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FAQs - 7


Animal Cruelty Sentencing

Thank you for contacting me about animal cruelty sentencing.

There is no place in this country for animal cruelty, and we must ensure that those who abuse animals are met with the full force of the law. I am therefore pleased that the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill has now been introduced in the House by Chris Loder MP, and will be backed by the Government. The new Bill will enable tougher prison sentences for the most serious perpetrators of animal cruelty, from the current maximum of six months to up to five years. Due to the coronavirus outbreak and the changes to the setup of Parliament, this Bill will now be heard on 23rd October.

I believe that this increase in sentencing will send a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated. The maximum five-year sentence will become one of the toughest punishments in Europe, strengthening the UK’s position as a global leader on animal welfare.

I am aware that a public consultation found 70 per cent of people supported the proposals for tougher prison sentences. I am encouraged that the planned change in law means the courts will be able to take a tougher approach to cases such as dog fighting, abuse of puppies and kittens, or gross neglect of farm animals.

These increased maximum sentences will act as a serious deterrent against cruelty and gross neglect in the future, and builds on recent positive action to protect animals, including plans to ban third party puppy and kitten sales and banning the use of wild animals in circuses.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me about this important issue.

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Hen Harrier Action Plan

The Government is very concerned about hen harrier populations, which is why we took the lead on the Hen Harrier Action Plan. This sets out what will be done to increase hen harrier populations in England and includes measures to stop illegal persecution. A copy of the plan is available on GOV.UK at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploa...

The Joint Action Plan was published in January 2016 and we believe that it remains the best way to restore hen harrier populations.

It contains six actions which individually can bring benefits for harriers, but when combined, underpin each other and have the potential to deliver strong outcomes. It includes three measures to stamp out illegality, a trial toolkit comprising two measures for land owners to safely accommodate hen harriers on grouse moors and a measure to reintroduce them to suitable habitat in other parts of England. These six complementary actions have the potential to deliver strong outcomes and set out the expected benefits from each action, who is going to lead actions and the timescales for them to be achieved.

Natural England will report annually on progress on all six actions to the Defra Uplands Stakeholder Forum and also copy this to the UK Tasking and Co-ordinating group for Wildlife Crime.

The Hen Harrier Action plan aims to achieve:
- A self-sustaining and well dispersed breeding population in England across a range of habitats including a viable population present in the Special Protected Areas designated for hen harrier.
- A hen harrier population coexisting with local business interests and its presence contributing to a thriving rural economy.

All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, with strong penalties for committing offences against birds of prey and other wildlife. The Government takes wildlife crime very seriously and has identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority, focusing on hen harrier, golden eagle, goshawk, peregrine, red kite and white tailed eagle. The Hen Harrier Action Plan includes work with enforcement agencies to tackle incidents of illegal persecution. Any persecution incident has a catastrophic impact on this fragile population.

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End of Life APPG

Thank you for contacting me about the End of Life APPG on 15th July. Unfortunately I was unable to attend due to previous diary commitments.

I appreciate your concern on this very sensitive issue. Coping with terminal illness is distressing and difficult both for the patient and their families.

I fully accept that suicide, assisting or encouraging suicide, assisted dying and euthanasia are all subjects on which it is entirely possible for people to hold widely different but defensible opinions. This is why the Government believes that any change to the law in this emotive and contentious area is an issue of individual conscience and a matter for Parliament to decide rather than one for Government policy.

Everyone would agree that terminally ill patients should receive the highest quality palliative support and end-of-life care, and that they and their families should be certain that their end-of-life care will meet all of their needs. With that in mind I welcome the Department of Health’s End of Life Care Strategy which is intended to improve access to good quality palliative care and encourage the Government further to develop specialist palliative care and hospice provision.

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Arthritis

Thank you for contacting me about arthritis. I recognise that living with a long-term condition, such as arthritis, can have a significant impact upon a person’s wellbeing.

I know that there is no cure for arthritis, but there are many treatments that can help slow it down, including lifestyle changes, medicines and surgery. I welcome that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is presently working on updated guidance for treatment of Osteoarthritis, which is due for publication following extensive consultation in 2022.

The NHS was asked to undertake a clinical review of standards relating to waiting times. This must be clinically led to enable best, and safest, delivery of care for patients. I understand that NHS England has now prepared proposals, covering waiting times across the service, including elective procedures, mental health, cancer, and A&E.

