government held a consultation on how part of the PIP assessment works in relation to aids and appliances. Following that consultation, the Government has decided it will not be going ahead with the changes to PIP that had been put forward, and has confirmed there are no plans for further welfare savings. Parliament has already legislated for £12 billion in welfare savings through the Welfare Reform and Work Act, meeting the pledge made to the electorate in our manifesto.

The term disability covers an immensely varied range of issues and people with different challenges in their life. It is therefore a hugely important and hugely complex area of policy to get right.

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06 MAY 2016

Microbeads

Microbeads can have a significant impact on fish and the marine environment more generally. It is for this reason that the UK, and neighbouring countries are now working with the industry to see their use phased out completely.

The Oslo and Paris Convention for the Protection of the North East Atlantic is an international organisation that identifies threats to the marine environment. The UK and several other European countries are party to this. One of the organisations most important objectives is to reduce marine litter, and in 2014 all members agreed a regional plan to address the problem of microbeads.

The plan includes action on microplastics, and involves co-operating with manufacturers to achieve a voluntary end to their use in cosmetics and personal care products.

Following this agreement the European trade body for the industry- Cosmetics Europe- issued a formal recommendation to its member companies to discontinue the use of microbeads in these products. On this recommendation, many of its member companies had done so already.

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06 MAY 2016

Bees

Bees and other pollinators play an essential role in our food production and are vital to biodiversity. That is why the Government has taken action to safeguard these insects, such as the set out of a National Pollinator Strategy. This strategy builds on the Government's existing policies on improving environmental management and lays out plans to improve the understanding of the abundance, diversity and role of pollinators over the next five years. It will also identify additional actions that need to be taken.

The Department for Agriculture, Animals, Food and Rural Affairs will be responsible for the delivery of this Strategy. The department plans to work with Natural England and the Pollinator Advisory Steering Group to develop an implementation plan. This will be in place within six months of its publication.

For now, pesticides are tightly regulated and decisions on the approval of these substances are made at the European level. Since December 2013, three of the five currently approved neonicotinoids are not permitted for use on a wide range of crops considered attractive to bees. The Government have put in place these restrictions in full. They are not time-limited and will remain in place, unless the European Commission decides to change them.

The European Food Safety Authority has begun a review of the science relating to neonicotinoids and bees, which is expected to conclude in the summer. This includes looking at the effects on bees caused by seed treatments, and uses of the restricted pesticides in the form of granules. The Government has said that it will contribute fully to this review, because any decisions must be based on solid evidence. However, restrictions on neonicotinoids will not be removed if the evidence shows that they should remain.

The strategy aims to provide a framework for evidence gathering action that will help improve the understanding of current trends, values and the impact of pressures. While building this evidence base, the Strategy outlines that there are policy actions that the government and others can actively take now in order to protect pollinators.

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06 MAY 2016

World Water Day

Access to clean drinking water is one of the fundamental things that we expect to have. It is vital for people in developing countries to also have the same access to clean water so that they can lead healthy, fulfilled, and productive lives. This is why I support Water Aid.

Between 2011 and 2015, the Department for International Development (DFID) helped 62.9 million people access clean water, better sanitation or improved hygiene conditions. DFID helped build wells, standpipes, pumps, toilets and sewage systems, and encouraged the private sector in developing countries to do more.

The sustainable development goal on water and sanitation for everyone aims to achieve universal access to safe water and sanitation by 2030. The global community must work together to achieve this, so that in the next 14 years we see access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.

The Government's aim is to help an additional 60 million people get access to clean water and sanitation by 2020. DFID are working on research methods and other ways of improving water security and management of existing water resources, as well as exploring new approaches to improve access to water, sanitation and hygiene for people in developing countries.

A more healthy, productive and prosperous world is clearly in our national interest, and access to water and sanitation is a key part of this.

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06 MAY 2016

Trade Union Bill

Trade unions are valuable institutions in British society and dedicated trade unionists have a strong history of working hard to represent their members and campaigning for improved safety at work. I believe it is only fair that the rights of unions are balanced with the rights of hardworking taxpayers who rely on key public services.

The aim of the Trade Union Bill is to rebalance the interest of employers, employees and the public with the freedom of trade unions to strike. At present, it is the case that a small minority of union members can disrupt the lives of millions of commuters, parents, workers and employers at short notice and without clear support from the unions' members. Because of this high impact on the normal life on a very large group of people, it is completely sensible that such strikes can only take place on the basis of a reasonable turnout and substantial vote in favour by those able to vote. There will be a new 50% participation threshold for all ballots for industrial action and 40% support threshold for important public services. This will ensure that strikes are only ever as a result of a clear, positive decision on which at least half the workforce has voted.

Additionally, the Bill does not propose to stop "Facility Time", or time spent by an organisation's staff on trade union duties and activities during working hours. It will, however, ensure greater transparency by extending the requirements to publish information on the time and money spent on facility time that currently apply to the Civil Service and the wider public sector. I believe it is right that the Government monitor the practice to ensure it is a sensible use of taxpayers' money and this will ensure levels of facility time remains appropriate.

For online balloting, a key challenge is how to be sufficiently confident about both e-security and the confidentiality of the votes. The Electoral Reform Services has acknowledged the challenges of the secrecy of the vote. For instance, it is potentially easier to gain access to huge quantities of electronic votes, which would be much harder to do with postal votes. There are also further issues around security and the significant risk of intimidation in the workplace, possible fraud by trade union officials and the risks of interception of PIN numbers/passwords.

The Open Rights Group have also highlighted these difficulties in the past, stating:

"Voting is a uniquely difficult question for computer science: the system must verify your eligibility to vote; know whether you have already voted; and allow for audits and recounts. Yet it must always preserve your anonymity and privacy. Currently, there are no practical solutions to this highly complex problem and existing systems are unacceptably flawed."

Nevertheless, the Government has agreed to commission an independent review to consider its case again, and to ensure that the latest technology has been assessed in full.

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28 APR 2016

Junior Doctors

This is a pay dispute. The gap is not that great. I am deeply dismayed that the doctors have gone on strike. I think it's very bad they have withdrawn emergency cover.

Being a doctor is a fantastic job. Medical graduates earn far more than lawyers, economists, nurses or midwives. A doctor who becomes a GP will earn over £100,000. A hospital consultant makes £120,000 on average. Junior doctors are doctors on the way to becoming a GP or a consultant. On average a junior doctor earns over £55,000 a year. This is a great profession - one were you can both care for people and live well. This is a profession we should always encourage people to join.

But the latest strike is over Saturday pay. The Government pledged to increase NHS funding at the election. It also pledged a 7 day a week NHS. The contract negotiations with the BMA are down to pay negotiations, and although junior doctors secured a 15% pay rise to their normal hours, the issue is Saturday pay.

