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FAQs - 4


Child Refugees

Thank you for contacting me about the plight of asylum seekers and refugees and, in particular, refugee children.

I have received a very helpful letter from my colleague Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, which I believe clarifies the position. Please click here to download.

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Article 50

Thank you for contacting me about Brexit. I have always been clear that Parliament must respect the wishes of the British people and the decision reached in the Supreme Court has not changed my position.

I received a letter from my colleague David Davis which clarifies the position, please click here to download.

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Worcestershire NHS

Thank you for contacting me about NHS services in Worcestershire and, in particular, its funding. I agree that money is important, which is why I am pleased that the Worcestershire NHS budget has risen by £30 million since 2010. These budgets are spent by our local GPs on local services. I also welcome the recent local capital investment which has seen the opening of a new £17 million community hospital in Malvern, a £22.5 million oncology unit at Worcestershire Royal Hospital and a new birthing centre and a breast centre. In addition the Government has for the last two winters allocated an extra £2.6 million to help deal with the extra pressures faced by Worcestershire Royal Hospital’s A & E unit as well as further funds to increase its capacity.

I meet regularly with both Jeremy Hunt and Philip Dunne (the Hospitals Minister) to discuss the best way forward. This has included bringing in new management at the Acute Hospital, although the new team is not yet fully in place. I have urged people only to go to A&E if they have a serious problem and to make use of the minor injury units where possible. I realise A&E departments have been under great pressure, particularly over the New Year. Clearly we need to find a way to manage these seasonal pressures that enables patients to be treated with greater dignity.

The staff at the hospital are absolutely amazing and are coping with a huge demand for services.

I fully support our much loved Community hospitals as these offer vital palliative care for patients as well as providing a bed closer to home for those recovering from a serious illness or injury. With the NHS Acute Trust under such serious pressure for beds at the moment, now cannot be the time to be talking about reducing the capacity in our community hospitals. We should be using community hospitals more, not less, and I hope that the people who are leading the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) draft plan will take a long look at the levels of bed occupancy and rethink their strategy.

I will be feeding my views into the engagement process for the STP and I urge as many people as possible to make sure they share their views by visiting http://www.hacw.nhs.uk/yourconversation/our-stp.

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Istanbul Convention

Thank you for contacting me about the Istanbul Convention.

This Government remains committed to tackling violence against women and girls, and to ratifying the Istanbul Convention. As you will be aware, the previous Government signed the Convention in June 2012, and in most respects, the measures already in place in the UK to protect women and girls from violence comply with or go further than the Convention requires.

Further amendments to domestic law, to take extra-territorial jurisdiction over a range of offences, are necessary before the Convention can be ratified. The Government will seek to legislate when the approach to implementing the extra-territorial jurisdiction requirements in England and Wales is agreed and Parliamentary time allows.

Let me be clear that the UK continues to lead efforts at home and abroad to tackle violence against women and girls, end Female Genital Mutilation and combat early and forced marriage.

Update

Further to your previous correspondence regarding the Istanbul Convention, I am pleased to advise that I was in attendance and voted in favour of the Report Stage and Third Reading of the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill on Friday 24th February.

The Istanbul Convention is a Council of Europe Convention which aims to prevent and combat all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG), to protect victims and to end the impunity of perpetrators. The UK signed the Convention on 8 June 2012 to demonstrate our commitment to ending all forms of VAWG, and this Government has made clear that we remain fully committed to ratifying it.

The scope and ambition of the Istanbul Convention will secure more joined up international policies on our goals and commitments. By further removing legislative barriers and ensuring recognised shared standards are in place, we can continue to improve our delivery framework and quality of provision, for a more robust and effective response service for victims of violence.

Over the next four years, we will continue to drive a transformation in service delivery and we have pledged £80 million of funding to support this. We are developing the evidence base on what works to tackle the causes of offending behaviour to achieve sustainable reductions in violence and abuse. But we know there is more to do. The Prime Minister recently announced a major new programme of work leading towards bringing forward a Domestic Violence and Abuse Act. This will be coordinated by the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice and will look at what more can be done to improve support for victims especially in the way the law, and legal procedures, currently work for such victims.