I understand that the recommendations following this review have been deferred as part of the NHS response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is understandable.

I know that, while it has been important to postpone some NHS activities to protect individuals and enable resources to be used as efficiently as possible, I am urging the NHS to restart elective procedures as soon as it is safe to do so. I am in regular contact with the local NHS management teams and will keep a close eye on this issue as more activities are resumed across the local health service.

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Social Care and Age UK Petition

Thank you for contacting me about adult social care and the Age UK petition.

I believe we must all receive dignified care in old age. With an ageing population, this is one of the biggest challenges our country faces. I support the Government’s commitment to making sure that the most vulnerable in society gain the support they need. While it is important to note that more than 4 of every 5 people in care receive care from good and outstanding organisations, it is clear that more needs to be done to tackle this serious challenge – crucially by securing a long-term funding solution. I’m delighted that the Prime Minister has spoken of his determination to tackle this, stating in his first speech as Prime Minister that “we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared, to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve”.

Since 2015 local authorities have had greater flexibility over the use of the council tax social care precept, so they can choose to raise extra money, as well as retain savings from the New Homes Bonus, totalling £240 million. In the Spending Round in September, an extra £1.5 billion was made available to councils for adult social care services. This funding should be viewed as a significant down payment as we move towards a long-term funding solution.

Money alone will not fix the problem and reform is needed to encourage high standards across the whole country. It is vital for us to consider ways of better joining up health and care services, and I am encouraged by the use of the Better Care Fund to assist local government and the NHS with the implementation of integrated health and care services.

Last year’s Conservative manifesto made clear that we must build the same level of consensus on social care that we have already built on the NHS across political parties, so that an answer can be brought forward that solves the problem, commands the widest possible support and stands the test of time. I stand by this commitment and urge my colleagues and constituents of all political leanings to take part in a conversation about establishing a care system fit for the 21st century.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Supertrawlers

Thank you for contacting me about supertrawlers.

I welcome the fact that the UK will become an independent coastal state again when the transition period ends on December 31st 2020. I am also proud that the UK is a global leader in the fight to protect our seas with our “Blue Belt” of protected waters.

For many years, the Common Fisheries Policy has restricted our ability to implement fisheries management measures within offshore Marine Protected Areas. The Fisheries Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, proposes a new power to allow the introduction of measures for conservation purposes and restore our fish stock back to more sustainable levels. This builds on a manifesto commitment which promised to introduce a legal commitment to fish sustainably.

The Fisheries Bill prohibits any commercial fishing vessel (including foreign-registered vessels) from operating in UK waters without a licence. It also provides powers to attach conditions (such as the areas that can be fished, species that can be caught and the type of fishing gear that can be used) to fishing vessel licences. Foreign vessels operating in UK waters will have to follow UK rules, including the conditions that are attached to their commercial fishing licence.

On December 31st 2020, we will automatically take back control of our waters, and others’ right to fish in them. For the first time in 40 years, we will be free to decide who can access our waters to fish and on what terms, including considering the recommendations of the Benyon Review.

Thank you for contacting me on this important matter.

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Control of Wild Birds

Thank you for contacting me about general licensing for the control of wild birds.

I understand the concerns that you have raised. In June last year, Defra simultaneously issued new interim general licences and launched a review to inform longer-term licensing arrangements. I am aware that the review has made significant progress, however I understand that additional time is needed to thoroughly analyse the evidence and to fully develop a general licensing solution for protected sites.

I am pleased that six general licences for the control of wild birds have now been reissued on a temporary basis ahead of new licences coming into force on 1 January 2021. No action is required by licence users, beyond the ongoing requirement to act in accordance with the licence conditions. Defra intends to publish new licences in November to allow user groups to become acquainted with the changes before they officially come into force.

In 2019, herring gull and lesser black-backed gull were removed from Defra’s general licences due to their red and amber conservation status respectively. As a result, the lethal control of gulls has been via individual licence this year. I am aware that this is also the case for wild bird control on and near European sites, however, this is an interim position while Defra concludes its review, which will work towards a general licence solution for these sites.

