FAQs - 2
Regarding supply chains and the Modern Slavery Bill.
I appreciate your concerns regarding this issue. I can assure you that the Government is firmly committed to eradicating all forms of slavery, including eliminating forced labour and exploitation from supply chains.
The Modern Slavery Bill needs to be as clear and tightly focused as possible to stand the best chance of becoming law by the end of this Parliament. However, it is important to recognise that legislation is only one part of the solution. The Government is also taking forward a comprehensive programme of activity which specifically includes working with the private sector to address modern slavery in supply chains. The Government has asked retailers to lead the way on transparent supply chains, and Ministers recently hosted a round table with representatives of business organisations and individual businesses to help raise awareness of this issue to prevent people being abused and exploited. In June of this year, the Government asked the British Retail Consortium to produce recommendations that industry can take to help eradicate human rights abuses in their supply chains. This will include a framework of human rights reporting requirements and information on ethical auditing.
I firmly believe that businesses have social responsibility to ensure that those they do business with are not involved in the exploitation of others. By sharing the experiences and good practice of responsible British retailers, we can help improve human rights in supply chains, and the government will continue to talk to a range of business leaders about how we can eliminate forced labour and exploitation from their supply chains.
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The Government’s position on this question has been clear and consistent. It wants to see a two-state solution brought about through negotiated agreement. This solution should lead to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. This will include agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a just, fair and agreed solution for refugees.
I understand and share your belief that urgent progress towards this goal is needed. Ministers made clear when they welcomed the ceasefire in August, that this has provided an opportunity to make progress on tackling the underlying causes of the conflict. Parties should work to ensure that Hamas and other militant groups permanently end attacks against Israel; that the Palestinian Authority resumes control of Gaza and restores effective and accountable governance; and that Israel eases its restrictions in order to improve the situation for ordinary Palestinians, and allows the Gazan economy to grow.
There can be no shortcut to this process. The UK must work to persuade the Israelis to make it a greater priority and to understand that it would be the true route to security. They must also persuade the Palestinians and those who have supported Hamas, that terrorist attacks and rocket attacks on Israel will not bring Palestinian statehood closer. I can assure you that the Government is committed to doing just that.
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Affordable Homes Bill
I believe our welfare safety net should provide a free roof over peoples’ heads when they need it. However when there are nearly two million households on social housing waiting lists in England alone and 360,000 families living in over-crowded accommodation it makes sense to ensure the free home is the right size. Estimates suggest that the Affordable Homes Bill would cost about £1 billion of public expenditure. At a time when many families are having to make cut backs, I do not believe this would be an appropriate use of public money. Further, I continue to believe that it cannot be right to subsidise families to live in houses too big for their needs.
I can however assure you that provisions are in place to protect the disabled, foster carers and the armed forces. In the Malvern Hills and Wychavon districts, for example, a discretionary housing fund of £237,002 for 2014/15 has been allocated. Since the beginning of April 2014, of the 569 claims made of the fund, 336 were successful and of these 247 related to the spare room subsidy. In addition, housing providers have helped many people swap homes.
However if you know of people who have been affected and have not applied to the discretionary fund then do please contact me.
I hope this helps explain why I am not supporting Andrew George’s Affordable Homes Bill.
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HMRC Data Sharing
Regarding the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) data sharing roundtable on 8th July 2014. Unfortunately, due to prior commitments, I will be unable to attend the meeting. However, I do appreciate that the reports that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) could sell anonymised taxpayers’ data are of concern to a number of my constituents and I have been assured that the Government is considering any changes very carefully.
A public consultation last year put forward a proposal to remove the legal restrictions that currently limit HMRC’s ability to share anonymised individual level data for the purpose of research and analysis, and deliver public benefits wider than HMRC’s own functions. However, HMRC would only share data where this would generate clear public benefits, and where there are robust safeguards in place.