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National Funding Formula

I have been a strong supporter of our local schools and am proud that more than nine out of ten of our secondary and primary schools are now rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. The Government is committed to ensuring that every pupil gets the chance to access the best possible education. The Education Secretary has announced new measures to calculate funding for our local schools and will be consulting on this proposals during early 2017.

The ambition to introducing fairer funding for schools across the country was a Conservative party manifesto commitment and I have stated that this is my top priority for West Worcestershire. A national funding formula is being introduced because we all believe that pupils should be funded at the same rate, no matter where they live. The funding system needs to be fair, with funding transparently matched to schools’ and children’s needs and a consultation has been carried out to allow all those involved in teaching, as well as members of the public, to have their say. The new system will apply from 2018-19. In the meantime, the Department for Education has confirmed that each local authority’s schools and high needs block funding will be protected for 2017-18 and each school will be protected by the minimum funding guarantee. In addition, Worcestershire's schools will receive an additional £6.71 million next year, as they did in 2015-2016. Parents, teachers and other interested parties can look at the full detail of this announcement and participate in the consultation process by visiting the Department’s pages of the Government website

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/plans-to-end-the-postcode-lottery-of-....

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Universal Credit

Thank you for contacting me about changes to Universal Credit and their impact on working families and incentives to work.

Universal Credit is a major reform to our welfare system which is restoring the value of work, making sure it always pays to work, and crucially, that it pays to work more. Over 800,000 people have now made a claim to Universal Credit, with an average of more than 12,500 new claims being made every week.

Simplifying the benefits system by merging the main working-age benefits into a single payment, with a single taper rate, means claimants can be confident that they will always be better off when they move into work or increase their hours or earnings. Evidence is already showing that people move into work faster under Universal Credit; for every 100 people who find work under Jobseeker's Allowance, 113 Universal Credit claimants move into a job.

While changes have been necessary to reform the system of 'work allowances' in Universal Credit, it is important to see this as part of a wider package of measures which together are designed to move us towards a lower welfare, lower tax, higher wage economy. The introduction of the National Living Wage is delivering a pay rise for millions of low paid workers, and people are keeping more of what they earn due to increases in their income tax personal allowance. The lowest paid workers saw their pay go up by the most last year, by over 6 per cent, well above inflation. Working parents are also benefitting from increased support with childcare costs.

Around half of all spending on welfare and public services is still going to the poorest 40 per cent of households, similar to the distribution in 2010. The best-off fifth of households will also be paying a greater proportion of taxes at the end of this Parliament than in 2010.

I welcome the fact that transitional protections are in place for people who are migrated over to Universal Credit from an existing claim, so that people will not see a cash fall in their benefit entitlement. This transitional protection is not reduced when claimants increase their earnings, to ensure work incentives are maintained.

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Sustainability and Transformation Plan for Worcestershire

Thank you for contacting me about the Sustainability and Transformation Plan which is being developed for Worcestershire.

I have been briefed on this process and I expect that the plans will be published and the public will be consulted in the near future.

Our Worcestershire NHS budget has risen by £30 million since 2010.

These budgets are spent by our local GPs on local services. I also welcome the recent local capital investment which has seen the opening of a new £17 million community hospital in Malvern, a £22.5 million oncology unit at Worcestershire Royal Hospital and a new birthing centre and a breast centre. The Government has also for the last two winters allocated an extra £2.6 million to help deal with the extra pressures faced by Worcestershire Royal Hospital’s A & E unit as well as further funds to increase its capacity.

I encourage you to participate in the STP consultation and details will be published soon.

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Nuclear Power and Hinkley Point C

Thank you for contacting me about nuclear power and Hinkley Point C.

I believe that nuclear has an important role to play as part of the UK’s energy mix. The Nuclear Industrial Strategy published in 2013 in partnership with industry establishes a long term approach for the sector to stimulate economic growth and create jobs in this country.

I am very pleased that the Government has already begun this process by reaching a commercial agreement with the energy company EDF that paves the way for the UK’s first new nuclear power plant in a generation. Hinkley Point C is planning to start generating by the mid-2020s.

