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FAQs - 5


Animal Welfare

This Government is committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare. As the Prime Minister has set out, we will make the United Kingdom a world leader in the care and protection of animals.

It has been suggested that the vote last week on New Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill somehow signalled a weakening in the protection of animals - that is wrong. Voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain - that is a misconception.

Ministers explained on the floor of the house that this Government's policies on animal welfare are driven by our recognition that animals are indeed sentient beings and we are acting energetically to reduce the risk of harm to animals - whether on farms or in the wild. The vote against New Clause 30 was the rejection of a faulty amendment, which would not have achieved its stated aims of providing appropriate protection for animals.

The Prime Minister has made clear that we will strengthen our animal welfare rules. This government will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU. The Withdrawal Bill is not the right place to address this, however we are considering the right legislative vehicle.

We are already proposing primary legislation to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years, and the creation of a new statutory, independent body to uphold environmental standards.

The current EU instrument - Article 13 - has not delivered the progress we want to see. It does not have direct effect in law - in practice its effect is very unclear and it has failed to prevent practices across the EU which are cruel and painful to animals.

In contrast, here in the UK, we are improving animal welfare standards without EU input and beyond the scope of Article 13. We are making CCTV mandatory in all slaughterhouses - a requirement which goes above and beyond any EU rule. We will consult on draft legislation to jail animal abusers for up to five years - more than almost every other European nation. We propose combatting elephant poaching with a ban on the ivory trade which is more comprehensive than anywhere else in Europe. Our ban on microbeads which harm marine animals has been welcomed by Greenpeace as "the strongest in the world", and is certainly the strongest in Europe.

Once we have left the EU there is even more we could do. EU rules prevent us from restricting or banning the live export of animals for slaughter. EU rules also restrict us from cracking down on puppy smuggling or banning the import of puppies under 6 months. Article 13 has not stopped any of these practices - but leaving the EU gives us the chance to do much better. We hope to say more in these areas next year.

This government will continue to promote and enhance animal welfare, both now and after we have left the EU.

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Development on Green Belt Land

Thank you for contacting me about development on the Green Belt.

In West Worcestershire we do not have any Green Belt, but we are fortunate to have some very beautiful countryside. I do not want to speculate about the contents of the Budget; however, I will be following the Chancellor’s speech closely for any announcements in this area.

The Housing White Paper, published earlier this year, emphasised the Government’s continued commitment to protecting the Green Belt. Planning policy also guarantees strong protection for National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Furthermore, the Government has an ambitious programme to bring brownfield land back into use in England and is working closely with local authorities to drive this forward. This will ensure that development is prioritised on brownfield sites rather than at the expense of our countryside.

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The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill

Thank you for contacting me regarding amendments proposed to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill also known as the Repeal Bill, which is currently passing through Parliament. It is my intention to support the Government position and deliver a framework for the UK which will minimise disruption to businesses and individuals as the UK leaves the EU.

The Government also wants to ensure that power is returned as close as possible to communities as laws are returned to the UK. I expect that there will be a significant increase in the decision making powers of the devolved administrations but I want this approach to work coherently for the whole of the UK.

Regaining the sovereignty of Parliament is a fundamental principle of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. I am glad that once the UK has left the EU, the British people will have more control over the decisions that affect their daily lives.

I would like to reassure you that workers' rights, consumer protection and environmental laws will not change and businesses will benefit from this certainty. Parliament will, of course, be free to keep, amend and repeal laws as it sees fit after this date. There may also be some laws which no longer operate as intended and the bill will provide the power for corrections to be made so that the UK legal system can continue to operate.

This bill will transfer EU law, including the case law of the European Court of Justice, into UK law at the point of the UK's departure from the EU. This will make sure that the UK has a functioning statute book when it leaves the EU and it will provide the maximum amount of certainty, control and continuity.

I am confident that the Bill will be fully scrutinised at all stages both in the House of Commons and also later in the House of Lords and deliver a framework for our laws to work properly when we leave the European Union.

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Use of Force in Mental Health Units

Thank you for contacting me about mental health. I appreciate the concerns raised by the Private Member's Bill inspired by the case of Seni Lewis. Although I am in West Worcestershire on Friday 3rd November, I shall watch the progress of the Bill with interest.