I am aware of calls for a feasibility study into Defra taking back control of individual licensing from Natural England. While I recognise frustration around the individual licence process this year, Natural England is England’s statutory nature conservation body and has the right specialist expertise and site-based knowledge to make licensing decisions.

I would like to reassure you that Natural England, Defra, my colleagues and I are all committed to achieving a general licensing regime for wild birds which is both robust and workable for users, ensuring that longer-term licensing arrangements are informed by the best available evidence.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Trade Bill

Thank you for contacting me about the Trade Bill.

The Trade Bill is a continuity Bill. In other words, it simply puts the trade agreements that we already had as Members of the European Union into UK law.

It cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries such as the US. The NHS is already protected by specific carve outs, exceptions and reservations in these trade negotiations.

I know that my Ministerial colleagues have no intention of lowering standards in transitioned trade agreements – the very purpose of these agreements is to replicate as close as possible the effects of existing commitments in EU agreements. Indeed, I can reassure you that none of the 20 continuity agreements signed so far have resulted in standards being lowered.

Rigorous checks and balances on the Government’s power to negotiate and ratify new agreements also already exist, including through the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.

Moreover, trade agreements cannot by themselves make changes to our domestic law. Any legislative changes required as a result of trade agreements would be subject to the separate scrutiny and approval of Parliament in the usual ways.

It is for these reasons that I will be voting down all the superfluous amendments to the Trade Bill today.

I hope this response has reassured you and thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Face Coverings

Thank you for contacting me about face coverings.

The Health Secretary made a statement in the House of Commons which you may find useful: “In recent weeks we have reopened retail and footfall is rising. We want to give people more confidence to shop safely and enhance protections for those who work in shops. Both of those can be done by the use of face coverings. Sadly, sales assistants, cashiers and security guards have suffered disproportionately in this crisis. The death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75% higher among men and 60% higher among women than in the general population. As we restore shopping, so we must keep our shopkeepers safe.

There is also evidence that face coverings increase confidence in people to shop. The British Retail Consortium has said that, together with other social distancing measures, face coverings can make shoppers feel even more confident about returning to the High Street.”

In addition, the chair of the Federation of Small Businesses has said: “As mandatory face coverings are introduced, small firms know that they have a part to play in the nation’s recovery both physically and financially, and I’m sure this will welcomed by them. We have therefore come to the decision that face coverings should be mandatory in shops and supermarkets. Last month, we made face coverings mandatory on public transport and in NHS settings, and that has been successful in giving people more confidence to go on public transport and to a hospital setting when they need to, providing people with additional protection when they are not able to keep 2 metres from others, particularly people they do not normally come into contact with. Under the new rules, people who do not wear face coverings will face a fine of up to £100 in line with the sanction on public transport and, just as with public transport, children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will be exempt.”

Our principal aim is to make sure that we protect individuals and workers as we work together to continue to slow the spread of the virus and help us all to allow the economy to bounceback while protecting the health and safety of us all.

You can see helpful information on how to make your own face covering here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-wear-and-make-a-cloth-...
Thank you for contacting me on this important matter.

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Fur Trade

Thank you for contacting me about the fur trade and EDM 267.

It is my policy not to sign Early Day Motions (EDMs), as they are little more than parliamentary graffiti and I do not feel that they bring about resolutions.

I am pleased to note that the import of fur products is tightly regulated, and fur farming is banned in the UK. It is illegal to import furs derived from cats or dogs, or products made from them. In addition, the fur and skin of endangered animals or fish cannot be imported without a valid permit. It is prohibited to import furs or fur products from 13 wild animal species originating in countries where they are caught in the wild by leg-hold traps, or trapping methods that do not meet international standards of humane trapping. Strict rules are also in place to ensure that animals kept for fur production are kept, trapped and slaughtered humanely.

I appreciate that there is considerable support for banning all imports of fur products. The UK continues to support higher animal welfare standards worldwide as the best way of phasing out cruel and inhumane fur farming and trapping practices that are banned here. Now we have left the EU, the Government has retained all the current regulations banning imports of cat and dog fur and seal products from commercial hunts, as well as controls on products from endangered species and humane trapping. Until the end of the transition period it is not possible to introduce additional restrictions on the fur trade, but at the end of that period the UK will have a unique opportunity to ensure we have the highest standards in every area of animal welfare.