Ministers worked extremely hard to secure the billions of pounds of private sector investment needed for this project, meaning that there will be absolutely no cost to the taxpayer until Hinkley is up and running. There are strong plans from developers for several new power stations and the Government is looking closely at these. Industry has set out plans that will allow us to provide 30 to 35 per cent of the electricity that the UK needs from nuclear by the 2030s.

This would also reduce our carbon emissions by 40 million tonnes, bring £89 billion of private investment into the UK economy and create around 35,000 jobs at the peak of construction. It will provide a clean source of home-grown energy, powering nearly 6 million homes and reducing energy bills for households.

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Animal Snares

I understand the strength of your feeling on this issue, and I am committed to animal welfare: the UK has some of the highest standards in the world. Wildlife management is, however, vital for conservation, farming, animal husbandry and sustainably harvesting wild game birds. Snaring is one of a range of measures that must be used.

Used to a high standard and according to the law, snares can be effective at restraining target animals before they are humanely managed. Nevertheless, I accept that if used incorrectly, they can cause injuries and suffering to animals and may accidentally capture species that were not targeted. While free-running snares are permitted for targeting certain species (mainly foxes and rabbits), self-locking snares, which place animals at greater risk of harm, have been banned since 1981. Animals, including any caught in snares, are protected from unnecessary suffering under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and trappers must check their snares at least once every 24 hours.

Based on research commissioned by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, land management organisations have developed a new code of best practice on the use of snares in England. It emphasises the importance of taking the behaviour of the targeted animals into account when setting snares, stating that if non-targets are likely to be caught, snares should not be used. Meanwhile, improvements in snare design have significantly reduced the risk of injury. I have been assured that this new code of practice will be published very soon, and I am confident it will improve animal welfare.

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Electoral Reform Bill

Thank you for contacting me about the Electoral Reform Bill. This was a ‘Ten Minute Rule’ Bill, which Caroline Lucas MP sought to introduce on 20 July. The House of Commons voted against it being introduced, so it will make no further progress.I am afraid that I disagree with both altering the voting system for general elections and lowering the voting age.

We had a referendum on electoral reform in the last Parliament. Electors voted strongly against changing the system, with more than two-thirds voting against switching to the ‘Alternative Vote’ (AV) system and in favour of retaining First Past the Post. It would be hard to justify ignoring this verdict, or to make a case for more ambitious reform, such as Proportional Representation (PR), when the more modest AV proposal was defeated so resoundingly. The tried and tested system of First Past the Post ensures stability and clear governance, preventing disproportionate influence by minority parties with minimal public support, who typically end up holding the balance of power in PR systems.

As for the voting age, polls show that most adults oppose lowering it to 16. It is notable that most democracies consider 18 the right age to enfranchise young people. It is widely recognised as the age at which one becomes an adult, and full citizenship rights, including voting, should be gained at adulthood. Indeed, in the last decade, the legal age for buying cigarettes and knives; for using sunbeds; and for leaving school, have all been increased by Parliament to 18.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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EU referendum result

Thank you for contacting me about the outcome of the EU referendum.

I have received hundreds of emails from constituents who have signed the petition asking the Government to re-run the referendum.

Personally, I am disappointed at the outcome. It is not the result which I thought best for the United Kingdom and I campaigned hard for months in both my capacity as local MP and as Economic Secretary to the Treasury to secure a ‘Remain’ vote alongside a few committed local volunteers. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the referendum result to leave the European Union is a clear instruction from the British people. The turnout was higher than in a General Election and the majority decisive.

It is now up to us in Government to implement the will of the British people and, for my part, I will use my position and any influence I have to try to implement that decision in the way that minimises the shock to our local economy and our place in the world.
I got involved in politics quite late in life because I was worried about the direction the then Labour Government was taking the country. Initially I joined a political party, then became a candidate and stood for political office. In the end I was elected as your MP.

I worry that armchair, digital campaigning does not change very much. Crosses on ballot papers do. I hope that some people will take this referendum as such an important democratic event that they ask themselves what more they can do to get actively involved in shaping our future. Over 17.4 million people voted to ‘take back control’ and give it to our UK Parliament. The message could not be clearer - if you want to shape your society, there is a range of ways you can get involved.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Land Registry

Thank you for contacting me about the Land Registry.

