My replies to mass email campaigns

UK Internal Markets Bill

Mike's reply:

Thank you for contacting me about the UK Internal Markets Bill.

First, let me say that I completely appreciate your entirely understandable concerns. This Bill will ensure the UK continues to thrive, while it ensures we can deliver on a manifesto commitment on which I stood last December for unfettered trade across the UK.

Firstly, the UK Parliament has supremacy and will not agree to harm the UK by allowing Northern Ireland to be split away from us due to the demands of foreign powers. No Prime Minister could allow Northern Ireland to be partitioned with a hard border. Of course, we all hope that such provisions seen in this bill will never be required.

The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated last year was never perfect, and there were always elements that needed to be resolved. This was the job of the Joint Committee. However, these issues are currently not resolved, as the end of the transition period and therefore a hard deadline approaches, it is necessary for the UK Government to have a contingency plan in place. There are no guarantees that the Joint Committee – which was established to iron out inconsistencies in the Protocol – will reach an agreement on the outstanding issues in time. Talks are ongoing, quite rightly, but this Bill is a safety net, and an essential mechanism to ensure we can always stay true to our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland.

Since the outset of trade negotiations, the UK has acted in good faith. The EU however, it could be argued, have not. For example, the EU are insisting that current arrangements on fisheries and state aid remain exactly the same as they are now, which doesn’t take into account the fact that we are now a sovereign, independent nation. Similarly, the EU has made claims around our food standards, despite our food standards currently being in line with the EU food standards. The UK was offered a Canada style agreement for trade, which was then withdrawn by the EU. The EU are looking to impose conditions on the UK that they have not imposed on any other country seeking a trade deal.

On the matter of International Law, it is not unusual for countries to choose to disapply elements of a treaty or for a member state to ignore parts of EU law. The UK have done it previously. Currently, there are over 1000 infringement cases open by the Commission against the EU27. We have also deviated from EU law previously, such as on the votes for prisoners. The EU law required us to introduce this, however the UK chose to break and ignore the law. I do not remember a particularly large amount of concern from the public then.

I voted in favour of the 2nd Reading of the Bill, not least so that the detail and debate can be flushed out at Committee stage. I hope that we can agree a deal with the EU and that these provisions won’t be required, but I will not be voting to allow Northern Ireland be split from the rest of the UK."

September 2020

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Tate Enterprises & EDM 695

Mike's reply:

Thank you for contacting me about possible redundancies at Tate Enterprises and EDM 695.

Government Ministers do not, by convention, sign any Early Day Motions, as doing so is likely to breach the Ministerial Code’s rules on collective responsibility.  However, I recognise that the lockdown has had a major impact on those who rely on temporarily closed venues for their livelihoods. That is why I welcome that the Government stepped in with a major support package, both for businesses and individuals, including those who are self-employed.

A £1.57 billion rescue package that has been announced to help Britain’s globally renowned arts, culture and heritage industries weather the impact of coronavirus. Thousands of organisations across a range of sectors including the performing arts and theatres, heritage, historic palaces, museums, galleries, live music and independent cinema will be able to access emergency grants and loans. The money, which represents the biggest ever one-off investment in UK culture, will provide a lifeline to vital cultural and heritage organisations across the country hit hard by the pandemic and will also benefit those who work in the sector.

More broadly, a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been created as s a UK-wide scheme to pay a grant to any business for each worker they identify as furloughed, so that they can remain employed but not be expected to work. These grants currently cover 80 per cent of furloughed employees’ usual monthly wage costs up to £2,500 a month, as well as the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions.

Ultimately it is for individual businesses and institutions to take advantage of this unprecedented level of support to secure their future and maintain their workforce. I hope that Tate Enterprises will succeed in doing so."

September 2020

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Public Monuments

Mike's reply:

Thank you for contacting me about public monuments.

I understand the strength of feeling surrounding certain statues and memorials that adorn our public spaces. However, I strongly condemn the actions of those who have defaced and damaged public property, or otherwise broken the law.

Many public statues and memorials are erected on land overseen by local authorities. Elected councillors have responsibility for such municipal sites, accountable to local voters. It is my hope that councillors will follow the advice from Historic England (HE) on this issue. HE is the Government’s adviser on the historic environment, and its guidance advises against removing so called ‘contested heritage.’

I am pleased that the Government itself does not have any plans to remove statues or memorials on its property. It is of course true that many statues are dedicated to people who said or did things that we would not defend today. We must recognise that the past is another country where values and laws were different.

Here in London, the proposal for a Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm is from the Labour Mayor of London. It is not a Government body or Government initiative. The Greater London Authority has no powers over street naming, nor any specific remit over the municipal realm other than on its own property. I would urge the Mayor to listen to the Government's heritage adviser, Historic England, which has advised against the removal of 'contested heritage.'

I strongly agree with the Prime Minister that we must not try to edit or censor our past. Rather than seeking to air brush our history, our aim should be to use heritage to educate people about all aspects of our complex past – good and bad. Historical figures acted in a completely different context to the one we live in today. To pass judgement from our current viewpoint, in one of the freest and most prosperous societies ever to have existed, is both unfair and ahistorical.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me."

September 2020

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Belarussian Presidential Election

Mike's reply:

Thank you for contacting me about the Belarusian Presidential election.

I entirely appreciate the concerns you have both about the elections and the violence that we have seen. The Government of Belarus must refrain from further acts of violence following the seriously flawed Presidential elections. The violence and the attempts by Belarusian authorities to suppress protests are completely unacceptable.

The UK does not accept the results of this election. I have been appalled by the lack of transparency throughout the electoral process, as well as the imprisonment of opposition candidates, journalists and peaceful protestors. I join the Government in calling for an independent investigation through the OSCE into the flaws that rendered the election unfair, as well as the grisly repression that followed. The UK will work with international partners to sanction those responsible, and hold the Belarusian authorities to account.

The Belarusian people have demanded democracy, fundamental freedoms and the right to determine their futures. All aims which I fully support. I am glad to have received reassurances that the UK, alongside international partners, has called on the Government of Belarus to fulfil its international commitments and the aspirations of its people.