For weekend working, the Government says 30% more is the right amount. This is the amount that nurses and midwives already receive. Despite the Government agreeing 50% more for weekend working after midnight, doctors want 50% more across all weekend working. Although some criticise the Government for not accepting this request, this would create a precedent of 50% as the norm for all NHS workers. This would redirect funding away from the areas that need it most.

NHS spending will rise to over £12 billion by 2020/21. This is an increase of 14% in real terms. This package means that the Government can deliver on its 7 day NHS commitment, invest in practical support for surgeries and streamline quality care.

I think it is a great shame that doctors withdrew emergency cover over a pay dispute that does not seem that great a gap. To go on strike rather than continue to work through a settlement is irresponsible. I hope that the BMA will get back round the table and that a settlement which is fair to all can be found quickly.

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25 APR 2016

Tax Avoidance and Tax Havens

HMRC is carrying out an intensive investigation of offshore companies, including in Panama, and has asked the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to share the leaked data. A new taskforce will be established to deal with the Panama Papers and will provide resources to make sure that the files are fully investigated. The Government has said that it is working with other major countries to speed up the progress on sharing beneficial ownership information to investigate financial wrongdoings on those who really owns companies.

The UK will publish its own register of company beneficial ownership from June 2016. This will make it clear who the real owners of companies are. The UK will be the first major country to have this type of list in place where the information will be free for anyone to access.

The Government's wider offshore tax evasion strategy has been strengthened by the introduction of a new clause which will establish new civil penalties for enablers of offshore tax evasion. These penalties consist of a new financial penalty, and a new naming power.

It will be the case that where the enabler makes an unprompted disclosure of the fact that they enabled offshore tax evasion or non-compliance and assists HMRC, reductions in penalties will apply and the enabler will not be named. The clause is intended to encourage enablers to come forward to HMRC, and make a maximum disclosure of information. It is not intended to penalise unknowing and unintentional enablers.

The Government will also introduce tough new measures for those who persistently enter into tax avoidance schemes that are defeated by HMRC. These include a special reporting requirement and a surcharge on those whose latest return is inaccurate due to use of a defeated scheme, the names of such avoiders being published and, for those who persistently abuse reliefs, restrictions on them accessing certain tax reliefs for a period. The Government is also widening the Promoters of Tax Avoidance Schemes (POTAS) regime, by bringing in promoters whose schemes are regularly defeated by HMRC.

HMRC collected £517.7 billion from UK taxpayers in 2014-15, some £11.9 billion more than in 2013-14. Total tax revenue has increased in each of the past 5 years, during which HMRC reduced its running costs from £3.4 billion to £3.1 billion.

These efforts, alongside the Government's international approach to tackling tax avoidance, means that the UK is now leading the group of 94 countries on tax matters and continues to bring down these harmful tax practices.

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25 APR 2016

NHS Reinstatement Bill

The proposed NHS Reinstatement Bill is the wrong approach to improving the NHS. The Government has always been clear that it is committed to protecting our health service and will not privatise the NHS. This is why it has increased NHS spending and guaranteed that it will always provide treatment for free, regardless of ability to pay.

The use of private providers in the delivery of NHS services is not a new concept and they have worked in partnership for many years. It was under the Labour Government between 1997 and 2010 that the Government of the day introduced the independent sector and competition into our health service. The use of private providers in the NHS represent around 6 pence in every pound the NHS spends- an increase of just 1 pence since 2010, and continues to provide good quality care to patients

This Bill seeks to unravel the framework put in place under the Health & Social Care Act 2012, which provides the agenda to enable patients to be treated by the providers that are most able to meet their needs and give patients greater individual choice and control over their care. It also allows local doctors and nurses to decide who provides the best care for patients.

I have long campaigned for Dover's fair share of healthcare, and success was granted last June when Dover Hospital opened on the Coombe Valley Road. I have also long called for Deal Hospital to be used as a base for more local health services, giving them a greater role in a range of services. Giving doctors the operational control for the day-to-day running of services is the right decision because they have the best understanding of their patients and local needs.

My plan is to build on the Health and Social Care Hub and secure even more services at Dover Hospital. This Bill would undermine the practices to do this and will undo all the hard work achieved so far.

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12 APR 2016

Wild Animals in Circuses

The Government remains fully committed to introducing a ban on wild animals in circuses in this Parliament, in accordance with the pledge in the manifesto at the General Election.

Currently the ban stands to impact on two travelling circuses in England that now operate with only a small number of wild animals. Conditions of the remaining wild animals at both circuses are closely monitored under Defra's interim Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012. This is done through regular announced and unannounced welfare inspections.

The draft Bill states that an offence would be committed under the law if an animal 'performs or is exhibited' as part of a travelling circus- a term whose definition is well understood. There is no exemption for businesses claiming that the exhibition is 'for educational purposes' or similar. In any case of doubt, the Bill also allows for the appointment of inspectors to make the final decision.

The Bill was expected to have its second reading debate last month, however there was not enough parliamentary time. I will monitor this issue and look out for when a future date is set.

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08 APR 2016

EDM 66 & Food Waste

As a member of the Government, I am not able to sign any Early Day Motions, and am therefore unable to sign EDM 66. However, I appreciate how important an issue this is and that we should be doing everything we can to reduce food waste to an absolute minimum. It is wrong that anyone should go hungry at the same time as surplus food is going to waste.

The Food Waste (Reduction) Bill was not debated as scheduled on 29 January owing to a lack of parliamentary time. However, preventing food waste is an important objective for the Government. It is working with the Waste & Resources Action Programme and the food industry to limit food waste to its lowest possible level. To this end, Government Ministers have backed several rounds of the Courtauld Commitment, a voluntary agreement to limit waste. It's encouraging that 90% of the food manufacturing and retailer sector have signed up to this commitment.

As a result, domestic household food waste has already been reduced by 15 per cent since 2007, and food waste in the supply chain has reduced by 8 per cent. A separate voluntary agreement within the hospitality and food services industry was launched in 2012, saw over 170 signatories and supporters sign up to an ambitious set of targets to reduce their waste and manage it better.

The Government continues to work closely with industry and charities to consider how best to prevent waste across the whole supply chain. One option is to encourage retailers to agree in advance to purchase the whole crop from a specific farm or field, then decide whether each vegetable should be sold loose, processed or used in soups and sauces, based on their size and appearance. This would help make sure that vegetables aren't wasted just because they look unusual. It also prevents waste and gives farmers greater certainty.

I am interested by a new French policy of requiring supermarkets to donate food that would otherwise go to waste to charity. There are no current plans to replace the policy in the UK, but if the French initiative is a success, I think it something this Government should look at closely.

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07 APR 2016

Yemen

The situation in Yemen, particularly for children, is of serious concern. The Government continues its efforts to address the urgent humanitarian needs and to bring about a political solution to the end of the conflict. The UK is one of the largest donors to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and £85 million of UK aid for 2015/16 is providing vital medical, food and emergency shelter supplies for displaced Yemeni people and children.

