Questions

Culture, Media & Sport

Gambling - Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

I am assured that the Government understands the public concerns around gambling and wants to see a responsible industry which protects players. With regard to Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, the Government has already put in place a number of measures around FOBTs, for example, in 2015 Government took action to introduce a new requirement that those accessing higher stakes (over £50) on these gaming machines must load cash via staff interaction or use account-based play.

However, Ministers recognise further action might be necessary to strike the right balance between enabling people to bet responsibly and ensuring consumers and communities are protected. In October, the Government launched a review into gaming machines and social responsibility, which is looking closely at FOBTs and specific concerns about the harm they cause, be that to the players themselves or the local communities which they are located. The call for evidence closed at the beginning of December and the Government will now review the evidence to assist in its decisions.

It is vital that people, particularly the young and vulnerable, are protected from being harmed or exploited by gambling, and I am encouraged that my colleagues in Government are committed to ensuring this continues. Responsibility for the oversight of advertising is shared between the Advertising Standards Authority, Ofcom and the Gambling Commission. In 2014, some of the provisions around advertising in this area were strengthened. I am pleased that the current review, is also looking at gambling advertising to understand whether the right measures in place to ensure that the young and vulnerable are protected.

Environmental Matters & Animal Welfare

Microbeads

I share the concerns raised about the use of these ingredients, which can cause harm to fish and the marine environment. The Government has announced plans to ban them completely from all cosmetic products and Ministers are aiming to amend the legislation by October this year. The Government has gathered additional evidence on the environmental impacts of microbeads found elsewhere, such as in household cleaning products, in order to consider what more can be done in the future to tackle plastics entering the marine environment, and I will follow this with interest.

The UK is party to the Oslo and Paris Convention for the Protection of the North East Atlantic. In 2014 its members agreed on a regional action plan to reduce marine litter, one of its most important objectives. I understand that manufacturers are exploring natural alternatives to microbeads, including nut shells, salt and sugar. These have the same exfoliating properties but do not threaten the environment.

JMM/03/17

Finn's Law

Police support animals make a valuable contribution in the detection and prevention of crime and in maintaining public safety. I am extremely grateful for the bravery and skill shown by police dogs and their handlers on a daily basis. Attacks of any sort on working animals are unacceptable and I believe they should be dealt with severely.

Under the existing law an attack on a police dog or police horse can be treated as causing unnecessary suffering to an animal. This carries a maximum penalty of 6 months' imprisonment and the financial element of the penalty was raised in 2015 from a maximum of £20,000 to an unlimited fine. An attack on a police animal can also be considered by the court as an aggravating factor, leading to a higher sentence for other criminal convictions. 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 of sentencing guidelines in the Magistrates' Courts, which includes animal cruelty offences. Whilst the current penalties are appropriate, I agree that a charge of criminal damage 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 all working animals.

Breeding and Sale of Kittens

Britain is a nation of animal lovers and it is incredibly important that we maintain the highest standards of animal welfare. Ministers are serious about improving welfare in breeding establishments and at the point of sale, so are reviewing the laws that regulate dog breeding and pet sales, including of cats.

One proposal would apply specific welfare conditions to pet vendors, which they must meet to obtain a licence. These include a requirement that animals are not sold too young: for mammals this is before they are or should have been weaned, which for cats is likely to be at or below eight weeks. Another would remove the licence exemption for those in the business of selling kittens bred from the family's pet pedigree cat.

Cat breeding does not, however, require the same level of control as dog breeding, which can lead to issues relating to public safety and nuisance; this is generally not the case with cats. There can of course be unscrupulous people who exploit the desire for pets, but all captive animals are protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

This makes it a serious criminal offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal, or fail to provide for its welfare. Accompanying it the Government has published a Code of Practice for the Welfare of Cats which, if breached, can be used to supply evidence supporting a prosecution.

I would therefore encourage anyone who believes that kittens are being treated poorly by a pet shop to report their concerns to the local authority or the police, which have the power to take action to safeguard their welfare.

Dog meat trade

A large number of you have contacted me about the dog meat trade. I view the trade and consumption of dog meat as quite abhorrent, particularly where it involves cruelty to animals.

That is why I am relieved that while the Government recognises the need for sensitivity when dealing with countries where eating dog meat is culturally accepted, it has continued attempting to influence those countries. There have often been accusations against countries in Asia of cruel treatment towards animals, and the Government has made clear that there can be no place for cruel or inhumane practices anywhere.

Dog fighting

I strongly believe that dog fighting is a heinous crime. I am glad, therefore, that the police have powers to investigate allegations of dog fighting and have the power to arrest anyone suspected of being involved. People can be charged with causing, taking part in, attending or publicising an animal fight, receiving admission money or keeping equipment, premises or an animal to be used in a fight. This is a broad range of charges that are available to prosecutors, and naturally I would urge anyone with any relevant information to contact the police immediately.