I hope you are reassured by the Prime Minister’s announcement, in October 2017, of the independent review into the Mental Health Act. This comprehensive review will specifically address issues regarding detention, and how recent practice can be out of step with a modern mental health system which must be responsive to the needs of service users and families. I am happy to note that it will be led by Professor Sir Simon Wessely, a former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The Government expects some of the solutions to lie in practice, leadership, and culture, as well as potentially legislation.

You may also be interested to know that Nick Hurd MP, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, made a statement to the House of Commons on the 30th October on the report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody, commissioned by the Government in 2015, and the Government’s response to the report, the full text of which may be seen here.

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Assaults on Emergency Workers Private Member’s Bill

Thank you for contacting me about protecting emergency service workers.

We owe emergency service workers a debt of gratitude for the courage, commitment and dedication they demonstrate in carrying out their duties, which is why the Government is supporting the Private Member’s Bill to protect emergency workers.

The Bill would create a statutory aggravating factor. This means that when a person is convicted of a specific offence, the judge would have to consider the fact it was committed against an emergency worker as an aggravating factor in determining the sentence within the maximum allowed for the offence. This will cover assault causing ABH, wounding or inflicting GBH, and manslaughter. Separately, the Bill will create a new aggravated version of the offences of common assault and battery when committed against an emergency worker, for which the maximum allowed for common assault will be increased from six months to 12 months.

This crucial change will send a clear message that we will not tolerate attacks on emergency service workers, and we will work with MPs from all parties to ensure those who are violent face the full force of the law. Unfortunately, I’ll be unavailable on Friday due to my constituency business and won’t be able to vote on this occasion, but I support this bill.

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Roll out of Universal Credit

Thank you for contacting me about the roll out of Universal Credit.
Universal Credit is a major reform that will transform the welfare state in Britain. At its heart is a belief that work should always pay. Under the new system, benefit will be withdrawn gradually as claimants start work or increase their earnings, meaning their total income always goes up.

Key to the design of Universal Credit is the monthly assessment periods. Payments are made monthly in arrears to mirror the world of work, making the transition to working life easier and giving claimants more responsibility for managing their finances. Claimants will usually receive their payment seven days after each assessment period ends.

Rightly for a programme of this scale, the priority continues to be its safe and secure delivery. Advance payments can help with managing the initial period before payments start, and are treated as a loan, with repayments automatically deducted from future Universal Credit payments. Around half of all new claimants to Universal Credit receive an advance, and the Secretary of State recently made an announcement that further guidance to DWP staff would be issued regarding these payments –

"I can announce today that we are refreshing the guidance to DWP staff to ensure that anyone who needs an advance payment will be offered it up-front.

"Claimants who want an advance payment will not have to wait six weeks. They will receive this advance within five working days. And if someone is in immediate need, then we will fast track the payment, meaning they will receive it on the same day.”

I hope that this offers you reassurance.

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Energy Price Cap

Thank you for contacting me about energy bills. Members of the Government do not, by convention, lend their support to campaigns of this nature, as doing so is a breach of the Ministerial Code's rules on collective responsibility.

I share your concerns over increases in prices. Suppliers are protected from recent fluctuations in the price of wholesale energy as they buy their energy up to two years in advance, and prices to the suppliers remain significantly lower than in 2015. I therefore expect energy companies to treat their customers fairly by keeping retail prices lower.

As you are aware, the Government has made a proposal to extend the price protection currently in place for some vulnerable energy consumers to more of those on the poorest value tariffs. The Government remains committed to achieving this and the Energy watchdog Ofgem has accepted the call for further action.

More specifically, the Business and Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, has written to Ofgem asking what action the regulator intends to take to safeguard customers. Ofgem has committed to taking prompt action to improve the position for consumers and this includes developing a safeguard tariff. The Government wants to ensure that there is progress on this commitment and has not ruled out taking further action if necessary.

I hope that this reassures you and thank you again for contacting me.

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Sale of Arms to Saudi Arabia

Thank you for contacting me about the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.

I am reassured that the Government takes seriously its legal obligations as regards the licensing of arms for export to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The UK has one of the most rigorous licensing regimes in the world.

Each application is considered on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, taking into account the precise nature of the equipment and the identity and track record of the recipient. The Government has consistently said it does not, and will not, issue licences where it judges that the proposed export would provoke or prolong internal conflicts, or where there is a clear risk it might be used to facilitate internal repression or be used aggressively against another country. I have always fully supported this stance.