The UK operates one of the most rigorous and transparent export control regimes. All UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia are scrutinised in detail through established processes, and against EU and national consolidated criteria. This process takes account of all relevant information at the time of application, including if there is a clear risk that it might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

The UK has been consistently clear with all sides to the conflict about the importance of compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law. It is essential that the conflict in Yemen continues to be monitored closely, and that all risks are accounted for as part of the vigilant risk assessments for exports to Saudi Arabia.

I believe that a political solution remains the best way to bring long-term stability to Yemen. But this must be brought about in order to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.

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15 MAR 2016

Sunday Trading

After a debate in Parliament, Sunday trading hours will not be changed in England & Wales. This development has been welcomed by Internet retailers.

There was a clear majority of English and Welsh MPs who backed this plan. As is well known the balance was tipped by the Scottish National Party who voted against the changes. Following this deeply principled vote by the SNP, shops will continue to be open all day long in Scotland, as they have for many years.

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15 MAR 2016

NSPCC No Child Left Behind Campaign

No child should ever be abused or neglected - we want to prevent these terrible crimes from happening and make sure every child gets the support they need.

The Government is committed to setting out its vision in the report, Future in Mind, to transform the future of mental health services for children and young people. Local areas have produced Local Transformation Plans to improve the way these services are commissioned and delivered. This transformation is being supported by £1.25 billion of additional government investment. It is expected, by 2020, that this will help an extra 70,000 children and young people every year.

The Government is also introducing a new waiting time standard for the treatment of young people with eating disorders as well as an extra £150 million of investment, to ensure that young people get the support they need, when they need it.

The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, recently announced a new mental health pilot scheme, working in hundreds of schools to make sure children and young people have better access to local specialist mental health provision and support that is consistent across services.

The Government has also set up the first ever cross-Government Ministerial Child Protection Taskforce to overhaul the way police, schools, social services and others work together in tackling this abuse. The taskforce's work will build on the Government's wide-ranging reforms to create a care system that puts children's needs first.

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15 MAR 2016

Freedom Of Information

The Freedom of Information Act is a wide-ranging piece of legislation which already covers, for example, material held by a private company on behalf of a public authority with which it has a contract. All information held by a public authority is already within the scope of the Act, including communications with third party contractors. Public authorities are also obliged to answer requests about contracts with private providers, although exemptions do exist for commercially sensitive material.

The last Labour Government consulted, in 2007, on extending Freedom of Information to a wider range of bodies carrying out functions of a public nature. In 2009 Labour decided that no expansion of Freedom of Information in relation to contractors was appropriate. It is already possible for contractual terms set with private providers to include requirements to protect the right to access information about service provision.

The Independent Commission established by the Government to review the Freedom of Information Act has now published its report. The Commission did not consider what types of bodies should be covered by the Act to be within its terms of reference, although it did express provisional views on the matter.

The Commission was clear that extending the Act directly to private companies delivering outsourced public services would be burdensome and unnecessary. However, it also said that information concerning the performance or delivery of public services under contract should be treated as being held on behalf of the contracting public authority. Considering such information in this way would bring it within the scope of the Act. Importantly, though, this was a provisional view rather than a recommendation of the Commission.

The Government has already responded to some recommendations made, and says it will carefully consider the others. It has, though, stated that it has no current plans for legislation. I look forward to the Government publishing the next Open Government Partnership national action plan later this year.

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15 MAR 2016

Beer Duty

The wine, spirits, beer and cider industries play an important role in providing employment. I am therefore pleased that the Chancellor has reduced the level of alcohol duty on beer, cider and spirits, while freezing it for wine.

For the third year in a row, the tax on a typical pint of beer has been cut by 1p. This means that an average pint of beer is 9p cheaper than it would have been under Labour's plans when they were in power. The duty on spirits and on cider has also been cut by 2 per cent, while the duty on wine will be frozen, ensuring that the duties on beer and wine remain broadly similar.

The Government is committed to supporting pubs, alongside helping those who work in the beer, spirits, wine and cider industries right across the UK. The action already taken by the Government is great news for the retail and hospitality sectors as well as the people who work in them. Pubs are an important part of local communities and I welcome this support for them, which protects jobs, and helps hardworking people keep more of the money they earn.

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12 FEB 2016

Woman’s State Pension Age

I firmly believe people who have worked hard all their lives deserve security in their retirement. That is why the Government has applied a 'triple lock' to the basic State Pension, which is now £1,100 per year higher than in 2010. For those reaching State Pension age after April 2016, a new State Pension is being introduced at a single, flat rate of £155.65, which will also be triple locked. All those women affected by the 2011 State Pension age changes will receive this new pension, which is much fairer to women than the current system and will mean 650,000 women will receive an average of £8 per week more in the first 10 years.

Equalising the State Pension age was necessary to meet the UK's obligations under EU law to eliminate gender inequalities in social security provision. The Pensions Act 1995 legislated for this to be done gradually after 2010. Following sharp increases in life expectancy projections, the Government had to accelerate this process slightly in the Pensions Act 2011 to secure the sustainability of the system.

On the issue of notice being given to those affected, the Department for Work and Pensions is clear that all those women affected were written to between January 2012 and November 2013. Those affected by the 1995 changes were also contacted between April 2009 and March 2011.

Higher life expectancy does mean that as a society we will have to adjust to slightly longer working lives, but it is right to ensure at the same time that people have security and dignity when they do retire. That is why the Government will continue to provide unprecedented support for people in later life, including the triple lock and maintaining universal benefits such as the Winter Fuel Payment. The Government adjusted its proposals in 2011 to mitigate the impact on those worst affected by the State Pension age.

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12 FEB 2016

Changes to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG)

We need a welfare system which supports vulnerable and disabled people, and ensures they are able to play a full part in society. In the last two years, the number of disabled people in work has increased by 339,000. The Government recognises that the gap between the employment rates of disabled people and non-disabled people remains too large. That is why the Government is committed to halving it. Changes to ESA are a crucial part of achieving this.

When the WRAG was created, the original estimates were that far more claimants would move into work than has turned out to be the case. People in the WRAG currently receive higher payments than Jobseeker's Allowance, but are often not getting enough appropriate support to move into the workplace. This disparity in payments could discourage claimants from making the most of opportunities to help them move closer to work. This reform removes these disincentives while also providing additional support to these claimants. The Government has committed £100 million of additional funding per year by 2020-21 specifically to help meet the needs of people with limited capability to work.

I recognise that some people may have additional costs as a result of their condition, and that is the purpose of the Personal Independence Payment. The Access to Work scheme is also available to help people overcome barriers to work. Thousands of people with learning disabilities are supported by Access to Work, and the Government is expanding those services to make even more specialist support available.