I will be following developments closely. Thank you again for taking the time to contact me."

September 2020

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Badger Cull

Mike's reply:

Thank you for contacting me about controlling the spread of bovine TB.
 
The UK’s bovine TB eradication strategy is founded in science. It applies the lessons of previous attempts to control the disease, as well as evidence from other countries around the world. This strategy includes a policy of regular testing and removal of infected cattle from herds, as well as tougher restrictions on cattle movements from herds at risk of infection and measures to encourage greater risk management in areas where the disease is rife.
 
The badger cull has led to a significant reduction in the disease, but no one wants to continue the cull of this protected species indefinitely. That is why the Government asked Sir Charles Godfray to conduct a review, which concluded in October 2018. Earlier this year, in response to that review, the Government set out its intended next steps, focussed around three key priorities. 
 
The current BCG vaccine will never provide full protection, so I am pleased that funding will be made available to accelerate the research and trial work needed with the aim of having a deployable vaccine in the next five years. Alongside this, an exit strategy from the intensive culling of badgers will begin. As soon as possible, a pilot Government-funded badger vaccination will be introduced in at least one area where the four-year cull cycle has concluded, with simultaneous surveillance of disease. The aim is to only allow future culls where the evidence points to a significant reservoir of Bovine TB in badgers. 
 
Finally, the Government will invest in the deployment of better, more frequent and more diverse cattle testing so that we are able to detect the presence of the disease earlier and remove it from cattle herds faster. I am pleased that world-leading bovine TB cattle vaccination trials are also set to get underway in England and Wales as a result of a major breakthrough by Government scientists. These trials enable work to accelerate towards planned deployment of a cattle vaccine by 2025, in the latest milestone to eradicate this highly damaging animal disease.
 
Ministers hope that any remaining areas who join the current cull programme in the next few years will then wind down by the mid to late 2020s. Of course, tere is no single answer to tackling the scourge of bTB but by deploying a range of policy interventions, we can turn the tide on this terrible disease.
 
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

September 2020

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Violence in Nigeria

Mike's reply:

Thank you for contacting me about violence in Nigeria.

I was horrified to learn of the killing of five aid workers in Nigeria, following their abduction by Boko Haram. My thoughts are with the families of the five workers at what must be an incredibly difficult time.

Like you, I am incredibly concerned by the violence and deaths we are seeing in Nigeria, especially in the North East, and will ensure that ministers are aware of the points you have raised.

I am encouraged that the UK remains committed to supporting the Government of Nigeria and its neighbours in the fight against Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa. The Prime Minister discussed UK support for tackling the insurgency in the North East with President Buhari at the UK Africa Investment Summit in January.

The UK provides a comprehensive package of security, stabilisation and humanitarian assistance to Nigeria to help tackle the threat from these terrorist groups. This includes: capacity building support for the Nigerian armed forces, with an emphasis on adherence to internationally recognised Rules of Engagement, International Human Rights and Humanitarian law; counter-IED and bomb scene management training; and support to the Multinational Joint Task Force, a regional taskforce which seeks to coordinate military efforts in the region.

I welcome that the UK is also providing support to affected communities. Between 2017 and 2022, the UK is providing up to £300 million of humanitarian support, which includes the provision of vital food assistance for 1.5 million people affected by the conflict.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me."

September 2020

 

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Birds of Prey - Hen Harriers

Mike's reply:

Thank you for contacting me about the protection of birds of prey.

After speaking to the Minister, it is clear that the Government is very concerned about hen harrier populations, which is why it 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.

My colleagues and I recognise the conservation and economic benefits that shooting sports bring to rural communities. A study in 2010 by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust showed that predator control resulted in significant increases in the breeding success of ground nesting birds such as curlew, golden plover and lapwing. I believe that individuals should be free to manage wildlife within the law, and that the Government should only intervene when there is good reason to do so.  
 
All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and there are strong penalties in place for offences committed against birds of prey and other wildlife, with most wildlife crimes carrying up to an unlimited fine and/or a six-month custodial sentence. To address concerns about illegal killing of birds of prey, senior Government and enforcement officers have identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority. The National Wildlife Crime Unit monitors and gathers intelligence on wildlife crime, including raptor persecution, and aids police forces in their investigations when required.  
 
Ministers have always been clear of the need to phase out rotational burning of protected blanket bog to conserve these vulnerable habitats. Real progress is being made in promoting sustainable alternatives and I am pleased to hear that legislation is being looked at which could help achieve this. Ministers have also been encouraging landowners to adopt sustainable options and continue to work with them constructively. The England Peat Strategy will be published later this year which will detail further how we can protect, restore, and reduce damage to our peatlands. 
 
While there are no current plans to carry out a review of the management of grouse moors, I recognise it is vital that wildlife and habitats are respected and protected, and that the law is observed. I am pleased that the Government will continue to work to ensure a sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship between shooting and conservation.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me."

September 2020

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Supertrawlers

Mike's reply:

Thank you for contacting me about sustainable fishing in British waters and the access of large trawling vessels to our waters.

I share your concern about the protection and health of British waters and I am fully aware of the impact that super trawlers have on marine life. Our waters are a precious natural resource and they must be managed carefully. The future of the communities that earn their livelihoods from the sea and the biodiversity of the ocean depends on a balanced and considered approach to fisheries management.

The UK has 357 Marine Protected Areas covering a quarter of the country’s waters but the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy currently restricts our ability to impose more stringent protections on our seas. After the end of the end of the transition period, however, the UK will be able to introduce stronger measures so that we can manage our waters as we see fit.

The Fisheries Bill currently going through Parliament will help to protect our marine resources and develop plans to 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 as we become an independent coastal state once again. 

I understand that the access of super trawlers to UK waters is of significant concern to local fishing communities and to those working to protect our seas. That is why I am glad that the Fisheries Bill will provide the Government with powers to licence foreign vessels in UK waters. Foreign vessels will have no automatic right of access to our waters in the future. Any vessel granted access to our waters will also be required to abide by UK rules, including on sustainability, and I fully support this approach.