The Government continues to monitor the situation closely, using cross-Departmental resources to seek further information. Additionally, the Government continues to welcome any further information NGOs can provide.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Future of the Environment

Thank you for contacting me about the environment.

The British countryside is some of the most beautiful in the world, so I am pleased that Ministers are committed to safeguarding our environment. Until we leave the European Union, the existing arrangements remain in place. I am also pleased that the Treasury has confirmed that any structural fund projects signed before our departure from the EU will be honoured for their lifetime even if they run beyond this point.

Following the vote to leave, Ministers will work with environmental organisations and the public to develop new policies. Leaving the EU means we can tailor them to the needs of our precious habitats and wildlife, instead of following a one size fits all approach for 28 different countries. Ministers are committed to seizing this opportunity as they work on an ambitious 25 Year Plan for the environment.

The UK will continue to play a leading role in combatting climate change, as we did at the Paris Conference. Britain's share of electricity generated from renewables has doubled since 2009 and Ministers are determined to ensure we become a world leader in the new green economy.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Animal Cruelty Sentencing

Thank you for contacting me about sentencing for offences of animal cruelty.

I am pleased that we have a robust legal framework to tackle this vicious behaviour in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.

It is for the courts to decide what the penalty should be for each individual case, taking into account its circumstances and the guidelines laid down by the Sentencing Council. Currently, in addition to the maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine, the courts can also disqualify offenders from keeping animals for as long as they consider appropriate.

The Government routinely monitors sentencing policy for all offences, including animal welfare offences, and current sentencing practice does not suggest that the courts are finding sentencing powers for animal welfare offences inadequate.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Asylum for Torture Survivors

Thank you for contacting me about asylum for torture survivors.

You are right that granting protection to those who genuinely need it and refusing those who do not, in as efficient, sensitive and effective a way as possible, is crucial.

In that vein I have been assured that all members of staff who make asylum decisions receive a comprehensive level of training. This includes a dedicated five-week Foundation Training Programme that includes training on international and domestic law and safeguarding issues, which is supplemented by a mentoring programme with an experienced decision maker that lasts from three to six months. More specifically, the Foundation Training Programme also includes a detailed section which covers torture claims involving medico-legal reports. The course is explicit that decision makers must not make clinical judgements and must properly consider evidence and give appropriate weight to all evidence presented in order to reach an informed decision, only rejecting claims when there is a significant reason to do so. It includes example medico-legal reports which the trainees must analyse and interpret as part of a number of practical exercises.

I should also highlight that Asylum Operations recently received funding from the Asylum Migration and Integration Fund to review and redevelop its training prospectus. As part of that work, Asylum Operations is liaising with a range of external stakeholders, including charities and non-governmental organisations, to ensure that there is robust and effective safeguarding training.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Post-natal Mental Health

Thank you for contacting me about mental health.

The Government wants people to be empowered to shape and manage their own health and care and make meaningful choices, particularly for maternity services. To help achieve this, the Government has increased the number of midwives by over 1,800. Furthermore, by the end of the Health Visitor Programme in April 2015, it had delivered almost 4,000 more health visitors compared to May 2010, an increase of around 50 per cent, with 1,000 students in training.

The Government is committed to tackling perinatal mental health and that is why the health visitor programme funded the Institute of Health Visitors to train almost 600 perinatal mental health visitor champions to enable health visitors to identify and manage perinatal depression and other maternal mental health conditions. In addition, the Government has invested £356 million in improving perinatal mental health in England over five years, providing support and care for at least 30,000 women by 2021; it has also invested £2.24 million in new safety equipment. I understand that £1 million has been invested in improved training for staff to help deliver healthy babies more safely.

You may be interested to read the NICE guidelines on postnatal care, which can be found on this webpage: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg37

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Gamebirds

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

Both I and the Government are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare, so I am glad to tell you that the Animal Welfare Act 2006 already makes it clear that gamebirds must not be caused any unnecessary suffering.