The Land Registry is an essential part of land and property ownership in England and Wales. It undertakes a range of functions and responsibilities, which support an effective and functioning property market by providing assurance to those who have an interest in land and property and a state-backed guarantee to title. In this way, a well-functioning Land Registry underpins housing supply, home ownership and economic growth. Those functions remain crucial, but as long as the right protections are put in place, including keeping the statutory register under government ownership, there is no reason for all of the functions the Land Registry carries out to be undertaken within the public sector. Indeed, the Land Registry could have more freedom in the private sector to continue to evolve into a high performing, innovative business, delivering for customers and the wider market in a 21st century, digital economy.

I believe it therefore makes sense to pursue a move of the Land Registry into the private sector that could maximise a sizeable return to Government to reduce debt, and provide a more suitable environment for the future of the organisation. Rest assured, however, high quality Land Registry services and confidence in the property market will remain a priority for Government throughout this process.

As you may be aware, the Government has recently concluded its consultation on the future of land registration and is analysing this feedback.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Refugees - Dubs Amendment

Thank you for contacting me about the amendment proposed by Lord Dubs calling for the UK to relocate 3,000 children from Europe.

The Government is taking extensive action to respond to the continuing migration crisis. This includes the establishment of a new resettlement scheme focused on the children at risk in the Middle East and North Africa which is supported by the UNHCR and which will see several thousand of the most vulnerable refugees relocated to the UK over the next four years.

The Department for International Development has committed millions of pounds to help support refugees in Europe and a £10 million fund has been focused specifically on the needs of children in Europe. This includes supporting reunification with family from whom they may have been separated. Separately, 75 UK experts are being deployed to Greece to support more effective reception screening and processing of newly arrived migrants which will also help identify the most needy children and see that they are given appropriate support and care at the earliest opportunity. In addition, the UK is the second largest donor to support refugees in the region.

The Government’s focus has been on how it can play the most effective role in an extremely difficult situation and not make matters even worse or lead to inadvertent consequences where people traffickers encourage more children to put their lives at risk by making the dangerous journey to Europe.

I am proud of the contribution the UK is making and the good we have already done. As you are doubtless aware our local councils have already agreed to offer assistance to some of the most vulnerable refugees in Worcestershire this year. While I understand your support for the Lord Dubs amendment, I do believe that the approach already set out by the Government provides the best way to support our European partners and focus on the most vulnerable in the conflict region.

This is much more practical than passing an amendment.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Academies

Thank you for contacting me about academies. As I am sure you are aware, all our local West Worcestershire secondary schools - Pershore High School, Hanley Castle High School, The Chase, Dyson Perrins Church of England Academy, The Chantry School and Tenbury High Ormiston Academy - all chose to become academies some years ago, either on their own, or in Multi-Academy Trusts. Bredon Hill Middle School is just converting this year. All of these local schools tell me that they welcome this change and from my many regular visits I can see that the schools seem to be thriving and giving local children a great education.

Some local primary schools have also converted to academies, although they usually do so with other schools. I am aware of arrangements being put in place by the Church of England to help smaller primary schools benefit from joining an academy trust and Worcestershire County Council is taking similar steps.

I do think there are questions to be resolved about small village primary schools and making sure they are well supported and that their funding arrangement reflects the costs of educating a smaller number of pupils. I also think that in the parts of Worcestershire that are still using the First and Middle School system that we should take care that this popular choice can be supported as schools link up in academy trusts. I have written to make these points to Nicky Morgan.

As things are already so far advanced in West Worcestershire, I'd be very surprised if any school is obliged or forced into becoming an academy. In my experience, word of mouth from other schools seems to have resulted in many of them choosing to take advantage of the opportunity.

I am sure you will want to welcome the news that the fairer funding formula for Worcestershire is being consulted on at the moment. Please do feel free to write into the consultation and also do let me know if you have specific points about local schools and academy conversion.

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Community pharmacy

Thank you for sending me a pharmacy funding postcard from Evans Pharmacy in Malvern Link. Mrs Louise Vickers, the pharmacist there, has passed it on to me. I’ve asked for a response from the Department of Health and this is a summary of their position.