The Bill takes back control of our fishing waters."

September 2020

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Protect British Farmers Campaign

Mike's reply:

Thank you for contacting me about maintaining British food production standards ahead of any future trade deals.

British consumers want high welfare produce and if our trading partners want to break into the UK market, they should expect to meet those standards. The manifesto I stood on was clear that in all trade negotiations, our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards will not be compromised. The Government will stand firm in trade negotiations to ensure any deals live up to the values of our farmers and consumers.

I am pleased that all food coming into this country will be required to meet existing import requirements. I know that the EU Withdrawal Act will transfer all existing EU food safety provisions, including existing import requirements, onto the UK statute book. These import standards include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products and set out that no products, other than potable water, are approved to decontaminate poultry carcasses. Any changes to existing food safety legislation would require new legislation to be brought before Parliament.

Finally, I am pleased that the Government are already engaging with the agricultural sector as part of its trade discussions, including the National Farmers Union. It is encouraging that Ministers share my determination to ensure our future trade agreements will deliver benefits for our brilliant farmers and food producers."

August 2020

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Military Exports: Israel Campaign

Mike's reply:

Thank you for contacting me about military exports to Israel.
 
I remain concerned about security in Israel and our friendship with Israel does not prohibit our criticism of some Israeli policies, nor our recognition of Israel as a thriving democracy. The UK supports Israel’s right to defend itself and will work alongside anyone in the Middle East who seeks to establish better stability and security for their people.
 
I know the Government takes its export control responsibilities extremely seriously and operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world. All export licence applications are rigorously assessed on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, based on the most up-to-date information and analysis available.
 
Licence decisions take account of prevailing circumstances at the time of application and include human rights and international humanitarian law considerations. I understand the Government will not issue export licences where there is a clear risk that the arms might be used for internal repression or in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
 
The UK’s support for Israel’s right to self-defence does not extend to support for the annexation plans for part of the West Bank. I strongly welcome the shelving of these annexation plans as part of the normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE.
 
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories as an opportunity to demonstrate the UK’s commitment to the Middle East peace process."

August 2020

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'The Government's response to recent Channel crossings' Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me.

I understand your concern and anger about this issue. I entirely agree with you that the number of small boat crossings is unacceptable. The Home Secretary has said that we must make this route unviable in order to secure a long-term solution to the issue. 

The National Crime Agency, Border Force and the Police have been engaging closely with the French authorities to crack down on the criminal gangs who facilitate these crossings. Firm action is needed to protect our border and save the lives of migrants who are being so cruelly misled by criminals and people smugglers. 

The Home Secretary has outlined a two-part plan to stop the entry of migrants to the UK across the Channel. I welcome the work taking place to stop the boats from leaving France in the first place. Ministers are urging the French authorities to move migrants who are caught attempting to reach the UK by boat away from Calais and the UK is funding patrols on the beaches of northern France to prevent migrants crossing in the first place. The second part of the plan is to intercept and return anyone who attempts to make a crossing. I understand that the Government has asked the French to consider interceptions at sea and has offered to work with the authorities in France on joint exercises to highlight how boats can be returned safely.  

I would like to reassure you that once the occupants of the boats arrive on our shores, they do not automatically receive the right to remain in the UK. I agree that France is a safe country with an established asylum system. Those coming across the Channel should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach.

This has never been about escorting boats across The Channel. Once an unseaworthy small boat reaches the sea, the first priority is to save lives, this is something I agree with and will not apologise for. The Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and those onboard the small boats are not wearing suitable life jackets despite the rough waters. It is important not to forget that these people are desperate and will put their own lives and those of their children at risk rather than go back to France. This is a complex and extremely challenging issue.

If the occupants of small boats are intercepted by the Border Force or Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) they are medically assessed and transferred for an interview by immigration enforcement officers. At this point, they may make a claim for asylum and will be processed in the usual way. However, if an individual is known to have made a claim in another country the Home Office will look at the process of returning them as promptly as possible.

In the year ending March 2020, over 7,400 refugee family reunion visas were issued to partners and children of those previously granted asylum or humanitarian protection in the UK. This is 37 per cent more than in the previous year.

I hope you can see from this response that the Government is taking firmer action to stop these crossings. I am encouraged by this work but will push the Government to continue to act fast to make this route unviable and end the cruel and dangerous people smuggling between France and the UK."

August 2020

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Stop BDS (Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions) Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the Israel-Britain Alliance campaign on local government pensions guidance and foreign policy.

At issue in the case was if the Public Service Pensions Act 2013 conferred the necessary powers to the Secretary of State for two provisions in the Local Government Pension Scheme (Management and Investment of Funds) Regulations 2016. Although the Supreme Court upheld the High Court decision, I would note that the decision passed by only a bare majority.

Please be assured that the Government is committed to ensuring public bodies are consistent with investments and stop introducing local boycotts, which undermine community cohesion and sow distrust. I do not believe it is right for local councils to try to influence foreign policy decisions which are properly the purview of the UK Government. To address the points raised in the case, l have been assured new legislation will be brought in to ensure the technical aspects are considered."

August 2020

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'Fix Adult Social Care' Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about adult social care.

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.

In the Conservative Manifesto, on which I was proud to stand, it was 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 beliefs to take part in a conversation about establishing a care system fit for the 21st century."

July 2020

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Fishing and Supertrawlers

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about sustainable fishing in British waters and the access of large trawling vessels to our waters.

I share your concern about the protection and health of British waters and I am fully aware of the impact that super trawlers have on marine life. Our waters are a precious natural resource and they must be managed carefully. The future of the communities that earn their livelihoods from the sea and the biodiversity of the ocean depends on a balanced and considered approach to fisheries management.

The UK has 357 Marine Protected Areas covering a quarter of the country’s waters but the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy currently restricts our ability to impose more stringent protections on our seas. After the end of the end of the transition period, however, the UK will be able to introduce stronger measures so that we can manage our waters as we see fit.