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. Stock-keepers who fail to follow it could be found to have committed an offence. The Code specifies that these birds must:

1. have an environment appropriate to their species, age and the purpose for which they are being kept, including adequate heating, lighting, shelter, ventilation and resting areas;

2. have ready access to fresh water and an appropriate diet to maintain growth, health and vigour;

3. be provided with appropriate space and facilities to ensure the avoidance of stress and to allow the exhibition of normal behaviour patterns;

4. be provided with company of their own kind as appropriate for the species concerned; and

5. be adequately protected from pain, suffering, injury, or disease. Should any of these occur a rapid response is required, including diagnosis, remedial action and, where applicable, the correct use of medication.

The full Code 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 brought where necessary.

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21st Century Fox’s proposed purchase of Sky

Thank you for contacting me about 21st Century Fox's proposed purchase of Sky.

As you are probably aware, Sky has received an approach from 21st Century Fox to acquire the 61 per cent share of Sky that it does not yet already own. Under the powers set out in the Enterprise Act 2002, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has a quasi-judicial role that allows her to intervene on the basis of specified media public interest considerations. These considerations refer to the need for there to be a sufficient plurality of media ownership, for the availability of a wide range of high-quality broadcasting and for those with control of media enterprises to have a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards objectives.

On 16 March 2017, the Secretary of State issued a European Intervention Notice on the grounds of media plurality and commitment to broadcasting standards. This decision was made after hearing representations from Sky, 21st Century Fox and many other third parties. It triggered action by Ofcom to assess and report on the public interest grounds specified and for the Competition and Markets Authority to report on jurisdiction by 20 June. Following this, on 29 June the Secretary of State released her interim - not final - decision on whether to refer the merger to a full phase two investigation. More details of this can be found on the below webpage:

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/skyfox-merger

The Secretary of State is acting in a quasi-judicial basis under the Enterprise Act, and one of the things she is required to do is act without undue delay, in the interests of all parties. Therefore, it is expected that a final decision on referral will be made in the coming weeks.

The question of whether someone is fit and proper to hold a broadcasting licence is a different consideration to those outlined in the Enterprise Act 2002, and one that quite rightly sits with Ofcom. Ofcom had previously announced that it would conduct its fit and proper assessment at the same time it would consider any public interest test, meaning following the intervention decision, Ofcom has conducted its assessment within the same timeframe it has to report on the specified public interests. I understand that Ofcom has recently published its report. Given the Secretary of State's current quasi-judicial role in the merger, the Government will not be commenting on the findings. Ofcom has an on-going duty to ensure all UK broadcasters are fit and proper to hold TV broadcasting licences and if any evidence comes to light then it is for Ofcom to take account of that evidence.

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Public Sector Pay

I greatly value the important work that public servants do in delivering essential public services. There is a trade-off between pay and jobs in many public services, and pay restraint is one of the many difficult choices the Government has had to make to help put the public finances back on track.

At Summer Budget 2015, it was announced that the Government will fund public sector workforces for an average annual pay increase of 1 per cent for the 4 years from 2016-17 onwards. At the time, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimated that this policy would protect 200,000 public sector jobs.

It is important to consider not just current pay but also the benefit of public sector defined benefit pensions. Treasury analysis has shown that in recent years overall public sector remuneration is still at a significant premium when considering the value of pensions.

As the Chancellor has said, public sector pay policy has always been designed to strike the right balance between being fair to our public servants and being fair to those who pay for them. That approach has not changed and Ministers will continually assess that balance."

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Abortions Performed in England for Women from Northern Ireland

Please find attached a Dear Colleague from Justine Greening regarding Amendment (d) selected as part of the Queen’s Speech.

| Letter from Justine Greening, Women and Equalities Minister

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Grenfell Tower

Thank you for contacting me about the Grenfell Tower fire.
I, like you, have been devastated by this terrible tragedy.

I have received a letter from the Prime Minister and I attach a copy of this. I hope that it will offer you a degree of reassurance and that it will also clarify for you the steps which have been and are being taken to ensure that such a tragedy doesn’t happen again.

I am also having one of my regular meetings with the Hereford and Worcester Chief Fire Officer this month and discussing local issues.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

| Letter from the Prime Minister

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DUP

Thank you for contacting me about your position on the Democratic Unionist Party.

This Northern Irish party has been voting with us for many years and they are the largest party in Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister is discussing a confidence and supply arrangement with them and needs to agree specifics on economic and security issues with them to ensure a majority for the Queen's speech outlining our legislative programme.