'Help end backstreet breeding'

I am pleased that under existing law, anyone in the business of breeding dogs must be licenced. They must not breed a bitch more than once every 12 months, nor sell a puppy younger than 8 weeks old to the general public. Dogs bred by 'hobby breeders', who are not in business but do breed occasionally, are still protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal, or fail to provide for its welfare.

Save the Asian Elephants

I appreciate your concern about the effect of illegal poaching, ivory trafficking on the long-term prospects for the survival of the elephant. Ministers also recognise the growing threats to the Asian elephant from illegal trade which is fed by demand from the tourist and entertainment industries. Tackling this trade remains a priority issue for the UK Government, and Ministers continue to take a strong stance.

EDM 381 and dog breeding

Dog breeders only need a licence if they have a bitch producing five or more litters per year, and the Government has resolved to write to councils to stress that anyone in the business of breeding dogs must be licenced. They must demonstrate that the animals have suitable accommodation, food, water and bedding material; are adequately exercised and visited; and that all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent the spread of infection.

For dogs bred by so called 'hobby breeders', who are not in business but do breed occasionally, there is the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal or fail to provide for its welfare. Anyone breaking this law could face a fine of up to £20,000 and /or 51 weeks imprisonment.

Only about 70 pet shops sell puppies and kittens, and these are licensed and regulated. Local authorities can restrict which animals a pet shop can sell, and new guidance stresses the need for interaction with people. I share concerns about unregulated sales over the internet, so am pleased that the Government has created a voluntary code which has resulted in 100,000 adverts being removed since the start of 2014.

Lastly on the issue of sales across borders, I am pleased to be able to tell you that changes to the EU pet passport scheme mean that it is no longer possible to bring a puppy under 15 weeks old into this country.

Protect the forests EDM 65

It is tremendously important to protect the world's forests, so I am pleased to be able to tell you that the Government is taking action to stop deforestation. The UK implemented the EU Timber Regulation in 2013 and under these rules importers of wood to Britain or Europe must ensure it has not been harvested illegally, which will remove one of the most important incentives for deforestation.

I appreciate your concern that the regulation is not working as effectively as it might, with several EU Member States yet to introduce the necessary legislation or systems to enforce it. That is why the Government is working to achieve better implementation across the EU, for instance by hosting meetings to bring enforcement officials together to share practical advice. The UK is also taking part in an EU-wide review of the rules, arguing for them to cover a wider range of timber products.

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, albeit not so much in Kensington as in more rural areas, and I am pleased to see the Government is undertaking work to understand and protect them, most recently through the National Pollinator Strategy.

Pesticides are tightly regulated, and decisions on their approval are made at the European level. Since December 2013, three of the five currently approved neonicotinoids are not permitted for use on a wide range of crops considered attractive to bees. The Government has implemented these restrictions in full, and they will remain in place unless the European Commission decides to change them or, presumably, we as a country decide to withdraw from the EU. The European Food Safety Authority has also begun a review of the science relating to neonicotinoids and bees, which is expected to conclude later this summer, and the Government is contributing to this review.

This year there was an application for emergency authorisation to use neonicotinoids on a third of the country's oilseed rape crop, but the Expert Committee on Pesticides, the independent body of scientists that advises the Government, advised that the application did not give sufficient assurances that the use would be limited to those areas most in danger, nor that it would be controlled appropriately. Accordingly, Defra followed the advice of the Committee and declined the application.

I have been assured that restrictions on neonicotinoids will not be removed as long as the evidence shows that they should remain.

Transport

Heathrow Expansion

It is clear that there is a need for increased airport capacity in the South East. I am on record as favouring modest expansion at Gatwick together with a high speed air-side rail link with Heathrow to better combine capacity in the short-term.

In the longer-term, I do believe that localism is the way forward - modest expansion at other smaller airports, such as Biggin Hill, and the reopening of others, such as the former RAF Manston.Given this is very much a future aspiration, however, and there is a need for increased capacity now, I will not be opposing the Government if the proposal to expand Heathrow comes before Parliament.

Protecting London’s Taxi Drivers

London's taxi service is recognised as one of the best in the world, with high vehicle standards, including disabled access and skilled drivers. By learning the world-famous 'Knowledge' of London, London taxi drivers earn the unique right to ply for hire on the streets of the capital, helping to keep the city moving 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I understand the Mayor of London is working extremely hard to ensure that there is a sustainable future for London's iconic black cabs by helping to bring the trade into the 21st century and create a level playing field for both black cabs and minicabs in London. Last week I welcomed the announced plans to increase regulation on PHVs to:

  • enhance safety and customer service, including a formal English language requirement for drivers
  • investigate the removal of the Congestion Charge exemption for private hire vehicles
  • Guarantee fare estimates for customers in advance of their journey.