The Fisheries Bill currently going through Parliament will help to protect our marine resources and develop plans to 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 as we become an independent coastal state once again.

I understand that the access of super trawlers to UK waters is of significant concern to local fishing communities and to those working to protect our seas. That is why I am glad that the Fisheries Bill will provide the Government with powers to licence foreign vessels in UK waters. Foreign vessels will have no automatic right of access to our waters in the future. Any vessel granted access to our waters will also be required to abide by UK rules, including on sustainability, and I fully support this approach.

The Bill takes back control of our fishing waters."

July 2020

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EDM 719 and Press Freedom

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about Julian Assange and Press Freedom.

I was encouraged to see the situation in the Ecuadorean embassy finally come to an end. Ecuador’s actions recognise that the UK’s criminal justice system is one in which rights are protected and in which, contrary to what Mr Assange and his supporters may claim, he and his legitimate interests will be protected.  

As you will know, in May 2019, as a result of Mr Assange’s failure to surrender in relation to his extradition proceedings, he was sentenced to 50 weeks in prison.

You may also be aware that the then Home Secretary signed an extradition warrant, following a request by the US Department of Justice. In making this decision, the then Home Secretary had limitations on what could be considered, in line with the Crime and Courts Act 2013; judgments on human rights or health issues can only be made in court.

I understand due to the Coronavirus outbreak the extradition hearing for this case has now been delayed. I can assure you that I will closely follow any new developments as they occur. Julian Assange is currently held on remand and under these circumstances, it is for the courts to determine whether an individual should be granted bail or remain in custody.

I agree that journalists play a vital role in our society and must be free at all times to do their jobs without fear. The Minister for Media and Data made this clear recently when he signed the public statement issued by the National Union of Journalists, calling for the freedom of the press to be respected and protected.

As he said, “Journalism is a bedrock of democracy and those who are keeping our communities informed and holding the powerful to account must not be intimidated or threatened as they carry out their work. We stand with journalists and will do all we can to support them in doing their jobs without fear or favour.

I must add however that members of the Government do not, by convention, sign any Early Day Motions, as doing so is likely to breach the Ministerial Code’s rules on collective responsibility. For this reason I will not be signing this EDM.

However, I will closely monitor the developments in this area and I look forward to the full consultation before any changes are finalised."

July 2020

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EDM 658 and Tackling Illegal Immigration

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about tackling illegal immigration and EDM 658.

As a Government Minister, I am not allowed to sign EDMs, as doing so would be a breach of the Ministerial Code.

A wide range of measures were introduced in the Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016 to remove the ability of illegal immigrants to remain in the UK in defiance of our immigration laws. These include allowing the earnings of illegal workers to be seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act, while employers of illegal workers also face tougher enforcement, with increased custodial sentences for those who persistently use illegal workers as a source of cheap labour.

It is also true that those who have no right to remain in the UK are expected to leave voluntarily and should take all reasonable steps to do so. If they do not leave voluntarily I know that the authorities will seek to enforce their removal. More generally, the Government is in the process of building our future immigration system to benefit the needs and interests of all parts of the UK. I have always been clear that the UK’s new point-based immigration system must serve the national interest and lead to a reduction in migration.

I do, however, remain committed to an immigration policy which welcomes people to the UK through safe and legal routes. All illegal immigration should be deterred and prevented.

With regard to EDM 658 that you have mentioned, tabled by Claudia Webbe MP, I understand that the Immigration Rules already provide a route for undocumented migrants to regularise their immigration status. I welcome the fact that these rules are kept under constant review and evolve in light of feedback and findings of the courts."

July 2020

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Conversion Therapy

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about conversion therapy.

The suggestion that being LGBT can be “cured” is both morally and medically wrong and the concept of conversion therapy has no place in our society. Being lesbian, gay or bisexual is not an illness to be treated or cured. 

It is a subject of special importance to me and one for which I secured a debate. Details of which can be found via this link- https://bit.ly/3emuu9t

I am encouraged that this view is shared by the head of the NHS, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the British Medical Association. Each of these bodies have concluded that such therapy is unethical and potentially harmful to those with a non-heterosexual identity. 

Ending conversion therapy is a complex issue which requires careful thought, not least because the understanding that the NHS and other organisations have reached about conversion therapy has a potentially problematic interplay with gender identity services offered by, for example, the NHS.

The Government Equalities’ Office commissioned a large-scale LGBT survey in 2017. Sadly, 2 per cent of respondents to the national LGBT survey said they had undergone conversion therapy in an attempt to ‘cure’ them of being LGBT. A further 5 per cent said they had been offered it. Unfortunately, in this survey, what conversion therapy entailed was not defined, so the results should be read with that caveat.  Nor were the respondents asked whether or not the conversion therapy referred to in their answer was offered in the UK.

I welcome the firm commitment to preventing these activities from continuing. Led by colleagues in the Government Equalities Office, I understand the Government will consider all options to end promoting, offering or conducting conversion therapy. The main objective is to protect people who are vulnerable to harm or violence, whether that occurs in a medical, commercial or faith-based context. I am clear that this will not prevent LGBT people from seeking legitimate medical or spiritual support from their faith leader in the exploration of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

I am positive about the steps that have been made so far in the UK to achieve LGBT equality, and am confident that this good work will continue."

July 2020

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Cancer Treatment and Radiotherapy during the Covid-19 Outbreak

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about cancer treatment and Radiotherapy during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

When people start treatment for cancer, their medical team works with them to balance the risks and benefits of treatment before agreeing a plan. As a result of the pandemic, it may be that doctors consider the risks of certain treatments, particularly those that weaken the immune system, to be much greater than normal. They will take into consideration how urgent your treatment is: in some cases, delaying treatment might not make a big difference to the outcome. Patients with cancer visit hospitals regularly, but for those who are particularly vulnerable, this is more risky than usual as it may result in exposure to the virus.