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12 FEB 2016

Ending Polio Worldwide

I am pleased that the UK is fully committed to the global eradication of polio. The Secretary of State for International Development makes the most of opportunities to raise awareness of polio eradication efforts and, wherever appropriate, discusses polio with her international counterparts. For example, in 2014 the Secretary of State made a keynote speech at Rotary International with representatives from India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Indonesia, along with key polio campaigners and global health bodies.

The UK continues to be a strong supporter of global polio eradication efforts. In 2013, the UK committed £300 million over six years to polio eradication, which will help vaccinate up to 360 million children. The UK actively participates in the global Polio Oversight Board, helping to ensure a strong focus on results and achieving eradication.

With India declared polio-free in 2014, a world without polio is now tantalisingly close, and it is crucial to maintain international momentum. I welcome the fact that, as of October 2015, there had, for the first time, been no polio cases in Africa for over a year. That is incredible progress, and we will finish off that job.

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12 FEB 2016

Snares (EDM 544)

Self-locking snares have been banned since 1981, but the use of free-running snares is permitted. Animals are, however, protected from unnecessary suffering under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and this includes any caught in snares.

In 2008 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs commissioned research to determine the extent of the use and humaneness of snares in England and Wales. This was published in March 2012. After considering its findings Lord de Mauley, who was at the time the Minister responsible for policy on wildlife management, held constructive meetings with people who use snares and those opposed to them. He made it clear that both sides must work together to help end irresponsible snare use.

It is encouraging that Ministers are working with these groups to agree a means of monitoring compliance, and to consider improvements to the Code of Practice on the use of snares. I hope all sides will contribute to this work so that there is a marked improvement in the use of snares.

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11 JAN 2016

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

Underlying the agreement under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is the opportunity to add £10 billion to our economy every year, which is almost £400 per household, which means more jobs, more choice and reduced prices.

UK governments alone decide how public services, including the NHS are run. This agreement does not change this and does not change UK laws or lower consumer, labour or environmental standards. This agreement is about helping our consumers and our businesses access new markets. Where mutually high standards can be recognised with the US they will be, but where this is not possible US businesses will have to raise their standards to meet ours, not the other way around.

There have been claims that investors could sue a government for losses and win if a government takes a decision in the wider public interest, whether on health, the environment or consumer safety. However, this is a misconception. It is important that businesses investing abroad are protected from discrimination and unfair treatment, but there is nothing to allow companies to undermine public policymaking. Extensive consultation has taken place and all provisions are being looked at carefully.

More documents relating to negotiations will be made available to MPs as the process continues and a wealth of material has been published on the European Commission's website. Parliament has also had a number of opportunities to debate this agreement, will scrutinise the final agreement and ultimately has the final veto power.

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10 DEC 2015

Bees & the National Pollinator Strategy

I care deeply about bees and would like to keep bees myself one day. Bees are not only fundamental to the security of our food supply but are crucial to maintaining the quality and diversity of our natural environment. They are an essential part of the British countryside and their drop in numbers is deeply worrying to me.

I do welcome recent government efforts to increase the understanding of bees so that they can be better protected, most recently through the National Pollinator Strategy.

The regulation of pesticides is decided on the European level, which currently rules that three of the five currently approved neonicotinoids are not permitted for use on a wide range of crops considered attractive to bees. The Government has implemented these restrictions in full. They are not time-limited, and will remain in place unless the European Commission decides to change them.
It is important that any changes made must be based on scientific research however. For this reason, I am glad that that the government has agreed to contribute fully to a review commissioned by The European Food Safety Authority. This research will focus on the science relating to neonicotinoids and bees, which is expected to conclude in the summer. This includes looking at the effects on bees caused by seed treatments, and uses of the restricted neonicotinoids that are permitted in emergency situations.

I can assure you that restrictions on neonicotinoids will not be removed if the evidence shows that they should remain.

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23 NOV 2015

Junior Doctors

The Government is fully committed to an NHS that remains free at the point of use. The Government has not only ring fenced the Health budget, but committed a further £10bn to the NHS by 2020. Taxpayers money needs to be spent more wisely. Management costs have been stripped back to focus more on the training and development of 1,900 more midwives; 6,600 more nurses and 8,800 more doctors since we took office.

In May, the British people gave the Conservatives a mandate to deliver a truly 7-day a week NHS. We are working to ensure that we strike the fairest deal for staff whilst delivering the safest care for patients. There has been consensus between the government and the BMA that Junior Doctors' contracts need updating. The current framework encourages unsafe working periods and delivers unfair remuneration through the complex banding payments. The BMA should return to the negotiating table so an agreement can be reached that enshrines safe working hours; a fair salary structure and reflects a 7-day NHS. The Secretary of State for Health has written to the BMA to reassure them that there are no preconditions to negotiations. It is regrettable that Junior Doctors have voted for industrial action which will put patients at risk and see operations cancelled or delayed.

There has been much concern that Junior Doctors will be experiencing significant pay cuts. However, this is not the case. Most doctors will see their pay rise and work-life balance improve, with the number of working hours capped at 72 per week down from 91. The great majority of Junior Doctors will be paid at least as well as they are now and the Secretary of State has clearly indicated that he would be happy to look at implementing a protection structure to ensure no doctor loses out when they change jobs.

There is nothing that people and families depend on more than the NHS. I am absolutely committed to delivering a fairer, more efficient NHS for the future. This will ensure that the NHS remains a world class place to work and receive treatment.

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23 NOV 2015

BBC Charter Review

The BBC is one of the nation's most important institutions which is recognised internationally as a maker of quality content. Ten years ago - the last time the Government ran a Charter Review - the media landscape looked very different. The BBC has adapted to this changing landscape.

However, we need to ask some hard questions during this review. This should include questions about what the BBC should be trying to achieve in an age where consumer choice is now far more extensive than it has been, what its scale and scope should be in the light of those aims, how far it affects others in television, radio and online, and what the right structures are for its governance and regulation.

The BBC is a national institution, paid for by the public. It will have spent more than £30 billion of public money over the current Charter period. The Government recently set out a consultation which marks the start of the Charter Review process. Everyone must be able to have their say on how well they think that money is spent.

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23 NOV 2015

Homelessness Prevention Grants

I share your concern regarding the situation faced by those who are homeless. The Government recognises that Homelessness Prevention Grants have been a powerful tool in combatting homelessness. The previous Government committed to funding HPGs until the end of the last Parliament, which contributed to local authorities preventing 935,800 households from becoming homeless over the course of the Parliament. The future of the grant is being considered in the context of the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.

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23 NOV 2015

Home Energy Efficiency

All households should be able to invest in energy efficiency improvements. There is a range of programmes designed to support different houses and locations.

All homes are eligible for insulation measures through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme. Homeowners and those in privately rented homes who are on specific benefits may also be eligible for support towards heating improvements through ECO Affordable Warmth. A package of changes incentivise energy suppliers to deliver more heating and insulation measures in non-gas fuelled homes, including oil fired boiler replacements.