I have long had an attachment to our Black Cab trade– my husband, Jamie Borwick, until 2003 was the chief executive and chairman of Manganese Bronze Holdings Plc, best known for making the London Black Cab – and therefore I will do what I can to preserve the standing and security of our London taxi service.

Rail fares

I fully understand concerns that rail passengers have with the cost of train fares, and the impact that this has on household budgets, and that is why the Government has committed to freeze regulated rail fares in real terms until 2020 which will save around £400 on the average season ticket.

In London, I am delighted that the Mayor has already announced that he plans to hold TfL fares in January 2016 at RPI+0 per cent. We are determined to ensure fares are affordable, while balancing the need to maintain an unprecedented investment in the transport network in order to deliver more services and extensions in a city growing in size at twice the predicted rate.

As a result of lobbying from London Conservatives such as myself, last year the Mayor introduced to help part-time workers. He has also protected all free and concessionary travel for older people, students, veterans and disabled Londoners.

Treasury

Families with children and young people

I fully support the Families with Children and Young People in Debt (Respite) Bill introduced by my colleague Kelly Tolhurst MP. This would place a duty on lenders to provide financial respite for families with children and young people in debt.

I am pleased that the Government is committed to exploring whether some form of ‘breathing space’ would be a useful and viable addition to the range of debt solutions. HM Treasury and the Insolvency Service have been asked to explore and identify possible options and have begun work on a review.

Foreign Affairs

EU (Notification of Withdrawal)

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill has a straightforward purpose: to enact the outcome of the referendum and allow the Government to start the withdrawal negotiations. The question of a ‘meaningful vote’ on any deal is a moot point because if the deal is not accepted after the negotiation process is completed then we will be forced to leave the EU without a deal. As such, I could not support the amendments proposed by the House of Lords.

The Government has already said that it wants to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are living in Britain and hopes that the rights of British people living abroad will also be respected. It would have liked to have reached an agreement to do this already, but EU member states wished to wait until negotiations have begun. Securing citizens' rights will be an absolute priority in the negotiations.

The task ahead must be to forge a new relationship with Europe that works for the whole of the United Kingdom, as the Prime Minister said today.

JMM/03/17

Crisis in the Yemen

The humanitarian situation is a matter of great concern and it is critical that all parties to the conflict renew their commitment to the cessation of hostilities, including active participation by the Houthis in the De-escalation and Coordination Committee. The UK is the fourth largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Yemen, having more than doubled our commitment to £85 million in 2015-16. The support has provided emergency shelter, healthcare, food and water to more than 1.3 million Yemenis.

I recently raised with the Government the question of UK manufacturers selling arms to Saudi Arabia, and have been assured that the UK operates one of the most rigorous and transparent export control regimes. All UK arms exports are scrutinised in detail through established international criteria. The Ministry of Defence takes an active role in monitoring alleged incidences of international humanitarian law violations, and the Government takes such allegations very seriously. Furthermore, the UK regularly raises the importance of compliance with members of the military coalition, and presses for an investigation of any violation.

JMM/03/17

Dubs Amendment

I share the concerns which have been raised over the last fortnight for the most vulnerable child refugees. The Government has committed to resettling 20,000 Syrians from the region over the course of this Parliament, in addition to 3,000 children from the wider region and their families. In the last year the Government has granted asylum or leave to over 8,000 children and around 4,400 individuals resettled through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, of which nearly half are children.

Reports that entry to the UK under Section 67 of the Immigration Act (the Dubs amendment) was being closed are extremely troubling. In actual fact, the number of 350 children to be transferred to the UK under the amendment is not a cap but an estimate, based on consultations with local authorities. The most vulnerable children will and I agree should be prioritised. However, the Government must ensure that there is the capacity to host additional children and provide them with the support and care they need. Each year around 3,000 unaccompanied children seeking asylum arrive in the UK and it is right that the Government works hard to find homes for children fleeing war and hardship, without incentivising dangerous journeys across Europe.

I think it is right that the Government is working closely with local authorities to find homes in this country for as many of the most vulnerable children as possible.

JMM/03/17

Demolition of homes by Israel

A number of you are concerned by the demolition of villages in the West Bank. I am assured that the Government remains concerned by the escalation in the number of Israeli demolitions of Palestinian-owned properties in the West Bank this year. I believe such actions are harmful to the peace process and move us further away from a two-state solution. Demolitions cause unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians and are, in all but the most exceptional of cases, contrary to International Humanitarian Law. The Government continues to raise the issue with the Israeli Government on a regular basis and, similarly, makes it clear that Israeli settlements in the OPTs are also illegal under international law.

TTIP

Thank you for contacting me about the EU - US Free Trade Agreement, which is also known as TTIP. I realise your concern but would be glad to clarify a few things as this agreement does not carry the risks that some have put forward.