Cancer is a priority for the Government and survival rates are at a record high.  Since 2010 rates of survival from cancer have increased year-on-year.  Around 7,000 people are alive today who would not have been had mortality rates stayed the same as then. I agree that we need to keep working on this, which is why I welcome the Government's stated aim to see three quarters of all cancers detected at an early stage by 2028 (currently just over half are detected at an early stage). 

The plan will overhaul screening programmes, provide new investment in state of the art technology to transform the process of diagnosis, and boost research and innovation. This is part of the NHS Long Term Plan (LTP), published in January 2019, and forms part of how the Government will achieve its ambition to see 55,000 more people surviving cancer for five years in England each year from 2028. I will continue to support the Government and the NHS to deliver on this, in spite of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

One of the measures outlined in the LTP is safer and more precise treatment, including advanced radiotherapy techniques and immunotherapies to continue to support improvements in survival rates. This will be supported by a £130 million upgrade of radiotherapy machines across England, as well as commissioning the NHS new state-of-the-art Proton Beam facilities in London and Manchester. In addition, the LTP commits to reforms to the specialised commissioning payments for radiotherapy hypofractionation to support further equipment upgrades. Faster, smarter and effective radiotherapy, supported by greater networking of specialised expertise, will mean more patients are offered curative treatment, with fewer side effects and shorter treatment times. Starting with ovarian cancer, the NHS will ensure greater access to specialist expertise and knowledge in the treatment of cancers where there are fewer or more risky treatment options.

Tackling breast cancer has been one of my major campaigns, I have been raising money and awareness for this cause through the annual sponsored London MoonWalk. Additionally, I played an instrumental role in securing a permanent breast screening unit at Finchley Memorial and I have an upcoming 200-mile ride for cancer research. I will continue to fight for better services and resources on this front both at Local and National level."

July 2020

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EDM 267 - Import and Sales of Fur

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the fur trade.

We are a nation of animal lovers, so it is only right that we have some of the highest welfare standards in the world. In addition to fur farming being banned in the UK, I am pleased to note that the import of fur products is tightly regulated. 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.

As well as this, 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 forums such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, CITES and others. The UK will retake our seat on these bodies and be able more effectively to promote and support improved animal welfare standards internationally.

As a Government Whip, and therefore a Minister,  I am unable to sign EDMs as, in doing so, it is likely to breach the Ministerial Code's rules on collective responsibility."

July 2020

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EDM 135 - Use of the Whip in Horse Racing 

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the use of the whip in horseracing. I too share your concern for the welfare of horses. 

I believe that the irresponsible use of the whip is completely unacceptable. The British Horseracing Association (BHA), the governing and regulatory body for the sport, requires that whips used in horse racing must be used responsibly, for safety reasons and only to encourage the horse. 

The current BHA policy on the whip was drawn up in consultation with animal welfare groups, such as the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare. The latest rules include a threshold on the number of times the whip can be used before racing stewards can consider an inquiry. If the rules are broken, the jockey may be banned from racing for a certain number of days depending on the seriousness of the offence.

The Horse Welfare Board’s five-year Horse Welfare Strategy, published in February 2020, contains 20 recommendations for improving horse welfare. It recommends that, as a minimum, the penalties for misuse of the whip need to increase and that the BHA should conduct a consultation on the use of the whip this year. As well as seeking views on appropriate sanctions for misuse of the whip, it also recommends that the BHA uses the consultation to consider whether the use of the whip for encouragement should be banned or retained and whether the rules that restrict the use of the whip for encouragement need to be changed. While I am aware the consultation process has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new timetable will be agreed at an appropriate point in the future. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this consultation once it has taken place.

In addition to sanctions from the sport, using the whip indiscriminately on horses could lead to a prosecution under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, which makes it a criminal offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal. I would encourage anyone with evidence that a racehorse has suffered unnecessarily from being whipped to report it to the local authority.

As a Government Whip, and therefore a Minister,  I am unable to sign EDMs as, in doing so, it is likely to breach the Ministerial Code's rules on collective responsibility."

July 2020

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Domestic Abuse Bill - Clause 28

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me regarding votes in Parliament on New Clause 28 to the Domestic Abuse Bill.

I will be voting against this amendment for a number of reasons. Firstly, it treats women unequally by differentiating between victims of domestic abuse and other women (e.g. who have been raped by a stranger). It would also allow unsupervised abortions past the current time limit of 10 weeks, which is dangerous and could put women’s lives at risk.

Thirdly, it puts busy clinicians in the awful position of having to judge in a short phone call whether the patient they are helping is a victim of domestic abuse within the scope of sections 1 and 2 of the Domestic Abuse Bill. If they got it wrong, medics could be dragged through the courts. Finally, reforming the law of abortion should be a matter of detailed and careful reflection; shoehorning in last-minute and flawed amendments is not fair to victims of Domestic Abuse or women generally.

The Domestic Abuse Bill has been years in the making and is a huge step forward in the protection of victims, of which we can be rightly proud. We mustn’t let it get knocked off course by an attempt to open up the abortion debate."

July 2020

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Human Rights in Bahrain - Death Sentences of Mohamed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about human rights in Bahrain.

I share your concerns and depth of feeling on this issue.

Human rights and democracy are fundamental to the values the UK champions on the world stage. That is why I am glad Bahrain is a human rights priority country for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

The UK Government’s relationship with the Government of Bahrain allows it to speak honestly about a range of issues, including human rights and press freedom, and it does not shy away from sharing concerns at a senior level. The UK has urged the Government of Bahrain to protect freedom of expression for all its citizens in line with its international commitments. The UK's position on the use of the death penalty is also longstanding and clear. The UK opposes its use in all circumstances and countries.

The UK will continue to support Bahraini-led reform by providing a range of technical expertise to promote the rule of law and further develop the work of Bahrain’s human rights oversight bodies. I believe that working together in this way offers the best opportunity to see the positive changes which the Government of Bahrain has committed to implementing, including on international agendas such as women’s empowerment and combating modern slavery.