You refer to LGBT rights. I will always champion equal rights and I supported same sex marriage and the passing of "Turing's Law" to remove historic convictions for consensual sexual acts. On womens' rights generally, it would be unheard of for matters of conscience to be put to a whipped vote - that means they would be decided on a free vote and I can assure you that I would never support the reining in of any of these hard won freedoms.

You also refer to climate change and I'm pleased that our carbon emissions have fallen sharply since 2010.

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Equalisation of the State Pension Age

Thank you for contacting me about the equalisation of the State Pension age. I recognise the importance of providing security, choice and dignity for people in retirement, whilst also ensuring the system is sustainable for future generations. Because of the changes that have been made to pension arrangements since 2010, pensioners with a full basic state pension will receive over £1,250 a year more today than at the start of the last parliament. The new State Pension gives people more clarity about what they will receive, and has a full rate above means testing, helping to support private saving. And the new pension freedoms mean that pensioners can draw down their private pensions in the way that suits them best.

The gradual equalisation of State Pension age at 65 for both men and women was first set out in the Pensions Act 1995 in line with our anti-gender discrimination obligations. Rather than increase State Pension age overnight, rises were introduced incrementally by various Governments – Conservative, Labour and Coalition – with the rate of change accelerated in 2011. Acceleration was debated thoroughly in 2011, and the Government agreed to spend £1.1 billion to limit the impact of the rising state pension age on those women most affected so that any acceleration relative to the 1995 timetable was capped at 18 months. Unwinding these changes means asking young people to assume more of the cost of increases in life expectancy.

All women affected by the accelerated increase in the 2011 Act will receive the new state pension, which is more generous for many women who have historically done badly under the previous system. Over 75 per cent of women and over 70 per cent of men are set to gain from the new State Pension in the first 15 years with over 3 million receiving over £550 per year by 2030.

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Hunting

Thank you for contacting me about the Hunting Act.

As you know, the Conservatives have pledged in their Manifestos at the 2010, 2015 and 2017 General Elections to introduce a government bill to hold a free vote on the Hunting Act. This means MPs would be free to vote as they personally chose, rather than being ‘whipped’ to vote for their party.

However, the Government has so far, over the last 7 years, given priority to other important manifesto commitments and there are no immediate plans for any legislative process in respect of the Hunting Act.

Clearly without knowing what is being proposed, I cannot prejudge my own decision, but please be assured that in making any decision I would take the advice of the Royal Veterinary College on what is best for the health and welfare of the wild animal population, while also ensuring that the many West Worcestershire residents who enjoy hunting under the current arrangements can participate in this traditional activity without fear of saboteurs or being treated as criminals.

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Walking Britain

Thank you for contacting me about walking. I recognise the huge benefits that regular exercise, such as walking, can have on people’s health and wellbeing. Walking not only enables people to access and enjoy our beautiful countryside, but it provides a valuable economic boost to some of our most remote communities.

As we prepare to leave the European Union, we have a once in a generation opportunity to further enhance our countryside by developing policies which are tailored to the needs of our unique landscapes and all those who work, live or visit them. The 118,000 miles of public rights of way in England are protected through legislation, but to ensure historic rights are not lost we have been working to simplify the process for recording, amending and cancelling rights of way.

We continue to work with Natural England to complete the 2,700 mile English Coastal Path, a national trail that will give people, for the first time, the right to access all parts of England’s open coast including land on the coast which has existing rights of way covering parts of it. Work is well underway on more than half the path, with significant stretches of coastline in Somerset, Norfolk, Kent and Yorkshire all opened up over the past year.

Finally, we are encouraging walking as part of a healthy lifestyle. The Chief Medical Officer recommends adults take at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, a week. This helps reduces the risk of heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Our recently-published Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, and its ‘ambition to make cycling and walking a natural choice for shorter journeys or as part of longer journeys’, will have a key role to play in delivering this.

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Brexit

This General Election is not a re-run of the referendum. It’s a chance to back Mrs May’s approach or run the risk of Jeremy Corbyn being Prime Minister. I think the choice is clear.

We need to deliver a smooth and orderly departure from the European Union and forge a deep and special partnership with our friends and allies across Europe. As there is increasingly little distinction between domestic and international affairs in matters of migration, national security and the economy, Britain must stay strong and united – and take a lead in the world to defend our interests.

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CAMRA

Thank you for contacting me about the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).