Underlying the agreement is the opportunity to add £10 billion to our economy every year, which is almost £400 per household, which means more jobs, more choice and reduced prices.

There have been claims that investors could sue a government for losses and win if a government takes a decision in the wider public interest, whether on health, the environment or consumer safety. However, this could not happen. It is important that businesses investing abroad are protected from discrimination and unfair treatment, but there is nothing to allow companies to undermine public policymaking. Extensive consultation has taken place and all provisions are being looked at carefully.

I believe that the EU - US Free Trade Agreement is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and has the potential to deliver £10 billion to the UK economy each year. Ministers have been clear that there is nothing in this proposed agreement that would weaken environmental regulation, lead to the privatisation of the NHS or allow private companies to overturn the laws made by democratically elected governments.

Mediterranean Immigration Crisis

I agree with the Prime Minister that Britain is a moral nation and we must fulfil our moral responsibilities. That is why we sent the Royal Navy to the Mediterranean, saving thousands of lives; why we meet our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of our economy on aid; why Britain is the second biggest bilateral donor in the world to Syrian refugee camps; and why since the crisis began we have granted asylum to nearly 5,000 Syrians and their dependents through normal procedures.

I understand any unease regarding the impacts of large scale immigration but I am glad that the Prime Minister has proposed that Britain should resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years. These refugees will come 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.

British action in Syria

As you are aware, the House of Commons voted to extend UK airstrikes against Daesh into Syria.

What is clear is that Daesh pose a very real threat to the United Kingdom. They have murdered British hostages, carried out the worst terrorist attack against British people since 7/7 on the beaches of Tunisia, and in 2015 our security services have foiled seven different plots linked to, or inspired by, Daesh. The Paris attacks brought this terror to our doorstep.

The RAF has already played a key role in degrading Daesh and has helped local forces to recover 30 per cent of the territory captured by Daesh in Iraq. The UK's military capabilities, particularly our precision strike capabilities, minimise civilian casualties and have played a significant role in the Coalition's air campaign against Daesh.

However, it is in Syria that Daesh has its headquarters and from where threats against this country are being planned and orchestrated. Daesh does not recognise a border between Iraq and Syria and in taking action to degrade Daesh, neither should we.

The United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution calling for Member States to take all necessary measures to eradicate the safe haven Daesh has established in parts of Iraq and Syria. France, the United States and our regional allies have asked for UK support in Syria, because we provide between a quarter and a third of the Coalition's high-end strike capability. The Coalition needs the capability and capacity that we can offer and we cannot expect others to shoulder the burdens and the risks of protecting this country.

That is why I support the extension of our military campaign against Daesh into Syria to protect our own security. The horrific attacks in Paris, Lebanon, Egypt, Sousse, Turkey, Kuwait, Australia and elsewhere, demonstrate the very real and evolving threat from Daesh. I believe it is necessary for Britain to extend our military campaign against Daesh into Syria to help keep Britain safe.

Child refugees

The Government fully realises that it needs to do more to respond to the ongoing migration crisis, and must take action to support those vulnerable people in need of our help. In addition to the commitment made last year to resettle 20,000 Syrians under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, the Government has also recently announced plans to support a new resettlement scheme, supported by the UNHCR, which is focused on children at risk.

It is important in this extremely difficult situation that people traffickers do not encourage more children to put their lives at risk by making the dangerous crossing to Europe. I therefore support the approach set out by the Government, which provides the best way to focus on the most vulnerable in the conflict region, and work cooperatively with our European partners. I am delighted also that the Government intends to accept an additional number of unaccompanied children already within Europe once a discussion has taken place with local authorities to work out a plan to properly support the children's integration into the UK

Local Matters

The Royal Brompton Hospital

Thank you for writing to me regarding the NHS, I am grateful to you all for outlining your concerns. I would like to draw your attention to the proposal to end the provision of cardiac care for both adults and children at the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital, which would also have implications for their cystic fibrosis patients.

I am currently working with the supporters of the Hospital to prevent this, but if you or your friends and family have been treated at the Brompton, please have a look through the details at: www.rbht.nhs.uk/about/news-events. You can find a full outline, including what you can do to help at: www.rbht.nhs.uk/about/our-work/congenital-heart-disease-nhs-england-review.

This is an internationally renowned hospital that works with Chelsea and Westminster and the Marsden to provide excellent specialist and tertiary care to over 12,000 patients. There is a march on Saturday, 18th March at 10:30am. The location will be very close to the Royal Brompton Hospital, do let us know if you plan to come by emailing: campaigns@rbht.nhs.uk.

I do hope you will help with this campaign to save our local hospital.

JMM/03/17

Earl's Court Development

For those residents who would like to know more about the construction on this site, Councillor Malcolm Spalding holds monthly residents’ meetings with representatives of CapCo, Keltbray and other contractors. For the last two months he has arranged extra vibration monitoring instruments for Philbeach Gardens residents, and will shortly be moving the instruments to Eardley Crescent.