I hope this helps to clarify the UK’s commitment to addressing Bahrain’s human rights record, and I will continue to follow developments closely and engage with Ministers.

Like you I am deeply concerned about the death sentences given to Mohamed Ramadhan and Husain Moosa.

The Government of Bahrain is fully aware that the UK is firmly opposed to the death penalty, in all circumstances. The UK has and will continue to monitor the cases closely and raise concerns with senior members of the Bahraini Government. I am told that technical assistance to Bahrain, which is kept under regular review, is provided in line with international standards, and fully complies with our domestic and international human rights obligations."

July 2020

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Universal Basic Income

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for your email. The Chancellor is making statement next week that will outline the Government’s plans for our economic recovery post coronavirus.

The Government is committed to doing what it can to support our recovery, and the unprecedent support already provided has already done a lot to support this. A universal basic income would mean giving money to the richest alongside the poorest and as such is illogical. Targeted support through Universal Credit and our welfare system is much more effective.

The Prime Minister said yesterday in PMQs that “a universal basic income is one that we have looked at. The best way forward for our country is to get the disease under control in the way that we are doing; get our people back into work; build, build, build; and take this country forward."

July 2020

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IR35

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about IR35.

The fair tax treatment of individuals working across the labour market is a well-established principle of the UK tax system. The off-payroll working rules are designed to ensure that where two people are working in the same way, but one is directly employed and one is working through a company, broadly the same amount of tax is paid. Without these rules there is nothing to prevent employers moving employees off-payroll simply to avoid paying employment taxes.

However, the cost of non-compliance with these rules is set to reach £1.3 billion per year by 2023/24 if not addressed. This is an unsustainable cost that is borne by taxpayers up and down the country. This reform will improve compliance by moving responsibility for determining whether the rules apply from a contractor’s limited company to their client. This is not a new tax but a transfer of responsibilities within the existing rules.

This reform has been in place in the public sector since 2017. Unless this reform is also introduced in the private sector, a disparity of treatment will continue, potentially leading to recruitment and retention difficulties in the public sector and unfairness for contractors working for public sector clients.

I am certainly aware of efforts to amend the Finance Bill such as those amendments that you mention. These were defeated, but my colleagues at the Treasury assure me that they understand that the reform is a significant change and that they recognise the concerns of MPs about implementing it at such an uncertain time for individuals and businesses. A number of significant improvements and changes have been made to the policy itself."

July 2020

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Debt Cancellation for the World's Poorest Countries

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about debt cancellation for the poorest countries in light of the coronavirus outbreak. 

I share your concerns about the debt vulnerabilities in developing countries, which has been amplified by coronavirus, and welcome that the UK has made available up to £150 million to the International Monetary Fund's Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust to help developing countries meet their debt repayments.

Of course, responding to this crisis requires international cooperation. The UK, alongside G20 and the Paris Club of official creditors has committed to a historic suspension of debt repayment from the world's poorest countries.  This will see official creditors provide up to $12 billion of cash-flow relief, which, importantly, will enable countries to focus available resources on tackling coronavirus and ensure they can direct greater resources to vital healthcare efforts, rather than interest payments. The Chancellor and G20 Finance Ministers have publicly called for the private sector to voluntarily participate in this initiative as well and, if it did so to the full extent, that would provide another $10 billion of breathing space for these countries.

The agreement also provides time to assess what further assistance these countries may need as the full economic impact becomes clearer, for example future restructuring of debt may be needed. I am glad that the Government is keeping all options under review.

I am proud that the UK is at the forefront of the global response to Covid-19. There has never been a more important time for us to be out in the world, delivering our 0.7 commitment and helping the most vulnerable in the world’s poorest countries."

July 2020

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'Please Keep London Transport Free for Under 18s' Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about TfL and the temporary suspension of certain free travel arrangements.

As you may be aware, the Government has recently had to step in and provide TfL with £1.095 billion of new grant funding and a further loan facility of £505 million, in order to keep vital public transport services running in London, and to increase the number of services to facilitate social distancing.

The settlement was needed because TfL was facing serious financial difficulties. This was the result of both the dramatic fall in TfL’s revenue due to COVID-19, and also because of the poor pre-existing condition of TfL’s financial position as a result of decisions made over the last four years by Mayor Khan.

The Government has attached various conditions to this funding package. Conditions include the temporary suspension of free travel for over-60s in the morning peak, the temporary suspension of free travel for under-18s all day, requiring services to be restored to their pre-COVID levels as quickly as possible, and requiring fares to be collected on buses while ensuring drivers are kept safe.

However, I understand that these conditions are necessary to put TfL back on a sustainable footing while ensuring fairness for the wider British taxpayer, and also reflect the need to avoid crowding on services and reduce the exposure of vulnerable groups.

I also want to reassure you that to help make sure these sorts of drastic actions can be avoided in future, a Government-led review into TfL's future financial position and structure will begin immediately."

July 2020

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EDM 267 - Importation of Fur

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the fur trade.

We are a nation of animal lovers, so it is only right that we have some of the highest welfare standards in the world. In addition to fur farming being banned in the UK, I am pleased to note that the import of fur products is tightly regulated. 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.

As well as this, 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 forums such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, CITES and others. The UK will retake our seat on these bodies and be able more effectively to promote and support improved animal welfare standards internationally.

As a Government Whip, and therefore a Minister,  I am unable to sign EDMs as, in doing so, it is likely to breach the Ministerial Code's rules on collective responsibility."

July 2020

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British Airways and Slot Allocation

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about British Airways. I fully appreciate that this must be a very worrying and upsetting time for British Airways employees and their families. 

I regret the commercial decisions that BA have announced, not least because the airline was benefiting from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which was not designed to fund the wages of employees only for companies to put the same staff on notice of redundancy during the furlough period.

There can be no doubt the aviation sector is facing serious challenges. However, making use of the unprecedented support available, such as the deferral of VAT payments, the Covid Corporate Financing Facility and of course the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, is clearly preferable to making employees redundant. Organisations who do decide to make employees redundant should do so with fairness. Indeed, businesses are judged by the way they behave and by the way they treat their employees, and British Airways are no different.