Ministers are aware of the particular challenges faced by those living off the gas grid and are looking at the best ways to help. An important part of this is the £25m Central Heating Fund, which will fund the installation of first time central heating systems in low income homes off the gas grid.

The Renewable Heat Incentive programme supports the installation of renewable heating systems and is primarily designed to offer off-gas households affordable heating alternatives. It compensates for the additional costs of replacing an oil boiler with a renewable heating system.

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20 NOV 2015

Sunday Trading

The Government will not be making changes to the Sunday trading rules.

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05 NOV 2015

Draft Investigatory Powers Bill

The draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which will be subject to scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament, will ensure that law enforcement and security agencies have the powers they need to keep us safe.

This Bill varies widely from the draft Communications Data Bill published in 2012. The Government is no longer asking internet service providers to retain communications data about the use of overseas services. Nor will the Bill contain any provision to enforce data retention obligations against foreign telecommunications companies.

The draft Bill includes provisions on each of the key capabilities available to the intelligence agencies and others: communications data; interception; and equipment interference. It provides for the retention of internet connection records (ICR) - although access to the data will be tightly controlled. It is important to make clear that an ICR is a record of the communications services a person or device has connected to. It is the internet equivalent of a phone bill – it is not a person's full internet browsing history.

Law enforcement access to the information would be on a case-by-case basis, where it is necessary and proportionate, limited to three rigidly defined purposes. These are to identify what device had sent an online communication, establish what online communications services a known individual had accessed or identify whether a known individual had accessed illegal services online.

That there have been three independent reviews on investigatory powers – by David Anderson, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, and the Royal United Services Institute – and all agreed that the agencies should have the power to acquire and use data in bulk. This draft Bill sets out, in clear detail, existing powers for the security and intelligence agencies to do this, whilst subjecting them to stricter safeguards.

On the subject of who should authorise interception warrants, the Home Secretary has announced that there will be a 'double-lock' authorisation process. This will mean that warrants for the most intrusive powers available to the agencies, such as the interception of communications, will be subject to a 'double-lock', requiring approval by a judge as well as by the Secretary of State.

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05 NOV 2015

Consumption of Dog Meat

The trade and consumption of dog meat is disgusting. I could not imagine my pet dog Star - or any dog - being subjected to such cruelty. The Government has rightly ensured that the UK continues to raise concerns with countries that engage in these revolting and barbaric practices.

These countries know the British people consider their practices are wicked and disgraceful. Yet sadly there are no legal grounds to intervene or take trade measures against countries where the eaters of dog meat live.

I welcome the work the RSPCA do to make the case for the ending of these practices - particularly in certain Asian countries - and their efforts to protect dogs' welfare.

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27 OCT 2015

Fracking

I understand and appreciate concerns about fracking. These are concerns I share. It's important to make sure this gas exploration is safe, does not cause earthquakes or contaminate the water table. The Government is creating a regulatory regime that provides clear, strong protections for the environment. With this in place, I think it is right that we see how we can explore onshore gas safely. The opportunity to extract this energy, as well as to secure jobs and investment, is worth considering and will make us less dependent on places like Putin's Russia.

Draft regulations ban fracking at depths of less than 1,200 meters below National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Broads and World Heritage Sites. The Government has committed to ensuring that fracking cannot be conducted from wells that are drilled at the surface of these places. Consent cannot be granted for drilling without an environmental impact assessment, and operators are required to monitor the level of methane in groundwater. Fracking will not take place within protected groundwater source areas, defined as land at a depth of less than 1,200m of the surface. Drinking water is not normally found below 400m.

These protections will ensure that the beauty of our National Parks and wider countryside is protected. It will ensure our water is safe and takes action to deal with the risk of earthquakes. The industry will be developed safely with world class environmental protections, creating jobs and delivering better energy security, while all the time safeguarding some of our most precious landscapes.

Now I know there are some people who are opposed in all circumstances. For me however the test is whether this exploration can be done safely and securely. I think we have now got to a stage where there are a lot of safeguards.

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26 OCT 2015

Emergency First Aid Education In Schools

There is nothing more important than keeping children and staff safe in our schools. Schools have the opportunity to teach skills such as CPR and general first aid as part of Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education. While it is up to individual schools precisely what to teach in PSHE, they are encouraged to work with expert organisations to teach such skills.

Legislating to include a requirement for first aid training in the national curriculum would be the wrong approach. The national curriculum creates a minimum expectation for schools. It does not represent everything that a school should teach; it is a framework around which schools can construct a programme which works best for them. In addition, schools do not have a monopoly on the provision of education to children, as parents and voluntary groups outside school also play an important role. Schools should be encouraged and supported in teaching vital skills such as first aid, but forcing them to do so in law would not be the best way to achieve this.

It is encouraging that a deal to offer an initial 500 defibrillators to schools at reduced prices was announced last year, alongside new guidance which includes encouraging schools to use these devices as an impetus to promote life-saving skills more broadly.

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26 OCT 2015

EDM 446 Mothers Names on Marriage Certificates

As a member of the Government, I am not able to sign any Early Day Motions, and am therefore unable to sign EDM 446.

I agree that mothers should be able to add their names to marriage certificates. There is support across the Government for changing this outdated system.

The Prime Minister asked the Home Office to review the system last August. The change will be a complex task, due to the large number of registers in use and the associated costs of replacing them. There will need to be changes to the administrative processes, IT systems and legislation. Options on how best to do this are currently being investigated. When the assessment of all the options has been completed, the Government will bring forward proposals to introduce the necessary changes.

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23 OCT 2015

Military Action & Airstrikes in Syria

In recent weeks there has been a lot of discussion about our approach to Syria, terrorism, whether we should have The Queen, armed forces and why we bother with the National Anthem. All of these things are connected so I am setting out my overall position on Syria and these other matters in this note. Some have also asked how strongly we should condemn terrorism and whether it is right to use drones to take the battle to terrorists.

My answer to all these things is clear. Security and stability matter. They are the first priority of any Government. We don't just have The Queen and a Royal Family for the fun of it. They are key to providing an anchor of stability to our system of government, politics and way of life. We don't need to look far to see countries who don't have that struggling to find a stable political system.

Our armed forces matter. They guarantee our security in the World. We are able to go about our business and to exercise our freedoms because our armed forces protect us all. They have kept our nation safe and stopped us being conquered by our enemies. They still make brave sacrifices to keep us safe today. Our nuclear deterrent ensures we are taken seriously across the World.

Where a British citizen turns terrorist and takes up arms against us, what should we do? In my book we should treat them like any other enemy. Drone strikes against such people are necessary to prevent atrocities at home. Similarly, I condemn those who try to explain away - or even support - the IRA. This terrorist organisation murdered our Marines in Deal. We will never forget what they did. Not will we forget the disgraceful statements on the IRA of now leading figures in the Labour Party - they should hang their heads in shame.