Members of 14 local residents’ associations come along to the meetings and there is a full and frank discussion on the construction plans. If you would like to attend a future meeting, please email cllr.spalding@rbkc.gov.uk

Home Affairs

Green Investment Bank

The Government has done much to support green infrastructure through the Green Investment Bank in recent years. The Bank has proven to be a pioneering venture into sustainable investment, and has now committed £2.6 billion of capital to 79 green infrastructure projects across the UK. Lord Smith, chairman of the Green Investment Bank, has said attracting new investors is vital if the Bank is to fund its ambitious plans to double in size and deliver more environmental benefits. It has always been clear that the Bank was designed with a view to a possible transfer to the private sector. It was with this in mind that plans to explore the privatisation of the Bank were announced in 2013. Since then, the Government and the Green Investment Bank have continued to work together to facilitate the introduction of private capital into the bank, and a two stage auction process was formally launched in March 2016.

I have been reassured that potential investors have been asked to confirm their commitment to the green values and investment principles of the Bank and how they propose to protect them, as part of their bids for the company. In addition, the Government has approved the creation of special shares, held by independent trustees, to protect the bank's green purposes in future.

JMM/03/17

Transgender people under the Sexual Offences Act 2003

I have received some correspondence about transgender people and the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The UK is a world leader for transgender rights, and I welcome the progress that we have already made. Despite this, more must be done to help transgender people with the unique and often difficult challenges they face. I look forward to the upcoming action plan for transgender equality in addition to reviews across a range of Government services to assess the standard of provision for transgender people.

Having read the Act, I have to say, I do not agree that its wording criminalises transgender people having sex without disclosing their gender history. I can however understand why there is a perception of ambiguity. The decision of a transgender individual to disclose their birth gender to others is deeply personal and sensitive. In the event that gender history is a relevant consideration, this will be only one of a number of factors a prosecutor will consider. Each case is considered on its facts and merits and will only be prosecuted if it meets both stages of the Full Code Test as set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors. It is important to note that in cases where gender history is a consideration for prosecutors, this does not mean that a prosecution will necessarily follow.

Housing benefit changes and domestic violence refuges

I, along with Ministers are aware of the specific issues faced by women’s refuges. The Government is listening to the views and concerns of providers and is working to ensure refuges continue to receive appropriate funding for their important work. While the funding mechanism for shorter-term accommodation such as refuges may be different from the rest of the sector, I can assure you refuges will benefit from the same protection being given to the supported housing sector in general. Refuges will also be entirely exempt from the requirement for social sector housing providers to reduce rents by one per cent each year for four years.

I welcome the fact that in the last Autumn Statement the Government committed additional support to services for victims of domestic abuse which represented a tripling of the funding compared to the previous four years, and I am proud to say that we will be spending £380 million on these services up to 2020. The Government also published a renewed violence Against Women and Girls strategy in March this year.

Review of driving sentences

I believe strongly that we must make sure those who endanger lives and public safety are properly punished. I want to make our roads safer and ensure people who cause harm face tough penalties. Therefore I am pleased that the Government has already changed the law to increase the maximum penalty for causing death by disqualified drivers from 2 years to 10 years' imprisonment and created a new offence of causing serious injury by disqualified drivers with a maximum penalty of 4 years. The Government will also start a consultation on sentencing before the end of the calendar year. This would include sentencing for driving offences that cause death or serious injury.

Cannabis for medicinal use

I do appreciate that there are people with chronic pain and debilitating illnesses who seek to alleviate their symptoms by using cannabis. Although such use is illicit, the Sentencing Council’s guidelines on drug offences identify such circumstances as a potential mitigating factor.

The Government has no plans to legalise the recreational use of cannabis. The official advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs cites medical and scientific research showing that cannabis use has a number of adverse acute and chronic health effects, especially for people with mental health problems, and continues to present a significant public health issue.

Domestic abuse in family courts

I fully support the Government’s commitment to tackling domestic abuse. The Ministry of Justice is acutely aware of the particular responsibilities of supporting victims of domestic abuse going through the family justice system. Steps have been taken to ensure that victims of domestic abuse in the family justice system are supported and protected: protecting legal aid for individuals seeking protection from abusers; investing in the court estate to improve the security and support available; and improving training for those who work in the family justice system. Ministers are working closely with the judiciary in particular to consider what additional protections may be necessary for vulnerable victims and witnesses in the family justice system.

Digital Economy Bill

Through the Digital Economy Bill, the Government is working tirelessly to help people and businesses to benefit from the digital economy.

The Government has been clear that the easy availability and nature of online pornography is changing the way children and young people understand healthy relationships, sex and consent. Every child has a right to develop at their own pace. Pornographic websites will be required to have adequate age verification, which is equivalent to what the gambling industry already implements.