Community pharmacy is a core part of NHS primary care and has an important contribution to make to our health and wellbeing. Although there will be a reduction in the amount of NHS funding for community pharmacies in England next year, we will still be spending £2.63 billion on the sector in 2016/17 compared with £2.5 billion in 2010/11.

Savings can be made within community pharmacy without compromising the quality of services or public access to them. In some parts of the country there may be more pharmacies than are necessary to maintain good access. Forty per cent of pharmacies are in clusters of three or more, meaning that two-fifths of pharmacies are within ten minutes’ walk of two or more other pharmacies. Our aim is to ensure that those community pharmacies upon which people depend continue to thrive and so are consulting on the introduction of a Pharmacy Access Scheme, which will provide more NHS funds to certain pharmacies compared with others, considering factors such as location and the health needs of the local population.

The Evans Pharmacy in Malvern Link is clearly an especially impressive community pharmacy. I have therefore written to Alistair Burt MP, the Minister of State for Community and Social Care and to Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS to tell them how wonderful Evans Pharmacy is. I am sure he will listen to your voice in this consultation.

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Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Thank you for contacting me about Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

I believe we need a welfare system that supports the most vulnerable, and helps those who can work into suitable employment. That is why the Government wants to increase employment among people who have health challenges but are capable of taking steps back into work. Thanks to efforts over the last five years, the number of people with disabilities who are unemployed has already fallen, with 339,000 disabled people moving into work in the last two years.

ESA provides support for those who cannot work because of a health condition or disability. People who can do some work-related activity are placed in the ‘Work-Related Activity Group’ (WRAG) where they take steps to prepare themselves for employment. At the moment, these people get higher payments than people on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) in recognition of the fact they may have specific needs depending on what health challenges they face. However, simply paying a higher benefit to individuals may not be the best way to help claimants overcome these additional barriers to work they may face. In addition, the disparity in payments could discourage claimants from making the most of opportunities to help them move closer to work.

That is why the Government is aligning ESA WRAG payments with JSA, and putting the monies to better use by investing in services tailored towards helping WRAG claimants into work. 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. This means the money will be targeted much more effectively. This change will also only apply to new claims after April 2017, meaning nobody will see their entitlement fall in cash terms.

Finally, I recognise that disabled people face extra costs of living, which is why the Personal Independence Payment will continue to provide for these extra costs of living. Alongside this, the additional ESA Support Group rate will continue to be paid to those with the most severe work-limiting conditions and disabilities.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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BBC's Royal Charter

Thank you for contacting me about the renewal of the BBC's Royal Charter.

As you have mentioned, the Government's BBC Charter Review Public Consultation closed in October, and set out 19 different questions. Over 190,000 people responded, which is the second largest response to any Government consultation.

I know that the Government is taking the responses extremely seriously and is in the process of reading and analysing all of them, reaching 150,000 in early January. I do not think that it is right to suggest the Government is trying to bury the responses. This is clearly false. The volume of responses is proving a logistical challenge and it has taken longer than anticipated, but the Government has been clear that it will be publishing both a summary of the consultations and its proposals as soon as it is able.

As the Secretary of State has stated, a significant number of the responses to the consultation were generated by 38 Degrees. That does not mean that they are not valid expressions of opinion, it just means that perhaps they are not wholly representative of public opinion at large. However, the Government is committed to reading and analysing every response, as I said above.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Thank you for contacting me about the Freedom of Information Act.

Let me first say that I fully support the formal provision of freedom of information, as does the Government, but after more than a decade in operation it is time that the process is reviewed. I know that the Government’s aim is to be as open and transparent as possible on the substance of information, while ensuring that a private space is protected for frank advice. The most effective system is when policy makers can freely give advice, while citizens can shine a light into government.

The Government has established an independent, cross-party Commission to review the Freedom of Information Act and to make sure it is functioning as intended. The Commission will consider whether there is an appropriate public interest balance between transparency, accountability and the need for sensitive information to have robust protection, and whether the operation of the Act adequately recognises the need for a private space for policy development, implementation and frank advice. The Commission received over 30,000 submissions and has decided to hold two oral evidence sessions in January 2016. The Commission will now report as soon as possible after these sessions. I look forward to the Commission’s conclusion and the Government’s response in due course.