Last year's consultation also made it very clear that there would be a rigorous accreditation process for anyone wanting access to the data and that any access would take place in a secure environment. Those accessing data would be subject to the same confidentiality provisions as HMRC staff, including a criminal sanction for unlawful disclosure of taxpayer information.The Government has always said this must only be done where there are sufficient safeguards in place to protect taxpayer confidentiality and HMRC will be consulting further on the proposals. HMRC has been clear it remains committed to safeguarding taxpayer confidentiality in all circumstances and that no final decision has been taken.
It is extremely unlikely that shale gas extraction would ever take place near your home as there is no shale gas under West Worcestershire. It is also important to be aware that just because a speculative licence has been granted first, that licence may never be implemented and secondly the licence may be for oil or coal and not for extracting gas from shale.
Shale gas is a promising new potential energy resource which could create thousands of jobs, bring in billions in tax revenues and secure our energy supply for the future. However, operations to extract it should be safe, and must not be at the expense of local communities or the environment.
As I am sure you know, many other industries already access underground land in order to lay cables and build infrastructure such as water pipes and tunnels. These are much closer to the surface than the access concerned here. For example the deepest Tube station is around 32m below ground. I attach an extract from Hansard for the debate in the House of Commons on Thursday 5th June 2014 and as you will see the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey reiterates this here, while the Labour Shadow Energy Secretary also agreed on this point.
As you may know, the Government has launched a consultation (which runs until 15th August) to simplify the process for shale gas underground drilling access. The proposals comprise access to underground land but only below 300m (nearly 1000ft). They also include a voluntary payment from industry, and a voluntary public notification for access. As you know, any hydraulic fracturing would only occur at far greater depths of 1.5 kilometres (around 5000ft) or more.
I hope you have been reassured by this reply but please write into the public consultation. Their details can be found online at:
Members of the Government do not, by convention, sign any Early Day Motions as doing so is likely to breach the Ministerial Code’s rules on collective responsibility. However, in the recent Queen’s Speech the Government confirmed it will introduce a power of recall if an MP is found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing. This was a clear commitment in the Coalition’s Programme for Government and is part of the Coalition’s wide ranging reform agenda to restore trust in politics and ensure politicians are accountable to the people they serve.
The most important point to make is that every MP is effectively recalled at each General Election. This is a fundamental element of our democracy.
However, if MPs are in serious breach of standards and judged to be so, they should not have to wait for a general election to receive the verdict of their constituents. Under the proposals, a recall mechanism would be triggered, and constituents would be given the chance to sign a petition to call for a by-election, where:
- an MP is convicted in the UK of an offence and receives a custodial sentence of 12 months or less (for more than 12 months an MP is automatically expelled); or
- the House of Commons resolves that an MP should face a recall petition for serious wrongdoing.
To be successful a recall petition will need to be signed by at least 10 per cent of the registered voters in the constituency over an eight-week period. This will ensure that MPs don’t face frequent or vexatious petitions and it will add to the House’s existing disciplinary measures.
I share the view that the NHS is vital for my constituents, which is why I am pleased that we have been able to protect and increase spending on the NHS.
There are, as you will know, rare and extreme circumstances when our health services fail their patients. In 2009 the Labour Government introduced the Trust Special Administration (TSA) regime to address, in a clear and transparent way, these situations. The TSA regime is expressly stated only to be used in the most urgent cases where lives might be put at risk. Only twice has the regime been implemented: first in South London where vast sums of taxpayers’ money were being spent bailing out a failed hospital and secondly, in Mid Staffordshire, when patients were suffering from dangerously poor care.
I want to reassure you that there are no such problems in our wonderful hospitals in Worcestershire.
However, where serious problems do arise in the NHS it is important that the TSA administrators are able to look not just at the specific hospital giving cause for concern but also at other local NHS services which would or might be affected by the steps the administrators take at the failing institution. Section 119 of the Care Bill enables the TSA administrators to make recommendations which will enable sustainable services to be created in the local health economy. Thus they will be able constructively to consider not just the failing institution but also parallel local NHS services. This will enable patient care to be improved and hospital services to be preserved.