Pubs play a crucial role in the social and economic life of our nation. The British Beer and Pub Association estimate that each pub contributes £80,000 each year to its local economy. I am glad that the pub sector is being supported in a range of ways.

Through the Asset of Community Value scheme, communities can list facilities of local importance, such as pubs. This means that if a pub owner wishes to sell, the community has six months to come up with a plan and funding in order to try to save it. I am glad that there are now around 2,000 pubs across England listed as assets of community value.

New measures also ensure that tied pubs have rights under a statutory code with an independent adjudicator to resolve disputes. Many pubs have also benefited from the Government’s package on business rates for small businesses. The Spring Budget provided a £1,000 discount on business rates bills in 2017 for 90 per cent of pubs.

Tax on beer will only increase by RPI inflation this year, in line with previous forecasts. This follows the removal of the beer duty escalator in 2013 and the unprecedented freeze in beer duty.

There is also greater flexibility on weights and measures, allowing beer and wine to be sold in different sizes, and it is easier now for pubs to play live music.

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Animal Testing

Thank you for contacting me about animal testing.

While I appreciate your concerns, I understand that the carefully regulated use of animals in scientific research remains a vital tool in improving the understanding of how biological systems work and in the development of safe new medicines, treatments and technologies.

At the same time, I believe that animals should only be used when there is no practicable alternative and I welcome the support and funding for the development and dissemination of techniques that replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research (the 3Rs).

Without animal testing, it is considered highly likely that a large number of potentially dangerous new medicines would be tested in healthy volunteers and patients in clinical trials. However, encouraging new cutting-edge approaches to science will ensure that standards of animal welfare are improved.

Advances in biomedical science and technologies are all providing new opportunities to reduce reliance on the use of animals in research. As part of this, a Non-animal Technologies Road map for the UK has been produced which offers an approach for the UK to develop, exploit and deploy new non-animal technologies for long-term economic and societal benefit.

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Animal Welfare

Thank you for contacting me about animal welfare.

Britain has the highest standards of animal welfare in the world, and there have been no proposals to change the legislation that upholds them. Ministers want to draw more closely on the expertise of the farming industry, to ensure our farm animal welfare codes reflect the very latest scientific and veterinary developments.

I do, however, appreciate the concerns you have raised about the proposal to replace the existing statutory farm animal welfare codes, so I am sure you will be pleased to hear that in light of these views Ministers have given the matter further consideration. They have concluded that they can achieve this objective while retaining the existing codes.

The work of the farming industry in establishing the UK as a world leader in animal welfare has been invaluable. Ministers will continue to work with British farmers to ensure the guidance is kept updated, which will help them best to comply with our high welfare standards.

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Pubs and Planning

Thank you for contacting me about the Neighbourhood Planning Bill and permitted development rights.

We are fortunate in West Worcestershire to have some wonderful pubs. I am therefore pleased that the Government has committed to remove the permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of drinking establishments, including pubs. This means that, in future, a planning application will be required in all cases, and it addresses the long-standing call that there should be local consideration and an opportunity for the community to comment on the future of their local pub.

I was pleased to support the Neighbourhood Planning Bill as a whole, as it will help to identify and free up more land to build homes on, and speed up the delivery of these homes.

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Bees and Neoncotinoids

Thank you for contacting me about neonicotinoid insecticides and bees.

I entirely agree with you that bees and other pollinators play a vital role in the security of our food supply and the quality of our environment. I welcome the work the Government has done over the last few years to protect them, most recently through its National Pollinator Strategy.

While we remain in the EU the UK will continue to meet its obligations under EU law, including restrictions on neonicotinoids.

As part of the preparation for exiting the EU, Ministers are considering future arrangements for pesticides. Their highest priority will continue to be the protection of people and the environment and, taking the advice of the independent Expert Committee on Pesticides, they will base these decisions on a careful scientific assessment of the risks.

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Ancient Woodland

Thank you for contacting me about Britain’s woodlands.

I agree with you that our woods and forests are an invaluable national asset and I am proud of the Government’s record of action to preserve and extend British woodland.

Over 11 million trees were planted in the last Parliament and the Government has pledged to plant a further 11 million in this one. England’s woodland cover is now expanding at a rate that has not been seen since the fourteenth century.

I especially welcomed the Woodland Capital Grants programme which provided funding to encourage farmers, land managers and foresters to create new woodland, while protecting existing woodland and restoring tree health. From 2016 these grants have been incorporated into the Countryside Stewardship scheme, which supports improvements to woodland over a period of years, as well as a range of capital items, including woodland infrastructure.