I am encouraged that my colleagues in Government are strengthening accountability and making public services work better for people. You may also be interested to know that the World Wide Web Foundation’s Open Data Barometer and Open Knowledge’s Global Open Data Index ranked the UK as the world’s leading country on open government.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Use of snares

I understand the strength of your feeling on this issue and would like to clarify the situation. 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.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Support for victims of child abuse (NSPCC ‘It’s Time’)

Thank you for contacting me about support for victims of child abuse.(NSPCC It’s Time )

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 the 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. I am pleased that 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.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Alcohol Duty

Thank you for contacting me about alcohol duty.

I know the wine, spirits, beer and cider industries; ranging from producers and suppliers to pubs, hotels and restaurants; play an important role in providing employment, including here in our constituency. I am therefore pleased the Chancellor, George Osborne, has listened to the concerns of many individuals and 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 as I know many had campaigned for, while the duty on wine will be frozen. This will keep the duties on beer and wine broadly similar.

I know that the Budget will be delivered in March but I am unable to comment on any policy announcements prior to this. 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, including pubs here in the constituency, as well as 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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Dementia Care

Thank you for contacting me about dementia care.

Improving treatment and care for people with dementia is a key priority for the Government. People with dementia must feel safe and supported when they are in hospital.

In 2015, the Prime Minister launched his Challenge on Dementia 2020, which sets out the vision for dementia care, support, awareness and research to be transformed by 2020. The Government is committed to delivering this. It has already invested £50 million in creating dementia friendly environments in hospitals and care homes. More than 500,000 NHS staff have received training on dementia, with further training opportunities rolled out to all NHS staff by the end of 2018.

The Government’s NHS mandate for 2016/17 provides that the NHS must take a lead in improving the quality of care and support for people with dementia. Increasing public awareness is important, and over 1.3 million people have received training to become dementia friends. Research is crucial and I am delighted that dementia research funding doubled under the last Government. This will be maintained to total over £300 million by 2020, with the UK’s first ever Dementia Research Institute receiving £150 million.

I am pleased that the Government is integrating and improving health and social care to protect people at every stage of their lives. Local authorities will be given greater powers so they can raise up to £2 billion revenue for adult social care, supported by an extra £1.5 billion investment and an improved Better Care Fund.I also support the Government’s commitment to increase NHS spending in England by £10 billion in real terms by 2020/21 which will fund the NHS’s own plan for its future, the Five Year Forward View.

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Madaya

Thank you for contacting me about the situation in Madaya.

I share your serious concern about the acute humanitarian situation in Madaya and all other besieged areas. Humanitarian relief must reach all areas under siege in Syria, and I would urge the Syrian Government to uphold its commitment to allow aid to reach Madaya. I welcome news that a humanitarian convoy is delivering enough food to all those in Madaya for the next month. In fact, the aid on this convoy is UK funded. Emergency deliveries are also planned for two government-held villages in the north of the country - Kefraya and Foah.

The UK has been at the forefront of the response to the crisis in Syria since day one. To date we have committed £1.1 billion in humanitarian funding, including about £560 million to help people inside Syria. UK funding is providing support, such as food, shelter, medical care and clean drinking water, for hundreds of thousands of people affected by the conflict, both inside Syria and for refugees in neighbouring countries. At the United Nations we have lobbied hard for UN Security Council resolutions 2165 and 2191, (now superseded by resolution 2258), enabling the UN to deliver aid across borders without the consent of the Assad regime. More can be done, and in February the Prime Minister will host the Syria Donors Conference, bringing together world leaders, NGOs and civil society. This Conference will aim to raise significant new funding to meet the needs of all those affected by the Syria crisis, identify long term funding solutions, and addressing the longer term needs of those affected by the crisis by identifying ways to create jobs and provide education.

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Syrian refugees

Thank you for contacting me about Syrian refugees.

I appreciate your concern with this issue and I welcome the fact that we continue to be at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria – including as the second biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid, having already pledged £1 billion. Some £60 million of the additional funding will help Syrians who are still in Syria.