The data-sharing elements of the Bill are designed to improve public services, to make sure that we can tackle fraud and to have better statistics. The Bill will allow public services to be targeted and delivered better. If one arm of the public sector knows who needs a service and the other arm is trying to deliver that service, the two need to be brought together.

The Government is committed to ensuring it has the right legal framework in place to support creators and the content they produce. Through the Bill the maximum penalty for online copyright infringement will be increased from 2 to 10 years, bringing it in line with penalties for physical copyright infringement.

Draft Investigatory Powers Bill

The draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which will be subject to scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament, will be a landmark piece of legislation which will ensure that law enforcement and security agencies have the powers they need to keep us safe, while at the same time providing world-leading oversight arrangements.

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

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

I appreciate any concern on this vital area of national security, but let me assure you that there have been three independent reviews on investigatory powers - by David Anderson, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, and the Royal United Services Institute - and all agreed that the agencies should have the power to acquire and use data in bulk. This draft Bill sets out, in clear detail, existing powers for the security and intelligence agencies to do this, whilst subjecting them to stricter safeguards.

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

English Votes for English Laws

I am pleased that the Government is committed to achieving a fair settlement for all countries in the United Kingdom, and that the first steps have been taken to do this at a debate in the House earlier this month. The new legislative process introduces the principle of English consent for English measures while maintaining the important principle of MPs from all parts of the UK being able to deliberate and vote on all legislation before the House.

These changes aim to answer the 37 year old West Lothian question, ensuring that decisions which affect England (and Wales) only, and are devolved elsewhere, can only be taken with the consent of the majority of MPs representing constituencies in England (and Wales). The new procedure will ensure that new laws are made with the agreement of the whole House of Commons, but that English (and Welsh) laws will be made with the consent of MPs who represent those parts of the country.

As the Scottish Parliament gets new powers, it is only right to give a fair deal to the people of England. It could not be justified to have Scottish MPs sitting at Westminster voting on budgets and laws that only apply to English voters without the consent of English MPs.

These plans provide a fair balance by giving England more control over decisions which it alone is affected by, while ensuring that Westminster continues to be a place where those from across the UK govern in the best interests of those living within the Union.

Housing and Planning Bill

The previous Labour Government left this country with a housing crisis. In 2010, housebuilding had reached its lowest level since the 1920's, the number of homes available for social rent had decreased by 420,000 and the number of people on social housing waiting lists had increased from 1 million to 1.8 million.

Significant progress has been made in the last five years to tackle this crisis. Over 700,000 homes have been delivered since 2010, including over 270,000 affordable homes. I understand that still more can be done and I believe that the Housing and Planning Bill will help us achieve this.

The Bill will increase the pace of housebuilding through planning permission in principle and the brownfield registers. The Starter Homes programme will see thousands of homes built specifically for first time buyers at a price that they can afford. The requirement to introduce local plans will also ensure that local people have a say on where development takes place in their area.

I believe that many councils could also be managing their high-value assets more effectively. It cannot be right for councils to retain high-value council properties when their sale could fund new homes for local residents. The definition of 'high value' will be set out in regulations and may be different for different areas.

As part of a group of London MPs, led by Zac Goldsmith and Boris Johnson, I have secured a Government amendment to ensure that we are able to increase housing supply in London at the same time as making these changes.

Trade Union Bill

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

It is wrong that politicised union leaders can hold the country to ransom with demands that only a small percentage of their members voted for; causing misery for millions of people and harming our economy too.

As a London MP, I am all too aware that many Londoners who are forced to miss work this week or walk miles to the office enjoy nothing like the same range of perks as those striking. I will be working with the Government and the Mayor to pass legislation outlawing Tube strikes that don’t have the support of a majority of union members.

Individual Electoral Registration

The correct approach to tackling electoral fraud is one that is proactive. The Government has taken important steps to improve confidence in the electoral system in recent years. In particular, Individual Electoral Registration is making sure that everyone on the electoral register is who they say are – and directly addressing failings evident in the past in Tower Hamlets. I fully support the Government’s position that the transition to the new Individual Electoral Registration – a much more robust process than the old ‘head of household’ process – should be completed in December 2015. London boroughs have made great strides in improving both the completeness and accuracy of the register and will continue to do so.

BBC Charter

Prison reform

Sadly, current evidence suggests that almost half of all prisoners re-offend within a year of release, and levels of prison violence, drug-taking and self-harm are a considerable problem. It is evident that we need a new approach to prisons, and one that allows those on the wrong path find the right one. Prison Governors are particularly well-suited to understand the individual challenges their establishment faces, and it therefore makes sense that the tools to drive change should be in their hands. Giving them control over budgets will mean they can tailor their own service, they should have the freedom to bring in a new education provider if need be and it would be beneficial to give them a greater say in the mental health services offered.