The National Planning Policy Framework states that planning permission should be refused for development that would result in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and aged or veteran trees. This can only be overridden if the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss.

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The NHS

Thank you for contacting me about the NHS.

In recent weeks, I have met up with the new senior management which has been appointed to help the NHS Acute Trust improve its performance in time for the next Care Quality Commission inspection. This will deliver the necessary clinical and management changes to improve the way patients are treated upon presentation at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital A&E unit.

In order to tackle the problem of waiting times, the Trust has bid for additional funding to allow the expansion of the Emergency Department and this week the Department for Health confirmed that an additional £920,000 will be allocated to the hospital to help deal with additional winter pressures – on top of the extra £2.6 million allocated in the last two years.

I am proud that we continue to invest more money on our local NHS - 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.

We all support the hard-working staff in our local hospitals who have to cope with extra demand on a day-to-day basis. We can all help by encouraging friends and family to use A&E only when urgent care is needed and to make more use of GP surgeries, the free 111 advice line and the minor injuries units at our highly-valued community hospitals. The staff at the hospital are absolutely amazing, coping with a huge demand for services on a day-to-day basis. I hope that the new management team will lead the way towards systemic improvements which mean that everyone gets the best possible care across our NHS.

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Longer sentences for animal cruelty

Thank you for contacting me about sentencing for offences of animal cruelty.

I am pleased that we have a robust legal framework to tackle this vicious behaviour in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.

The law, and the penalties for breaking it, were reviewed by the Parliamentary Select Committee for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2012. At that time the Committee did not recommend increasing the maximum sentencing available to the courts. However, I am pleased to say that the previous cap in the fine charges of animal abuse can attract has been removed, and I can also tell you that the Ministry of Justice is now looking at whether there is a case for increasing the penalties further.

It is the Courts which must decide what the penalty should be for each individual case, taking into account its circumstances and the guidelines laid down by the Sentencing Council.

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Ivory Ban

Thank you for contacting me about the plight of the elephant and the ivory trade.I too am seriously concerned about the effect of illegal poaching and ivory trafficking on the long-term prospects for the survival of the elephant.

Just how seriously the Government takes this issue was demonstrated when it held the London Conference on Wildlife Trafficking. Over 40 countries adopted the London Declaration in an effort to save iconic species, including elephants, from being poached to the brink of extinction. The Buckingham Palace Declaration followed with a range of commitments to help the private sector tackle this illegal trade.

UK law does not permit trade in raw ivory tusks of any age, and Ministers are pressing for this approach to be taken internationally. The Government has also announced plans to ban sales of modern-day ivory, which will put the UK’s rules on ivory sales among the toughest in the world. This is an important step as we press for a complete ban and I am delighted that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has adopted a proposal calling for the closure of all domestic ivory markets. Ministers also recognise the growing threats to the Asian elephant from the illegal trade in live animals, fed by demand from the tourist and entertainment industries. The UK has been working through CITES to increase protections worldwide.

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Finn’s Law

Thank you for contacting me about police animals.

Police support animals make a valuable contribution in the detection and prevention of crime and in maintaining public safety. Attacks of any sort on police dogs or horses are unacceptable and should be dealt with severely under the criminal law.

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 an attack on a police dog or other police support animal can be treated as causing unnecessary suffering to an animal, and the maximum penalty is 6 months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both. Indeed the financial element of the penalty was raised in 2015 from a maximum fine of £20,000. Similarly an attack on a police animal could be considered by the court as an aggravating factor leading to a higher sentence. Under some circumstances assaults on support animals could be treated as criminal damage which would allow for penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. The Government has also requested that the Sentencing Council considers assaults on police animals as an aggravating factor as a part of their current review on guidelines for sentencing in the Magistrates’ Courts, which includes animal cruelty offences.

While the current penalties are appropriate, I agree that it is wrong to think of police animals as merely ‘equipment’, as the charge of criminal damage might suggest, and does not convey the respect and gratitude felt for the animals involved and their contribution to law enforcement and public safety. Work across Government is underway to explore whether there is more that the law should do to offer the most appropriate protections to police animals and all working animals.

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Harriett says...

Harriett Baldwin
 
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