As you will know, the Vulnerable Persons Relocations scheme (VPRS) is already up and running, and has already welcomed some Syrians to the UK. This scheme will make a real difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable Syrians by giving them protection and support in the UK. But we can do more. I am glad that the Prime Minister has proposed that Britain should resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years and that, as pledged by the Prime Minister, the first 1000 had arrived before Christmas.

These refugees are coming straight from the camps in the Middle East to discourage refugees from taking the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. To support our local communities we will use the foreign aid budget to finance these refugees for the first year and help local councils with things like housing. In the longer term, we will continue to direct our additional aid spending to these failed states and to the refugee crisis. The Prime Minister has also appointed a new Minister for Refugees, who will be solely responsible for overseeing the work welcoming these refugees to the UK.

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Student Grants

Everyone with the potential to benefit from a degree should be able to do so. I understand that there are questions about recent changes and would be happy to clarify a few things.

Participation in higher education has increased since 2010 and from this year the Government will remove the cap on student numbers, enabling thousands more students to benefit from a higher education. I also welcome the fact that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to university in record numbers. Higher education must remain financially sustainable. Graduates generally earn more than people without a degree so it is right they contribute to the costs of studying when they are earning as graduates. From the 2016-17 academic year, maintenance grants will be replaced by maintenance loans for new students from England.

At the same time the Government is increasing the overall maintenance support available to low income students by £766 to £8,200 a year for those living away from home and studying outside London. This means all new students, irrespective of income, will have access to more cash-in-hand than before to help meet living costs. There is a progressive repayments system for student loans and graduates only start repaying them when they earn over £21,000. Repayments cease if earnings fall below this amount. To ensure the cost of providing student loans remains affordable in the long-run, the Government is freezing the loan repayment threshold at its current level of £21,000 for five years. Grants for students who are carers, disabled or have dependants will continue to be available. Taken together, these changes will help ensure our world class universities are sustainably funded, enable more people to benefit from a higher education, and uphold the principle that students do not need to pay up front for their tuition.

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Food Waste

Thank you for contacting me about food waste.

Preventing food waste is an objective the Government is working on, together with WRAP, food retailers and industry. I am pleased that Parliament had the opportunity to discuss the issue recently in a Westminster Hall debate.

Ministers have backed several rounds of the Courtauld Commitment, a voluntary agreement to limit waste, which 90 per cent of the food manufacturing and retailer sector have signed up to. As a result, domestic household food waste has already been reduced by 21 per cent, and food waste in the supply chain has reduced by 8 per cent. 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 food for anaerobic digestion to produce energy. 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.

Like you I was interested to hear about the new French policy of requiring supermarkets to donate food that would otherwise go to waste to charity. While I am not aware of any current plans to replicate it in this country I will be monitoring the situation as it develops.

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Fracking - Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015

| Click here to download letter from Andrea Leadsom MP

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Polio

Thank you for contacting me about polio.

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 efforts to eradicate polio. 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 wonderful progress, and we plan to finish off that job.

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Age UK Loneliness Campaign

Thank you for contacting me about loneliness.

I believe that we all have a responsibility at an individual, family, and community level to identify people with care needs such as loneliness, and provide support to improve their health and wellbeing. There is no single solution that can tackle loneliness and I think that it is useful to have a range of solutions.

Local commissioners are responsible for ensuring that health services match the needs of the population. From 2012, local authorities are expected to identify areas where older people suffer most acutely from loneliness to allow them to tackle the growing problem of social isolation and its harmful effects. The Department of Health has supported the development of a ‘digital toolkit’ for local commissioners, developed by the Campaign to End Loneliness, to support them in understanding and commissioning services to tackle loneliness and social isolation in their communities.

I am also pleased that the Government is integrating and improving health and social care to protect people at every stage of their lives. Local authorities will be given greater powers so that they can raise revenue for adult social care, supported by an extra £1.5 billion and an improved Better Care Fund.

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Welfare of Pheasants bred for Shooting

Thank you for contacting me about the welfare of pheasants bred for shooting.

I appreciate your concerns on this issue. The Government are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare.