I also want to reassure you that the Department for Work and Pensions nonetheless stands ready to help affected employees identify and access the support that is available.

The UK’s independent slot coordinator, Airport Coordination Limited, is responsible for allocating slots at UK airports, and as I understand it the Government is legally prevented from intervening in slot allocation decisions. However, Ministers have said that as the UK aviation market recovers, they want to look at the process for slot allocation to ensure it encourages competition and provides connectivity. This might create pressure for British Airways to act responsibly.

Going forward I will continue to monitor the situation very closely and listen to the views of those here in our constituency. I will continue convey the concerns raised with me to my Ministerial colleagues and the Chair of the Transport Select Committee, Huw Merriman."

July 2020

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Asylum Seekers Support and Employment

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about asylum seekers support and employment.

I recognise that this is a very important issue; the UK has a proud tradition of providing a place of safety for refugees. Each claim for asylum is carefully considered and where it is found that individuals are in need of protection, asylum is given, with the ultimate aim of helping them to return home if it is safe to do so.  

Asylum seekers are allowed to work, in jobs on the Shortage Occupation List, if their claim has not been decided after 12 months through no fault of their own. The current policy aims to strike a balance between being equitable towards asylum seekers, while considering the rights and needs of our society as a whole, prioritising jobs for British citizens and those with leave to remain here, including refugees. The Government is considering recent calls to change the current policy and is reviewing the evidence available.

I should also mention that any asylum seeker who would otherwise be destitute is provided with free accommodation, utility bills and council tax paid and a weekly cash allowance with extra money available for mothers and young children. 

 From the 15 June, the cash allowance was raised from £37.75 to £39.60, representing a rise of around 5 per cent. It is important to consider that this is significantly higher than general inflation which data showed was 0.8 per cent in the 12 months to April 2020. Indeed, food inflation over the same period was 1.4 per cent.

I know you have concerns over this allowance figure. The methodology used for the cash allowance has been recognised by the Courts as rational and lawful. You may be interested in reading about how this works here - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/report-on-review-of-cash-allowance-paid-to-asylum-seekers. It is also important to factor in that NHS healthcare and education for children is provided free of charge.

I will continue to monitor closely the support available to asylum seekers to ensure sufficient support is provided."

June 2020

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Immigration Detention Centres

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about immigration detention.

I understand your concerns regarding this issue and I welcome this opportunity to provide some further clarity. Immigration detention is only used as a last resort, as an immediate precursor to removal from the country or when there is a serious risk of absconding or to public safety. 97% of people currently in Immigration Detention are Foreign National Offenders who have committed serious crimes – including murder, rape and child sexual abuse. Imposing a fixed arbitrary time limit on Immigration Detention will make it much harder to remove these people. For example, as at December 2019 the imposition of a 28 day limit to immigration detention would have resulted in the immediate release of (amongst others) the following foreign nationals awaiting deportation:

  • 29 rapists
  • 52 violent offenders (including murderers)
  • 27 child sex offenders
  • 43 other sex offenders

Clearly, constituents across Finchley & Golders Green and indeed the country at large expect the Government to keep the public safe and maintain the lawful detention of high-harm individuals. For this I will not apologise. 

95% of the people in the UK illegally and who are liable to deportation or removal (and are therefore eligible for detention) are in fact managed in the community. Immigration Detention is used very sparingly. I would like to assure you that there is a general presumption of liberty for all and if detention is used as circumstances change, detention is reviewed and release may then be the appropriate response. Anyone who thinks their immigration Detention is unfair can apply to a Judge for Immigration Bail, which is usually heard within a matter of a few days. Anyone wishing to leave Immigration Detention can also do so at any time by simply leaving the country, as they are legally obliged to do.

The UK has an extraordinarily generous record of offering asylum, protection and assistance. In 2019 we made around 20’000 grants of asylum and other forms of protection – one of the highest numbers in Europe. Last year we welcomed over 3’000 Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASCs) – more than any other country in Europe and 20% of the total EU intake.

I know you may not agree with me on all elements of the Government's policy in this area. However, I hope we can agree that lawful immigration detention is necessary to keep the public safe and I will work to hold the Government to account on this issue and ensure the system remains fair and humane."

June 2020

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Westferry Printworks Development

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the planning decision on the Westferry Printworks Development. 

This issue has been debated in Parliament on the 11th, 15th and 24th June. The Secretary of State gave a full account, which may be worth reading, in the Chamber on 24th June, which you can see here. The Housing Minister then closed the same debate on the matter, which you can see here.

In addition, the Secretary of State has published a large number of documents and correspondence for the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee. The Head of the Civil Service has said the Prime Minister considers the matter closed.

I am satisfied that it is the right approach for the planning decision to be redetermined by another minister."

June 2020

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The Immigration Bill and Amendment NC29

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me regarding the Immigration Bill and Amendment NC29. I note your concerns and have spoken to both the Home Secretary and Ministers about this issue.

At the end of the transition period, we will no longer be bound by the Dublin Regulation; however, the Government is committed to the principle of family reunion and to supporting vulnerable children. The Government has presented a genuine and sincere offer to the EU on a future reciprocal arrangement for the family reunion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children where it is in the child’s best interests. Getting a reciprocal arrangement between the EU and UK is in the best interests of the children because it will maximise the number of children reunited with their families. For the UK to act unilaterally now, as the amendment seeks to do, would undermine the negotiation now underway with the EU and make it less likely that we secure a reciprocal arrangement. The Government therefore asks that Parliament gives the negotiations time to play out. If agreement is not possible, we can come back to the UK’s unilateral position in due course.

During the transition period, the UK is continuing to reunite unaccompanied children with family members in the UK under the Dublin Regulation, and are continuing to accept transfers in spite of Covid-19. On 11 May, the UK accepted the arrival of 50 children and other family members coming from Greece to unite with family here. Furthermore, children in Europe with immediate family members who have been granted refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK will continue to be able  to apply to join them under the refugee family reunion rules, Part 8 and Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules, which are routes unaffected by our exit from the EU.