The UK will also be able to press for high standards through international fora such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, CITES and others. The UK will retake our seat on these bodies and be able to promote and support improved animal welfare standards internationally more effectively.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Heat Pumps

Thank you for contacting me about heat pumps. I am convinced heat pumps are central to achieving net zero.

The argument for the 45kW cap is that this will target support where upfront costs are a particular barrier in transitioning to low-carbon heat. Typically, these installations are in households or small and medium-size enterprises. But I do recognise your concern that many bigger schemes need support too. I am sure you are aware that the consultation expressly seeks views on this very point. However, as I have heard from several constituents on this, I have ensured that the Minister's office is aware of concerns about the suggested cap.

It has been pointed out to me that in the recent Budget, the Chancellor announced a £270 million Green Heat Network Fund which will fund large-heat pumps, solar thermal installations and waste-heat recovery in heat networks between 2022 and 2025. I understand that the Government will be consulting later this year on scheme design which will offer the sector to make the case for supporting larger heat pump projects. You mention the efficiency of heat pumps and I am confident that with the right support they will play a massive role in Britain in decarbonising heat.

While we need target incentives correctly, I agree this is best achieved by consulting with industry and I would encourage you to respond to both consultations.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Free School Meals

Thank you for contacting me about free school meals over the summer holidays.

I understand that parents across the country are going through particularly difficult and stressful times. We have never had a period of disruption like this and I know parents and children alike will be longing for a return to normality.

During this period it is right that the Government has encouraged schools to continue providing meals and introduced the free school meal (FSM) voucher scheme, to ensure that those normally eligible for FSM still receive them, even if they are not attending school.

As you will know, provision for free school meals is ordinarily term time only, being aimed at providing healthy meals for children in school. However, during the Easter and half term holidays the Department for Education met the costs of the national voucher scheme to provide free school meals for eligible pupils. I very much welcome that in recognition of the unprecedented situation facing parents and children this summer, a new Covid Summer Food Fund has been announced.

The Fund will provide food vouchers covering the six-week summer holiday period. The scheme will not continue beyond the summer, and those eligible will be those who already qualify for free school meals. A one-off six-week voucher will be given to eligible families at the end of term to use in supermarkets. Further details about the scheme can be found here - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/covid-summer-food-fund

Significant wider support has also been made available for children and families. On 10 June the Prime Minister confirmed an additional £63 million to be distributed to local authorities in England to help those who are struggling to afford food and other essentials due to COVID-19. In addition, Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit have been uplifted by around £1,000 a year for the next 12 months as part of an injection of over £6.5 billion into the welfare system.

The Department for Education’s Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme will also be running this summer at a cost of £9 million, through which will benefit thousands of disadvantaged children. The HAF scheme arranges provision in a range of local settings, including school premises.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Domestic Abuse Bill

Thank you for contacting me about the Domestic Abuse Bill and the implications for changes to abortion legislation.

I understand what an important issue this is for many people in the constituency. This is an incredibly delicate area of law and, regardless of the views of individual MPs, one which is treated with the utmost rigour.

I completely understand what an incredibly emotive issue this is, and I appreciate the strength of feelings on both sides. It is for this reason that, as with other matters of conscience, the Government adopts a neutral stance on abortion, allowing Conservative MPs to vote freely according to their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs. This is a convention which I support wholeheartedly.

The approach to abortion in the UK is set out in the Abortion Act 1967 and this remains unchanged. Abortion legislation can only be changed by Parliament and such decisions are made on the basis of free votes. The Government has no plans to change the 24-week limit on abortion.

In today’s proceedings, I shall be voting against any amendments which affect abortion laws, but will support this excellent legislation which will protect more victims.

Thank you for contacting me on this important matter.

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Homelessness

A single person without a roof over their head is one too many, and it is important that the most vulnerable people are helped to get their lives back on track. I stood on a commitment to end rough sleeping once and for all and welcome that almost 15,000 rough sleepers and those at risk of doing so have been offered safe accommodation since the start of the pandemic.

Decisive action is being taken to end rough sleeping through more funding, ambitious legislation and improved support for our councils. Dame Louise Casey is leading a taskforce to support rough sleepers back into long-term accommodation as the spread of the virus is reduced. £433 million in funding will provide 6,000 units of move-on accommodation with wraparound support, of which 3,300 units will be available over the next 12 months. A further £105 million was announced in June to help rough sleepers into stable accommodation by paying deposits and securing alternative rooms that are readily available.