While I believe in having powerful armed forces, I am less keen on sending them round the World. For this reason I was deeply sceptical of taking action in Syria a couple of years ago. Yet the rise of ISIS and the destruction of Syria as a country is no longer a matter we can ignore. The situation is not simply desperate for millions of people. It is a breeding ground for terrorists who wish to attack us here in Britain and the mass migration of people to Europe is turning into a humanitarian disaster. So I now believe we need to act to secure our continued stability and security. There needs to be a coalition to take action to stop the bloodshed in Syria and help rebuild that shattered nation. I will support Britain playing a role to make that happen.

Clearly the picture is complicated by Russia's involvement which seeks to prop up the bloodthirsty dictator Assad. The ideal is to get an international coalition, including Russia, to destroy ISIS and ensure a transition from Assad to peace and stability. The people of Syria need to be able to go home and rebuild their shattered nation.

We don't often have a discussion about why our way of life is the way it is. I'm glad we have recently. It is important we all remember how The Queen and our armed forces help provide stability and security. How terrorists must always be tackled and condemned at every turn. And why splendid isolation is not always the best foreign policy. Sometimes we need to act to ensure continued peace at home and abroad. On Syria, we now need to act.

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23 OCT 2015

Feed-In Tariffs

The Government is committed to meeting 15 per cent of the UK's energy demands from renewable resources by 2020, and FITs have led to levels of renewable energy deployment that have surpassed all expectations. By the end of the year deployment under the FIT scheme will have already exceeded the Government's 2012 projections for wind, hydro and anaerobic digestion in 2020-21, and is expected to be within the predicted range for solar before then too.

It is good news for the environment that renewable energy has been rolled out sooner than anticipated, but the extra costs associated with providing FITs are paid by customers through their energy bills. That is why the Government is now consulting on proposals designed to relieve the pressure on energy customers from rising costs.

The consultation raises questions about a set of proposed new tariff rates, based on the latest information about how much these schemes cost. It also suggests capping spending on new FITs at £75-100 million by 2018-19, so as to avoid the need to stop providing tariffs for new generation projects entirely. Existing facilities would not be affected by these changes.

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22 OCT 2015

Tax Credits

Everyone knows we have to live within our means as a nation. Indeed at the general election we set out plans to save £12bn in welfare spending. Our reforms will still mean five in ten working families will still be eligible for financial support.

Of course Labour would like to spend more, tax more and borrow more. Yet we know that's a fool's errand. We'd end up with higher interest rates and a weaker economy: Labour's Crash of 2008 was not that long ago.

What's more, the reforms to tax credits are part of a much wider package. We are introducing a new National Living Wage of £7.20 an hour in April 2016. This is set to rise to £9 an hour by 2020, at which point someone who is currently working full time on the National Minimum Wage will be £5,200 a year better off.

The National Living Wage will directly benefit 2.7 million people who are currently paid less than £7.20 an hour and it is estimated that a further 3.25 million people will benefit as employers are forced to increase wages. This will be a massive benefit to people here in Dover & Deal.

We are continuing to increase the personal allowance (the amount of money you can earn before you start paying income tax). When Labour left office, it was less than £6,500. By 2020, it will be £12,500. By doing this, typical taxpayers will be able to keep £1,205 more of their hard earned cash and we have ensured that anyone on the minimum wage will pay no income tax whatsoever throughout this Parliament.

We're also introducing 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of three and four year-olds and tax-free childcare worth up to £2,000 a year.

When you take into account all of the welfare and tax changes announced in the Budget, most families will be significantly better off by the end of this Parliament as the following examples show:

 

  • A couple with two children where only one parent is in work on the National Minimum Wage will see their income increase by £2,480
  • A lone parent with one child working 35 hours on the National Minimum Wage will see their income increase by £1,550
  • A couple with two children where both parents are working 35 hours a week on the National Minimum Wage will see their income increase by £5,570
  • A single person with no children working 35 hours on the National Minimum Wage will see their income increase by £2,110

 

There is no denying that some of the decisions we have taken are tough. Yet we have to get this country back in the black, keep interest rates low with jobs and wages on the rise.

We've come a long way together over the last five years. Unemployment has fallen dramatically. Wages are rising. Interest rates have remained low. We are helping the least well-off to get paid better and taxed less. Less welfare, more work and bigger pay rises are the way to ensure we continue to see more jobs and money here in Dover & Deal and across Britain as a whole.

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19 OCT 2015

'Sugar Tax'

I know that the Government currently has no plans to introduce a 'sugar tax'. The Government is committed to reducing obesity in the UK and its impact on public health.

Tackling childhood obesity is a major priority for this Government. The levels of overweight and obese children is concerning. The causes of obesity are complex, and can be caused by a number of dietary, lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors and addressing it will require a comprehensive and broad approach. Plans for tackling childhood obesity will be announced in the coming months.

I do not think a sugar tax is the right way forward however. It is better to encourage people to take exercise and provide education on healthy eating choices.

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24 SEP 2015

Free School Meals

The average school meal costs £437 per child, per year. So when the Lib Dems' Nick Clegg introduced this in the last Government it was at a cost of £1Bn.

Now we have long provided free school meals to children who are the worst off. It is right we do. Yet when it comes to children who are from richer families, is this the best use of educational resources?

As it happens, there is no policy to cut universal free school meals. However this campaign by 38 degrees has drawn attention to the issue. It raises an important question about resources. Should we, as 38 degrees say, fund free school meals for wealthy families. Or would the cash be better spent on more classroom books, better resources like more and newer computers? Or even more teachers?

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14 SEP 2015

Trade Unions Bill

The Trade Unions Bill that will be debated today is crucial to make sure that strike laws are fairer for working people in this country.

Trade unions do good things in representing their members' interests but this must be balanced with the rights of working people and businesses. They have a right to expect that services are not going to be disrupted at short notice by strikes which have the support of only a small proportion of union members.

It is wholly wrong that politicised union leaders can hold the country to ransom with demands that only a small percentage of their members voted for; causing misery for millions of people and harming our economy too. They have no mandate for these actions, and it is right that we put a stop to this.

Last year's NHS strikes led to cancelled operations and appointments for patients across the country. When teaching unions go on strike, parents have to find childcare or take leave. Recent transport strikes mean many people find it impossible to get to work on time – or have to pay a fortune to do so. And when our fire service, or the Border Force go on strike, the safety of all of us is put at risk.

So this Bill will introduce a 50 per cent threshold for ballot turn-out, and an additional threshold of 40 per cent for support to take part in industrial action in public sectors such as fire, health, education, and transport. These changes will ensure strikes are the result of a clear and positive democratic mandate from union members.

Unions must be more transparent in their aims. There will now be a requirement that ballot papers include the details of the dispute, what type of industrial action is proposed, and the time period for the action to take place. This will allow union members to make informed decisions about what they are voting for or against.