It has been suggested that these decisions will be made without consultation. This is not the case. The TSA administrators will consult fully. At present the NHS is turning round a number of hospitals in special measures, many of which have had deep seated problems for years. Clause 119 ensures that commissioners of other affected trusts would have every opportunity to make their views known. It also lengthens the time the administrator has to produce their draft report and extends the formal consultation period on the recommendations, crucially giving more time for involvement of the public and all key stakeholders.
It is important to restate that Clause 119 only applies to the TSA administrator regime and that this is only used as a last resort in the most serious of circumstances. In these cases, it is vital to allow the administrator to look at the wider local health system. In such situations, lives are put at risk if the problem is not dealt with swiftly and effectively. We need to have a regime of last resort that is able to address these problems in the interests of the taxpayer, patients and the public, rather than simply ignoring problems or bailing out failed and unsafe services.
Second-hand smoke is dangerous for children and it is right that the Government looks at it as an issue. There has already been action in this area, with a nation-wide campaign, led by Public Health England, to ensure parents fully understand the dangers of second-hand smoke and are encouraged to stop smoking in the home or car if there is a child present. I am encouraged that evaluation of those campaigns shows they are increasing awareness of the risks of second hand smoke as well changing attitudes and behaviours.
It is important we listen to the views expressed and ensure the issue is fully debated and considered alongside the available evidence. This will now be discussed in the House of Commons, where it will be subject to a free vote.
While I personally abhor the idea of children being subjected to passive smoking in cars or homes, I would rather continue with an educational campaign, rather than asking the police to spend time stopping hard working parents on the school run to check if they have children in the car and are smoking. Police resources need to be focused on other equally or more immediately harmful activities which are more realistically capable both of detection and enforcement.
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Amendments to Transparency of Lobbying Bill.
Police & Crime Commissioner’s consultation on proposed changes to Malvern, Tenbury and Pershore police stations.
McKay Commission on the Consequences of Devolution for the House of Commons.
Bovine TB is a serious disease and its incidence has been increasing steadily since the 1980s with the number of new cases doubling every nine years. In the last 10 years the disease has cost the taxpayer £500 million. The Government remains committed to using all available means to address this disease. It has now been confirmed that the pilot badger culls go ahead in Somerset and Gloucestershire this summer. Ministers have also agreed that an area in Dorset should be prepared as a reserve. The decision to pilot a badger cull is based on the best scientific evidence available. Evidence from Australia, the Republic of Ireland and the USA has shown that TB in cattle cannot be controlled without also controlling the disease in the surrounding wildlife population. Research has demonstrated that cattle and badgers transmit the disease to each other and that sustained culling of badgers leads to a significant reduction of the disease in cattle. The two pilot areas where culling will initially take place are both in TB hotspots. It will be overseen and evaluated by an independent expert panel reporting their findings to Ministers.
Ministers are clear that culling represents only part of a comprehensive package of measures that the Government is using to tackle bovine TB. In high-risk areas herds are tested annually and any cattle that test positive are removed. Restrictions on cattle movements have been strengthened to reduce the chance of disease spreading, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) continues to look at ways to improve the testing of cattle for TB.The Government has also funded and developed an injectable badger vaccine but this has its limitations. Badgers need to be trapped before they can be vaccinated, and the process has to be repeated annually for many years. In addition the vaccine is not 100 per cent effective in preventing TB. As a result, current vaccines will not be as effective as culling in reducing the spread of the disease.
Defra is also planning to invest a further £15.5m in vaccine development over the next four years to develop an oral vaccine for badgers, which may be cheaper and more effective than an injectable vaccine, in addition to a vaccine for cattle. As the EU Commissioner Tonio Borg has recently made clear, no country has done more in this area than the UK. However, it will be many years before these methods are available and unfortunately, the vaccination of our national herd is prohibited by EU legislation. Our cattle industry cannot wait that long. It is therefore vital that the Government uses every tool at its disposal to check the progress of this devastating disease.
The Government’s position on this is very clear: animals should be slaughtered locally wherever possible.