Many people will continue to need additional support. That is why I am encouraged that £23 million is being provided to fund substance dependence treatment this year and arrangements are in place with our NHS to cover basic health needs.

I fully support initiatives led by Wychavon and Malvern Hills District Councils, including the appointment of a dedicated officer to help with this issue and I am confident that measures such as these will reduce homelessness across our county and, nationally, help to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament.

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Green Economic Recovery

Thank you for contacting me about a green economic recovery.

I do agree that as we recover from Covid-19, the Government needs to deliver an economy which is stronger, greener, more sustainable and more resilient. I was therefore pleased that, on 8 June, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced a Green Recovery working group. This group will explore how to capture the economic growth opportunities from the shift to net zero emissions.

The UK has played a world-leading role in tackling climate change and the transition to Clean Growth, with the UK being the first country to legislate to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050, and the fastest in the G20 to cut emissions. Since 1990, the UK has cut emissions by more than 40 per cent while growing the economy by more than two thirds, and we are a world-leader in offshore wind.

At the same time, the Environment Bill will protect and improve the environment for future generations, enshrining in law environmental principles and legally-binding targets. The first progress report of the Government’s ambitious 25 Year Environment Plan found that 90 per cent of the priority actions have been delivered or are on track for delivery.

Building on considerable recent investments, Ministers have pledged to invest an additional £2 billion in cycling. The first stage of this £2 billion investment will be a £250 million emergency active travel fund which will deliver new pop-up cycle lanes with protected space for cycling, cycle and bus-only corridors, safer junctions and wider pavements. Furthermore, a £50 'Fix Your Bike Voucher' will be introduced, which is expected to help up to half-a-million people to bring bikes out of retirement.

I have also offered my support to local initiatives to build on the rise in cycling during this global pandemic and support improved routes specifically for cycles and pedestrians connecting Worcester and the Malvern Hills.

Action on the Environment remains one of my absolute priorities as we work towards being the first generation to leave our natural environment in a better state than we found it.

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Gender Recognition Act

Thank you for contacting me about the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

I know that colleagues in the Government Equalities Office have been doing a lot of work on this recently to form their response to the consultation, to which I hope you were able to contribute. Understandably, the Coronavirus outbreak has complicated things somewhat, but I have received reassurances from the department that they plan to publish their response in the summer.

I am absolutely committed to protecting women’s rights and freedoms. I completely understand that reforming the Gender Recognition Act is a complex and sensitive issue, which is why it is important for everyone’s views to be heard and listened to. I am especially glad that the Minister for Women and Equalities has recently said that any reforms will ensure the protection of single-sex spaces, which I recognise is extremely important.

I know that many people also have concerns about the impact of this legislation on children. I have raised this with colleagues in the Government and Equalities Office who have assured me of their commitment to ensuring under 18s are protected from making decisions that are irreversible in the future. I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to live their life, but I do think it is very important we protect young adults, who are still developing their decision-making processes and capabilities, from taking action which they potentially cannot reverse.

I understand that there are concerns about how this may affect transgender rights more widely and I want to assure you that I will pass these onto my colleagues in the Government Equalities Office.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

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Transition Period Extension

Thank you for contacting me about an extension to the transition period.

I believe that an extension to the transition period will only create more uncertainty for businesses. A future partnership agreement will provide stability in the long-term and encourage investment and trade. The UK left the EU in January this year and the EU’s control over our affairs without us having any say must come to an end.

Negotiations have been continuing throughout the coronavirus outbreak with discussions by videoconference in April, May and June following the first round of talks in March. Face-to-face discussions are now underway. Progress has been made in a number of areas and the differences that remain are largely of a political nature and I am hopeful that these can be resolved soon. The UK is not asking for a unique deal – we are looking for a deal like those the EU has previously struck with other friendly countries like Canada.

The UK left the EU on 31 January with a deal. The UK and the EU have committed legally to reaching an agreement in good faith by the end of the year and the Government is working hard to achieve that outcome which would benefit both sides. The UK has already notified the EU that we will not be requesting an extension. This will focus both sides on the importance of agreeing a future partnership before the end of the year.

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Harriett says...

Harriett Baldwin
 
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