The Bill will also change the process called 'check off'. This is when public sector workers who are union members have their subscriptions taken directly from their salary. This was a practice introduced at a time when many people didn't have bank accounts. In the 21st century era of digital payments, public resources should not be used to support the collection of trade union subscriptions. The move gives the employee greater control over their subscription, allowing them to set up their own direct debit with their chosen trade union. It gives employees more rights, choosing where their money goes and taking the decision away from union bosses.

Another important change is to help those workers who decide not to strike. In the past non-strikers have been subject to abuse and intimidation from more militant workers which is simply unacceptable. The Government will make the key provisions of the Picketing Code legally binding. Trade unions will be made more accountable for the conduct on picket lines to tackle this problem.

These changes are fair, robust and represent a positive change for hard working Britons. This was a key manifesto commitment and I fully support the Bill.

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08 SEP 2015

EDM 153 and CCTV In Slaughterhouses

As a member of the Government, I am not able to sign any Early Day Motions, and am therefore unable to sign EDM 153. However, I agree it is so important that we maintain high standards of animal welfare at slaughter.

The Government shares my view on this issue, and have made sure there are strict legal requirements in place. In slaughterhouses, these requirements are monitored and enforced by Official Veterinarians of the Food Standards Agency to ensure that animals are spared unnecessary suffering, distress or pain during the slaughter process.

The committee that advises the Government on animal welfare has reviewed the effectiveness of CCTV in checking the welfare of animals in slaughterhouses and has said it can be beneficial. It recommended that all assurance scheme operators, food retailers and others in the food chain should require that CCTV be installed in slaughterhouses associated with them. The Government will give this report full consideration. As an animal lover I hope they will take the best course of action to ensure the safe welfare of our animals.

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02 SEP 2015

BBC Charter Review

The BBC is a great British institution, admired the world over for its high quality content. Not only does it provide world-class domestic programming and journalism, but helps projects British influence abroad. Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, called the BBC World Service "perhaps Britain's greatest gift to the world" in the 20th century. It's crucial the Charter Review helps the BBC maintain this high level of service.

The Government last ran a Charter Review 10 years ago, when the media landscape looked very different. Since then, the growth in online viewing and subscription channels have radically changed media. Today, for example, 62 per cent of all programmes accessed online are watched using the BBC's iPlayer - a significant change from a decade ago. Watching recorded programmes on iPlayer does not require a Television Licence. Therefore, it's important the Charter Review reflects these sorts of changes to allow the BBC to remain successful in a modern media environment.

That's why this Charter Review needs to ask hard questions. These include what the BBC should be trying to achieve in an age of extensive consumer choice, what the scale and scope of its programming should be, how far the BBC affects other broadcasters and online platforms and what the right structures are for the BBC's governance and regulation. It's important we tackle these difficult questions now to safeguard the BBC's future.

The BBC is a national institution, paid for by the public. It will have spent more than £30 billion of public money over the current Charter period. The Government recently set out a consultation (closing 8th October 2015) which marks the start of the Charter Review process. It's important everyone has their say on the future of the BBC and what people think the Corporation is doing well or badly. If you have not already, you may wish to respond to the consultation (link below) to ensure your views are heard.

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/bbc-charter-review-public-consultation

This consultation is the first step in an open and thorough Charter Review. It will inform the Government's review of the BBC and how we can ensure the Corporation remains strong, but also up-to-date with rapid changes in viewing habits and technologies.

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31 JUL 2015

Bees and Pesticides

It's well known bees, and other pollinators, play a vital role in the security of our food supply and the quality of our natural environment. It's very positive the Government has done much over the last few years to understand and protect them - most recently through the National Pollinator Strategy.

The Strategy lays out plans to improve our understanding of the abundance, diversity and role of pollinators in agriculture and our natural habitats. It includes measures to conserve and create good quality wild flower meadows and minimise risks from pesticides. Organisations such as Network Rail, Highways Agency and the National Trust have also agreed to use road verges, rail embankments and forest areas to create bee and insect-friendly habitats.

Decisions on the approval of suitable pesticides are made at the European level. Since December 2013, three of the five currently approved neonicotinoids are not permitted for use on a wide range of crops considered "attractive to bees". A number of other uses remain permitted. These restrictions are not time-limited, and will remain in place until and unless the European Commission decides to change them.

I'm pleased the Commission has begun a review of the science relating to neonicotinoids and bees. This will include looking at the effects on bees caused by seed treatments and uses of the restricted neonicotinoids in the form of granules on any crop. The British Government will contribute fully to this review. Our own strategy on future regulation of neonicotinoids will be based on all the available scientific evidence.

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28 JUL 2015

Abortion Medication in Northern Ireland

I am aware of the case of the woman who has been charged for purchasing abortion medication on behalf of her daughter in Northern Ireland. I understand this is a very distressing case and one that has resulted because of abortion law in Northern Ireland which is different to the rest of the UK.

This is a devolved issue and one that the Government in Westminster has no jurisdiction over. It is therefore up to the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives in Stormont to address the matter directly. 

I know that the Northern Irish Justice Minister, David Ford, has sought to raise the debate about abortion and following a consultation last autumn, the Department for Justice recommended a change to Northern Ireland's abortion law, allowing terminations in fatal foetal abnormality cases. However, but there is still a long way to go before women are allowed the same choices they would have if they lived in England.

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03 JUL 2015

Wild Animals in Circuses

The Government remains fully committed to introducing a ban on wild animals in circuses. It supported the Private Member's Bill, the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill, published by Jim Fitzpatrick MP in the last Parliament, to achieve this ban.

I hoped that this Bill could make the necessary progress before the end of the Parliament to pass into law. Unfortunately this was not possible due to a lack of parliamentary time. It would have been wrong to bring the Bill forward out of order, ahead of those sponsored by other MPs. Therefore, the Government is committed to introducing a ban in this new Parliament.

Currently, the ban stands to impact on two travelling circuses in England that now operate with only a small number of wild animals. Conditions of the remaining wild animals at both circuses are closely monitored under Defra's interim Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012, through regular announced and unannounced welfare inspections. This helps to ensure that any wild animals still used in circuses, before a ban kicks in, are subject the highest standards of animal welfare and care.

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01 JUL 2015

Mental Health

I care deeply about mental health issues and ensuring those with depression and mental health problems get the support they need. I actively support Deal's Talk it Out group and Speak Up CIC – local groups which provide crucial support to those with mental health difficulties and help so many in their time of need.

Nationally, we've made good progress in the last five years prioritising mental health care. There is now legal parity of esteem between mental and physical health, as laid out in the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. This means mental health conditions are treated with the same importance as physical health. We have also introduced proper waiting times for mental health treatment, including a maximum waiting time of 18 weeks for talking therapy, to ensure there is proper accountability on the NHS for those seeking mental health services. The Crisis Care Concordat, negotiated by the Government, setting out the standards of care people should expect if they suffer a mental health crisis and details how the emergency services should respond.