However, under European Union free trade rules it is illegal to ban the export of animals to other EU countries. As a result it would not be possible to alter the existing legal framework with a Private Members Bill. It is therefore imperative that the highest standards of animal welfare are followed by any business dealing with animals, and that these same standards are enforced across the EU.
The EU’s Council Regulation 1/2005 and the UK’s Animal Welfare Act 2006 both protect the welfare of animals during transport. The European Commission recently studied the effectiveness of this legislation, and found that although the regulation has had a beneficial impact on the welfare of animals during transport, there could be room for improvement. It was suggested that this change should come from more effective enforcement of existing legislation rather than amendments to what already exists.
The Government has taken this on board, and will continue to pursue a more sustainable approach to the transport of livestock on long journeys.
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The Government has gone to great lengths to make it as clear as possible that only third party groups that campaign for the electoral success of a particular political party or candidate which will affected by this Bill. I must again stress that an organisation campaigning solely on policy issues will not be included in these changes.
The Bill does not prevent charities or third party organisations from having a view on any aspect of the policy of a party nor does it stop these groups attempting to influence the policy of a party. Only if this was carried out in such a way that it could be seen also to promote the election of a political party or candidate would it be covered. This situation exists at the moment; it is the same under the current legislation and remains unchanged by this Bill.
In addition, the Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley, has now set out how the legislation will be made even clearer for campaigners. This can be found online here:
At the last election, only two organisations spent over the proposed £390,000 limit and there is a risk of a small few third parties having undue influence at election period. During the 2010 election, the biggest 10 per cent of third parties spent more than other 90 per cent put together.
this Government is committed to the highest standards of animal welfare.
The Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal, was reviewed by the Parliamentary Select Committee for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) last year. The Committee did not recommend increasing the maximum penalties available to the courts. There are, therefore, no proposals to increase the penalties for cases of animal cruelty.
The Government considers that existing maximum penalties of a fine of £20,000 and six months imprisonment are appropriate. The courts must decide what the penalty should be for each case taking into account its individual circumstances and the Sentencing Council Guidelines. Sentencing is ultimately a matter for the Sentencing Council and of course, like all matters, this is kept under review.
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We all value the services of the NHS, delivered free at the point of use. In a perfect world, all NHS services would be equal and of the highest possible level of quality and care. However, as the Francis report into the care at the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust during the period from 2005-2009 shows, the NHS does not always deliver the kind of quality of care we would want for ourselves or our families.
I think the best people to evaluate the quality of care provided in West Worcestershire are our local doctors and clinicians. That is why I am so pleased that GPs and other clinicians will be responsible from April 1st for commissioning local health services in our area.
I am sure that they will want to use these freedoms to choose what is best for local patients and will almost invariably choose an NHS provider. But the best way to ensure quality is to have the option to choose another provider and I support these freedoms, provided the NHS remains free at the point of use for my constituents.
See below two letters: One is from the South Worcestershire Clinical Commissioning Group and one is from the Health Minister, who has announced some further clarification to allay your concerns about the wording of Section 75.
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Justice and Security Bill "Secret Courts"
This Bill seeks to deal with an extremely serious problem. Under current court rules, known as Public Interest Immunity (or PII), national security evidence is excluded from the courtroom. It means that some of the actions of our security and intelligence agencies are not being scrutinised in the courts.
This has become particularly problematic given the rising numbers of compensation claims being brought alleging that the British Government has been involved in the mistreatment of detainees. The Government is now facing around 20 live cases in which national security evidence is central.
The deficiencies of the PII system mean that the claimants in this small number of cases will never have their case properly heard. The public will never ever get an answer as to whether the serious questions raised about the activities of the state have any truth or not. Instead, because the key national security evidence can’t be brought before the court, the claim has to be settled by the taxpayer to the tune of potentially millions of pounds. Given that some of the individuals involved in these cases are suspected terrorists there is a high risk that this money could make its way back into funding terrorist activities.
The Government agrees that Closed Material Procedures, or CMPs, clearly do not provide an ideal form of justice. No hearing in which the claimant is unable to hear the evidence disputing his claim ever is. However, they are much less secret than the current PII system which excludes the material at issue entirely. Domestic and international courts have declared CMPs to be fair.