Under existing laws and regulations all animals, including farmed poultry, must be looked after in ways that meet their welfare needs. Guidance is maintained on the steps stock-keepers need to take to avoid risking prosecution. This includes an explicit reference to the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s ‘five freedoms’, which state that animals must be kept free from hunger and thirst, from discomfort, from pain, injury or disease, from fear or distress and free to express normal behaviour. Regulations on housing vary depending on how the birds are being raised, but in all cases it must allow essential biological needs to be fulfilled.

Furthermore, under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, gamebirds must not be caused any unnecessary suffering. Under this Act, a Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes was drawn up based on research carried out by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, advised by a working group that included animal welfare organisations such as the RSPCA. It can be found at www.gov.uk by searching on the term ‘Gamebirds’.

These rules are enforced by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, which carries out routine welfare inspections and investigates complaints; prosecutions can be initiated where necessary.

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Lead ammunition

Thank you for contacting me about lead ammunition.

I appreciate your concerns over this issue, and I have been assured that, in April 2010, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Food Standards Agency convened an independent group to examine it. The Lead Ammunition Group considered the evidence to assess what risks lead shot may pose to human health and wildlife, as well as the impact of alternative shot made from steel.

Defra has now received the Group’s final report. Officials and Ministers are considering its findings and recommendations, and I understand they will respond shortly. I shall follow the matter with interest as it develops.

It may interest you to hear that the use of lead shot is currently restricted in England to protect waterfowl from lead poisoning. Its use is banned on all foreshores, certain Sites of Special Scientific Interest and for the shooting of all ducks, geese, coots and moorhen.

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National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights

Thank you for contacting me about the UK’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights.

I certainly appreciate your concern about how businesses operate in other countries. I can assure you that the Government consistently makes clear that it expects British companies to act in accordance with human rights law wherever they operate, and that companies should not be able to act with impunity. This includes addressing all issues linked to human rights, such as labour standards and health and safety.

I am aware that the Government works with businesses, other governments and civil society through a range of initiatives, to support UK companies to respect and protect human rights, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The UK’s Action Plan on Business and Human Rights sets out our framework for implementing these principles. This includes the adoption of appropriate due diligence policies to identify, prevent and mitigate human rights risks, and commitment to monitoring and evaluating their implementation.

As you may be aware, the UK was the first country to publish its National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights in September 2013. I welcome that considerable progress has been made and that the Government will continue to update its plan to build on this. This comes alongside other related action, such as eliminating forced labour and exploitation from supply chains.

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Motor Neurone Disease (MND) who rely on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Thank you for contacting me again about people suffering from Motor Neurone Disease (MND) who rely on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

I believe the most vulnerable should always be protected. That is why I welcomed the Chancellor's announcement in the Summer Budget that benefits associated with the additional costs of disability, including the Support Group element of ESA, would be exempt from the four-year freeze on working-age benefits. As you say, MND is a rapidly progressing and incurable condition, and as a result the vast majority of people with MND who claim ESA are placed into the Support Group. In fact, the most recent figures showed that 100 per cent of ESA claimants with MND were in the Support Group as of February 2015.

The purpose of ESA is to provide financial support for those unable to sustain full-time employment because of illness or disability, and to give personalised help to those who may be capable of moving towards work. The basic rate of ESA is an income-replacement payment aligned with Jobseeker’s Allowance, which is why it will be in the scope of the four-year freeze. However, the Support Group element payable to those most severely affected by their condition will continue to be uprated. This is in recognition of the fact that the Support Group element is a premium on the basic rate to help those whose ability to support themselves is severely limited. The Government recognises that for some people there is no realistic long-term prospect of them moving into employment, and is keeping its pledge to maintain and improve support for these vulnerable groups. Benefits for people with disabilities make up nearly three per cent of government spending, and spending will be higher in every year to 2020 than in 2010.

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Donald Trump

Thank you for contacting me about Donald Trump.

Donald Trump’s comments were divisive, unhelpful and wrong. I am extremely glad that comments of this sort are largely absent from our own political discourse.

The best way to confront the views of someone like Donald Trump is to engage in a robust, democratic argument about why he is profoundly wrong about the contribution of American Muslims, and indeed British Muslims – rather than trying to ban presidential candidates.

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Harriett says...

Harriett Baldwin
 
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