To hold the system to account, the Government will set prison performance measures and compile a Prison League Table with a view to rewarding staff in the best performing prisons. The Government is also focusing on preventing crime in prisons by developing a strategy to make sure contraband has no way to enter prisons, working with mobile network operators to block mobile phone signals in prison. It is important to recognise that not all offenders belong behind bars forever, and so the Bill intends to consider the use of new technology - trials of satellite tracking will be carried out, which could revolutionise the way prisoners are released on licence at the end of a sentence. Fundamentally, prison should be used to tackle our deepest social problems and extend life chances. This is why I support moves to allow rehabilitated offenders to return to work so they can provide for their families. These principals will be introduced to the prison system with a new Prisons Bill in the coming year.

Benefit changes

The benefit cap is a key part of the Government's reforms to restore fairness to the welfare state. Under the benefit cap, no out-of-work family can receive more in total benefits than the average family gets in work. Most importantly, those receiving disability benefits are exempt from the cap, and it will also not affect households where someone qualifies for Working Tax Credit.

The Chancellor previously announced that households with a taxpayer earning over £60,000 will no longer receive Child Benefit. To prevent a cliff-edge, this withdrawal will be gradual for those households where someone earns between £50,000 and £60,000. Even so, 90 per cent of families will still receive the benefit, with 85 per cent getting the full amount. There has been no announcement of any plans to restrict Child Benefit to a set number of children, so Child Benefit will continue to be paid at the same level for all children.

You refer specifically to young people in your email. Young people in the benefit system ought to face the same choices as other young people who go out to work and cannot yet afford to leave home. I do believe, therefore, that the automatic entitlement to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds should be curtailed. There must be exemptions, however, including for vulnerable young people and those who may not be able to return home to live with their parents. Importantly, those who have been in work for six months prior to making a claim are also exempt.

Health

Sustainability and transformation plans

The Five Year Forward View, produced by the NHS, sets out its visions for the future. The aim is to ensure the NHS provides more care closer to home, prioritises prevention and empowers citizens to manage their own care. Far from being secret, STPs were publicly announced by NHS England in December 2015. These plans are not about making cuts, but to ensure that increased resources lead directly to better care for patients.

However, locally we are campaigning to save the provision of cardiac care for both adults and children at the Royal Brompton and Harefield hospital. If you or your friends and family have been treated at the Brompton, please have a look through the detail at www.rbht.nhs.uk/about/news-events/. The relevant article is dated 28th October and titled ‘Update on congenital heart disease services review’. It gives a good overview of the Hospital’s position, and provides a link to the full outline, including what you can do to help, here: http://www.rbht.nhs.uk/about/our-work/congenital-heart-disease-nhs-england-review/.

I do hope many of you will help with this campaign to save our local hospital.

Digital exclusion and subtitles

Like many of you, I am concerned that people with sensory loss are not excluded. The Government is working with the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD), and others to monitor the quality and the amount of subtitles and audio description delivered online via Catch-up and On Demand services. As you may know, ATVOD published a report in 2015 on the level of subtitling, audio description, signing, and other services for people with disabilities relating to sight, hearing or both.

The findings of this report show that accessible programming can now be found on an increasing range of devices. There is good progress being made, however, ATVOD also said barriers remain and further work needs to take place between content providers, on-demand platform providers and broadcasters to overcome these barriers. Ministers have written to these groups to encourage them to seek innovative solutions to these problems.

I know that Ministers remain committed to seeing an improvement in the provision of accessible services for video-on-demand and will continue to monitor progress. However the Government has concluded that the proposal of legislation and the introduction of targets could have a detrimental impact on what the sector has shown it is able to achieve on a voluntary basis.

Childhood obesity strategy

I feel childhood obesity is an important issue to tackle and that is why I am delighted that the Government has launched a far-reaching plan to curb childhood obesity. The new plan will work towards a 20% reduction in the sugar used in products popular with children, including a 5% reduction in year one. This will sit alongside the new Soft Drinks Industry Levy, which is designed to encourage soft drink producers and importers to reduce the amount of sugar in their products.

I support the total ban on the advertising of less healthy food during children’s television programmes and in programmes deemed to be ‘of particular appeal’ to children under the age of 16. These are also restrictions on advertising content for both broadcast and non-broadcast media, for example promotional offers may not be used in less healthy food TV adverts targeted at pre-school or primary school children.

The Government is absolutely committed to reducing childhood obesity and one of the best ways to do this is to boost sports in schools. That is why the plan also asks primary schools to help every pupil get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day.

Support for carers

I agree that carers must receive the right support to help them carry out their caring roles. That is why a new cross-Government National Carers Strategy is being introduced to look at what more can be done to support existing and future carers.