In terms of funding, the Government has committed £400m since 2011 to support psychological therapies, including depression, for adults, children and young people. A new disability benefit, Personal Independence Payment, is now being introduced, which will allow those with severe mental health conditions to claim the higher rate of disability payment. They will no longer be left on a lower rate, as under the old DLA system.

Many constituents have written to me particularly about mental health care for children and young people. Diagnosing and properly treating mental health difficulties early in life is absolutely crucial. That's why I strongly welcome the £54m that Health Ministers have invested in a dedicated programme for children and young people and established the new Children and Young People's Mental Health and Well-Being Taskforce. At the Budget, the Chancellor has announced, that the Government will invest £1bn over the next five years to start new access standards which will see over 110,000 more children cared for over the next Parliament. Alongside this, the Government will be providing £118m by 2018-19 to complete the roll-out of the Children and Young People's Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies programme.

Finally, I continue to campaign for more mental health services locally in our community. I have organised mental health round table meetings, bring together local doctors, experts and patients, to boost local mental health care. Our local hospitals at Dover and Deal are perfect places to base more mental health treatment and ensure our social services work better with mental health professionals to treat those in need. The sooner we can help those with mental health problems, the more we can help people get on, get back to work and live a better, healthier life.

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15 JUN 2015

Refugees and Mediterranean

This is a very serious problem. Gangs are profiting from the misery of their fellow humans, selling them false promises before loading them on to dangerous vessels and sending them, in many cases, to their deaths.

This problem is not new, but it is growing. It demands a clear response from European nations, and if we are to stop it, we must adopt the right approach. We cannot do anything which encourages more people to make these perilous journeys - or which makes it easier for the gangs responsible for their misery. That is why the UK will not participate in a mandatory system of resettlement or relocation. The UK has now sent the Royal Navy's flagship, HMS Bulwark, along with three Merlin helicopters and two border patrol ships.

I do think that in providing support to address the immediate situation, we have to make sure we are not doing anything to make the problem worse. We must distinguish between those genuinely fleeing persecution and economic migrants crossing the Mediterranean in the hope of a better life. While the UK has a proud tradition of providing refuge for those who need it, we must not provide new incentives for those simply seeking to come for economic reasons.

The EU should work to establish safe landing sites in North Africa, underpinned by an active programme of returns. We should use military, intelligence and crime-fighting assets to deliver search and rescue mechanisms, and also to crack down on the traffickers who are putting people at risk. As well as this, we are working to stop the problem at source, such as the more than £800 million in aid to support refugees from the Syrian crisis. As I have said, not all those trying to cross the Mediterranean are refugees and we need to slow people's travel through transit countries, encourage them to return to their country of origin, or help them build a better life in other countries rather than trying to make the dangerous journey to Europe.

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15 JUN 2015

EDM 66 and Food Waste

As a member of the Government, I am not able to sign any Early Day Motions, and am therefore unable to sign EDM 66. However, I appreciate how important an issue this is and that we should be doing everything we can to reduce food waste to an absolute minimum. It is wrong that anyone should go hungry at the same time as surplus food is going to waste.

I know the Government has been working closely with WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme), food retailers and industry to limit food waste to its lowest possible level. To this end, Government Ministers have backed several rounds of the Courtauld Commitment, a voluntary agreement to limit waste. It's encouraging 90% of the food manufacturing and retailer sector have signed up to this commitment. As a result, domestic household food waste has already been reduced by 21%, and food waste in the supply chain has reduced by 8%. The process has also seen the amount of redistributed surplus food double between 2011 and 2013.

Separately, a voluntary agreement within the hospitality and food services industry was launched in 2012. Over 170 signatories and supporters have signed up to an ambitious set of targets both to reduce the amount of food waste they produce, and to manage it better by recycling and sending waste food for anaerobic digestion to produce energy. The Government also continues to work closely with industry to help them forge closer links with redistribution charities across the whole supply chain. It is wrong that anyone should go hungry at the same time as surplus food is going to waste.

I am interested by a new French policy of requiring supermarkets to donate food that would otherwise go to waste to charity. There are no current plans to replace the policy in the UK, but if the French initiative is a success, I think it something this Government should look at closely.

(As a side note, MPs also had the opportunity to discuss the issue recently in a Westminster Hall debate on 11th June. You can read the full debate at this link.)

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12 JUN 2015

National Pollinator Strategy

I know Friends of the Earth have done a lot of good work to draw attention to the need to protect bees. Friends of the Earth welcomed the Strategy as "a major step towards protecting the nation's bees". The Department for the Environment have said that they look forward to working with the group on its implementation and working to better protect out bee population.

A major element of the Strategy is a plan to improve our understanding of the abundance, diversity and role of pollinators, and to identify any further necessary actions. While I welcome the Government's work over the last few years to understand and protect pollinators, there are still some gaps in our understanding of these issues. The Plan outlines steps to address this situation will allow Friends of the Earth's views to be taken on board.

However, the Government is clear that we must take action promptly. Immediate actions the plan describes include some significant advances over the draft version, such as the wild pollinator and farm wildlife package, raising the profile of existing initiatives to conserve and create good quality wild flower meadows, and minimising risks from pesticides. The Department for Communities and Local Government has agreed to integrate the Bees' Needs advice into its Planning Guidance and work is ongoing on finding alternatives to conventional chemical pesticides.

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12 JUN 2015

Seal Culling

I am an animal lover and passionate about animal welfare. I would very much prefer to see non-lethal means of controlling seals being developed to make culling unnecessary. As it currently stands, it is lawful to kill a seal if it is deemed to pose a threat to fishing operations (in accordance with the Conservation of Seals Act 1970). I am not aware of any current plans to change this position.

The fishing industry does argue, however, that culling is sometimes necessary to prevent serious damage to their operations. However, a representative of a Scottish aquaculture organisation recently stated that seals are only shot as a last resort. Its vital we strike a balance between the legitmiate concerns of the fishing industry and ensuring we maintain stronganimal welfare.

On a more positive note, the seal colony on Blakeney Point in Norfolk has seen record growth in recent years, and is thriving. Apparently there was some concern that the population growth there might lead to calls for a cull. However, the National Trust, which controls the property, has confirmed that there would be no need for this to be considered.

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12 JUN 2015

Fuel Duty

This is an incredibly important issue for families and businesses in Dover and Deal.

The Chancellor will deliver his Budget on 8th July and I can't speculate on the exact measures he will set out. However, the Conservatives have a strong record of action on fuel duty. The Coalition Government scrapped Labour's hated fuel duty escalator, which put the tax up above inflation every year. It then froze fuel duty from 2011, continuing until 2016. This is the longest fuel duty freeze in 20 years and saves a family around £10 every time they fill up their car.

This helps to ease the pressure on family budgets and reduce business costs. I look forward to see if the Chancellor will continue the fuel duty freeze and will be closely monitoring and developments.

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