In my view CMPs are quite simply an infinitely preferable way of getting to the bottom of these cases than both the current PII system. At least with a CMP we will have a judge looking at all the facts and providing a judgment. They will also put an end to Government being forced into making pay-outs to former detainees who have not proved their case.
The Government has now ensured that a judge will be entirely responsible for whether a CMP can be held. There will be no question of cover-ups being allowed, and indeed a claimant will be able to request a CMP if they believe that there may be national security evidence which would help their case.
The Government brought forward amendments at Committee Stage in the House of Commons giving effect to the principles behind the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The judge now has full discretion to decide whether a CMP would be 'in the interests of the fair and effective administration of justice'. Indeed, going beyond the Committee's recommendations, the Government have introduced a new power for the judge to be able to revoke a CMP at any point during the proceedings.
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As a fifth of our power stations are closing over the next decade, it is vital that we incentivise a range of technologies to ensure the UK has enough energy to meet its needs.
The Government is committed to decarbonising the UK’s energy supplies, but this must be at the lowest overall cost for consumers. The UK’s tough emissions and renewables targets currently provide a solid overall policy framework, and the Government is pushing through ambitious reforms to overhaul existing old fossil fuel plants and replace them with new low carbon generation.
The new Energy Bill will put a fair price on carbon, providing a stronger incentive to invest in low carbon generation now. As part of this Bill, powers to set a decarbonisation target range for 2030 will be brought forward in secondary legislation. However, a decision on this will only be taken once the Climate Change Committee has provided advice in 2016 on the 5th Carbon Budget which covers the corresponding period. It is right to fix the target in terms of the prevailing circumstances at the time, and in the context of the economy as a whole to which decarbonisation of the sector is inextricably linked.
I can assure you that the UK will retain its status as a great place to do low-carbon business. The Energy Bill will support the UK’s thriving low-carbon sector, which is currently worth £122 billion and employs close to a million people. The Energy Bill will help stimulate competition for long term clean energy contracts, driving innovation, raising productivity, and giving new UK industries like manufacturing for offshore wind and Carbon Capture and Storage a lucrative market in the UK.
I hope this reassures you that the Government is determined to achieve our climate goals, and will continue to work towards a low carbon future.
I certainly believe that private healthcare companies should pay they fair share of Corporation Tax on any profits earned. I also value the contribution that private healthcare companies bring to helping patients by, for example, developing medicines, medical equipment and other treatments.
To clarify, the Government is not considering exempting private sector providers of NHS services from Corporation Tax.
Monitor, the independent sector regulator for NHS funded services, has also confirmed that this is not a recommendation that they are considering in their Fair Playing Field Review. The purpose of the review is to examine whether there are matters that mean not all NHS-funded health care providers operate on an equal footing and if so, whether something can be done that would address these issues and result in significant benefits for patients. The review will ensure that any providers – be they NHS, for-profit or voluntary sector organisations – who are able to improve the services offered to patients are given the opportunity to do so.
Whilst carrying out their review, Monitor has consulted with a wide range of patient groups, providers, commissioners, regulators and policy makers. The Government will consider the recommendations that Monitor make and will respond to the review by March 2013.
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REPORT STAGE UPDATE
Due to a long-standing overseas parliamentary commitment, I was unable to vote in Monday’s business but I added my name in support of the “conscience” amendments, which were New Clause 1 (protecting faith schools); New Clause 2, 3 and amendment 2 (protecting conscience of marriage registrars); New Clause 4 (protecting free speech); New Clause 5, 6, 7 and 8 (protecting those whose religious beliefs hold that marriage can only be between a man and a woman from discrimination) . In the event, there were only votes on New Clause 3, 6 and 8 as the Minister was able to assure the House that the other points will be reflected in the legislation as it proceeds to the House of Lords. I am enclosing a copy of the Minister’s remarks.