In the meantime, the Government is continuing to support the implementation of improved rights for carers, enshrined in the Care Act 2014 and provided £104 million of funding to local authorities for these rights in 2015/16. For the first time, I am glad to say, this included a duty on local authorities to meet carers’ eligible needs for support. I welcome the fact that benefits to support vulnerable and disabled people, including Carer’s Allowance, are exempt from the freeze on working-age benefits. I am relieved that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has announced that people with severe, lifelong conditions will no longer face continuous reassessment.

Off patent Drugs Bill

Potential ‘sugar tax’

I know that the Government currently has no plans to introduce a 'sugar tax'. However, I can assure you that I am committed to reducing obesity in the UK and its impact on public health.

Tackling childhood obesity is a major priority and I am concerned about the levels of overweight and obese children, and the impact on individual health. The causes of obesity are complex, and can be caused by a number of dietary, lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors and addressing it will require a comprehensive and broad approach. The Government is considering a range of options including the contribution that it, alongside industry, families, schools and communities can make. Plans for tackling childhood obesity will be announced in the coming months.

Healthy School Meals

NHS

The NHS is something to be valued and protected. Ministers have been able to protect the NHS by increasing spending since 2010 because of the Government's long-term economic plan. You can only have a strong NHS if you have a healthy economy.

I support the Government's commitment to increase NHS spending in England by £10 billion in real terms by 2020/21, of which £6 billion will be delivered by the end of 2016/17. This will allow the NHS to offer 800,000 operations and treatments and spend up to £2 billion more on new drugs. It will also ensure that by 2020, everyone will be able to access GP services at evenings and weekends. This will enable the NHS to fund its own plan for the future, the Five Year Forward View.

It's thanks to our growing economy and the Government's decisions that it can support this investment in a stronger NHS. I know that the Government remains committed to the values of the NHS that are so central to our national identity. This will secure a better future for Britain, where people can be sure that the NHS will always be there for them.

Mental Health

I agree that tackling poor mental health is a priority and Ministers have legislated to ensure it is treated with the same importance as physical health. Progress is being made, with an extra £11.7 billion invested in the NHS last year for mental healthcare and a 54 per cent reduction in the use of police cells for mental health cases in the past three years - but more needs to be done.

The Government has committed to unprecedented levels of mental health funding, including £1.25 billion for perinatal and children and young people's mental health, helping professionals to intervene early. In the Autumn Statement, an additional £600 million was announced to ensure that significantly more people will have access to talking therapies, perinatal services and crisis care. To support teenagers with eating disorders, the Government has also invested £150 million.

New crisis resolution and home treatment teams will transform the community mental healthcare system and are being supported with a £400 million investment. They aim to assess all patients being considered for acute hospital admission, offer intensive home treatment rather than hospital admission if feasible, and facilitate early hospital discharge. Government investment of £247 million will ensure that psychiatric services are always available in A&E, for those in need.

I am delighted that the Government is introducing the first-ever mental health access and waiting time standards. This means that 75 per cent of people referred for talking therapies to treat common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety will start their treatment within 6 weeks, and 95 per cent within 18 weeks. Also, patients experiencing psychosis for the first time must be treated within two weeks.

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

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

Junior Doctors

I certainly understand any concern that relates to our NHS. It is something of which those who work in it, and indeed the nation as a whole, can feel justifiably proud. It is consistently rated as one of the best health systems of any in the world. However, this does not mean, particularly in financially straitened times, that the NHS or the conditions of those who work within it should be immune from review. Whilst I have previously had several concerns relating to the proposed contract, I do also take issue with a number of the wilder assertions against it which I have seen and which are not particularly well-grounded in reason or fact.

The current situation, I understand, is that through negotiation approximately 90 per cent of the proposed contract has been agreed with the BMA, including agreement on hours and pay. It seems the only outstanding issue which has led to the strikes this week was in relation to Saturday pay.

The Government has agreed that anyone working 1 Saturday out of 4, or more, should get higher premium pay rates. This is a deal better even than that awarded to nurses, paramedics or other public sector workers such as police officers and fire-fighters.
Moreover, it would certainly be misleading to suggest that the Government has consistently refused to enter negotiations. Over three years, I am told officials had more than 75 meetings with the BMA to negotiate contract reform, which has led to the 90% acceptance of its terms referred to above. During this time, the union walked abruptly out of talks twice, circulated a grossly misleading pay calculator to their members when no proposals were on the table, broke a written promise to compromise on Saturday pay by refusing to discuss the issue in negotiations and rejected a final offer from the Government that independent NHS leaders judged a fair and reasonable compromise.

The process of negotiation has uncovered some wider and more deep-seated issues relating to junior doctors' morale, wellbeing and quality of life. So I welcome the announcement that Dame Sue Bailey, President of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, will lead a review into measures outside the contract that can be taken to improve morale. Further details of this review will be set out soon.

Thank you for taking the time to outline your thoughts on this difficult issue. I shall certainly keep them in mind for any future discussions.

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