The three votes on New Clauses 3, 6 and 8 were defeated by a majority of between 157 votes and 190 votes, so my absence was not decisive. Having discussed these issues with the Minister and having studied the Minister’s remarks, I now intend to support Third Reading of the Bill because I think their Lordships should have an opportunity to scrutinise the legislation. I am reassured that those who hold a belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman are not impinged by this legislation.
For the full speech, and a letter I received from the PM on this issue, please click the links below.
With reference to a national bee action plan.
I would like to take this opportunity to explain what steps the Government is taking to tackle this issue. I recognise the importance of all pollinators, including bees, and their value to both food security and sustaining the natural environment. The Government is currently considering a range of evidence on the state of bees and other pollinators in order to determine what action is required. I am assured that Ministers will move quickly to consider the implications of the new scientific and technical evidence when it is available and will act on this information.
As you can see from the recent report 38 degrees are referring to http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/130116.htm?utm_source=homepage&u... the independent experts of the European Food Standards authority have advised that there is a lack of experimental evidence that bees may face potentially harmful exposure to neonicotinoids in all field conditions. However, in my opinion, the evidence does support limiting the use of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam to crops which are not attractive to bees as a source of pollen. In addition, it suggests that maize treated with thiamethoxam is also harmful to bees. Therefore Ministers have asked the researchers to prioritise the completion of the field research they are carrying out on bumble bees. These findings will be considered by the independent Advisory Committee on Pesticides in due course. This will be completed early this year. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has also commissioned a longer-term project to quantify the actual exposure of wild bumblebees to sub-lethal doses of neonicotinoid insecticides in UK landscapes.
UK experts are actively involved in work in Europe to update the process for assessing the risks of pesticides to bees in the light of scientific developments – including the latest research. This will include the development of a new risk assessment for bumble bees and solitary bees, alongside an updated risk assessment for honey bees.
I will certainly be pressing the government and Ministers on the importance of acting swiftly on this report.
| Letter from Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under Secretary, DEFRA, 15th March 2013
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I completely support the Leveson Report’s advocacy of strengthened independent self-regulation of the press. The Press Complaints Commission has been too dominated by the newspaper editors themselves. I want to see a radical improvement in this area so that innocent members of the public can have access to the same redress that Lord McAlpine was able to achieve by hiring a top lawyer. It should be there to enforce the existing laws but give those with few resources the chance to defend themselves.
There are some details in the report that I am not comfortable with – for example, Private Eye editor Ian Hislop has said that he does not want his magazine to be regulated by Ofcom, which is headed by a political appointee. I also think the recommendations in paragraph 135 about logging all meetings between opposition politicians’ employees and the press are too prescriptive and far-reaching. Furthermore, the recommendations do not really cover the internet, nor do they give sufficient protection to local and regional papers. Colleagues have also raised concerns about Data Protection and investigative journalism.
For all these reasons, I do not think we should pass a law to adopt all 2,000 pages of the report in their entirety, which is what Ed Miliband seems to be suggesting.
Clearly the status quo is not an option and I, personally, am determined to see Lord Justice Leveson’s principles implemented. Ministers will be engaging in cross-party talks to work out how to deliver this.
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I am unsure as to the basis of the latest concerns expressed by 38 Degrees. First, 38 Degrees suggests that the Health and Social Care Bill, “removes the Secretary of State’s duty to provide”. However, 38 Degrees’ own legal advice states that the Secretary of State has never had such a duty to provide. Therefore, the Health and Social Care Bill makes no changes to the Secretary of State’s duty to provide, because it never existed in the first place.
Second, 38 Degrees suggests that the Health and Social Care Bill opens up the NHS to competition law. However, once again, 38 Degrees’s own legal advice states that competition law already applies to the NHS. Private companies are already involved in many ways in the NHS - in the development of the medicines we are prescribed, the machines that scan and test us and indeed, GPs are usually independent groups. I am keen for constituents in West Worcestershire to receive the best quality care, adn this may sometimes be from a private provider.
I hope you agree with me that 38 Degrees’s concerns are without foundation, as their own legal advice has confirmed. Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
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