The United Kingdom has a proud record in protecting and reuniting vulnerable children – this is clearly borne out in the statistics. In 2019, the UK received 3,651 asylum applications from unaccompanied children, a rise of 19% on the previous year and the highest intake of unaccompanied children since 2008. This means the UK received more asylum applications from unaccompanied children in 2019 than any country in the EU and accounted for approximately 20% of all UASC claims made in the UK and the 27 EU Member States (excluding Spain whose figures have yet to be published).

Furthermore, there are over 5,000 unaccompanied children being cared for in the UK – a 146% increase since before the migration crisis in 2014, with a high concentration in a handful of local authorities, like Kent and Croydon. It is crucial we focus our immediate efforts on easing the increasing burden being placed on them. In this context, the suggestion the country with the highest number of asylum claims from unaccompanied children in Europe should accept more appears to contradict the precise point that many campaigners who called for the original Dubs Amendment made at the time – namely, more should be done to support those countries with the most children.

Additionally, under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, the Government is now close to hitting its target of resettling 20,000 vulnerable refugees affected by the Syrian civil war, with 19,768 vulnerable refugees – many of whom are children – resettled since September 2015. And lastly, we have almost delivered on our commitments in section 67 of the Immigration Act 216, with 478 children relocated to the UK, with the final two arriving once Covid-19 restrictions in Italy have lifted.

I hope this provides reassurance on the Government’s track record and continued commitment to vulnerable children."

June 2020

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Treasury Committee Report – Gaps in Support

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the recent Treasury Committee report. 

I understand the strength of feeling on this issue. The virus has affected everyone and ensuring that the right support has been put in place for people is essential.

After reading through the Treasury Committee's report, I raised concerns with colleagues in Government and they have assured me that the report will be taken into careful consideration. This includes looking into the recommendations made in the report to improve on the current schemes introduced to support those who need it most during the outbreak of Covid-19. 

I am encouraged by the level of support that has been in place since the start of the crisis. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has supported over 9 million jobs and 1 million employers. Whereas, the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme has had over 2.6 million claims, which has guaranteed stability for self-employed people. 

As the country moves past the pandemic, I believe it is right to offer the most support to those hit the hardest at this time. I will support the Government in doing this."

June 2020

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Opposition Motion on Coronavirus Testing for NHS staff

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about regular coronavirus testing for NHS staff.

NHS staff, care workers and other medical professionals are on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus, and I am in awe of their dedication, skill and professionalism. Over recent months, we have significantly increased our testing capacity in this country – we are now able to carry out more than 200,000 tests a day – which means that we can ensure all NHS and care staff are prioritised for regular testing.

The approach on the testing of NHS staff has been determined by clinical experts, including the Chief Medical Officer, and the NHS has now set out plans for how it will work. This includes continuing to prioritise testing of all NHS staff with symptoms, regular testing of asymptomatic staff in situations where there is an incident or outbreak, and regular surveillance testing across all staff. The Government is continually reviewing clinical evidence to ensure regular testing of staff without symptoms is undertaken where appropriate.

As I’m sure you can understand, we are taking a targeted approach to this testing, so that it is focused on the most high-risk areas. Clinical advice is to focus intensive asymptomatic testing in those areas or settings identified to have high prevalence. Staff working with patients on wards, for example, will benefit from regular testing far more than NHS staff working in offices or administrative roles where they do not come into regular contact with patients. This approach is crucial as, when prevalence of the virus is very low, the risk of misleading results is higher. This can undermine the value of testing.

We will continue to support our brilliant NHS staff throughout this pandemic, ensuring they have access to the equipment, tests and support they need as they continue to control the virus and save lives.

The Shadow Health Secretary in his opening remarks in the opposition debate said Labour are calling for weekly testing of NHS staff, “if necessary”. But “if necessary” was not in the wording of their motion, which instead called for blanket weekly testing without any qualification – proving this was nothing more than a political stunt by a Labour party that could not even agree among themselves what they were asking for.

The motion I supported that was ultimately passed unopposed read:

“That this House expresses thanks to the heroic work of frontline NHS staff who have saved lives throughout the Covid-19 pandemic; pays tribute to the at least 312 NHS and Social Care staff who have died of coronavirus in the United Kingdom; recognises the impact that coronavirus will have upon the NHS to deliver routine care including mental health care without additional Government support; notes that NHS waiting lists are projected to reach 10 million by the end of 2020, that cancer referrals fell 60 per cent during the peak of the coronavirus lockdown and that four out of five children have reported their mental health has got worse during the pandemic; further notes that there is a backlog of NHS care that needs to be tackled and that it is vital to prepare NHS services to deliver safe care alongside care for coronavirus, including preparing for winter and ensuring necessary supplies of PPE and medicine; and recognises the unprecedented action the Government has taken in its tireless efforts against Coronavirus to protect the NHS and save lives.""

June 2020

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Contact Tracing and NHS App Security

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about contact tracking and tracing measures for coronavirus. 

I fully support steps being taken to reduce the spread of coronavirus through sensible social distancing and isolation measures where appropriate. Mass testing and contact tracing are not, by themselves, solutions, but may allow some social restrictions to be relaxed faster by working to supress transition more precisely. The UK now has capacity to carry out over 100,000 tests per day, and the Government committed to increase capacity to 200,000 tests per day by the end of May.

The COVID-19 Test and Trace Taskforce programme will ensure that, when someone develops COVID-19-like symptoms, they can rapidly have a test to find out if they have the virus ,and people who they’ve had recent close contact with can be alerted and provided with advice. Part of the tracing effort will include a voluntary NHS contact tracing app; this will help increase the speed and effectiveness of the tracing effort. 

As the test, track and trace programme rolls out nationally Public Health England is overseeing the deployment of 18,000 additional contact tracers to support the programme. My understanding is that at present there are no moves to make downloading an app compulsory. However, the more people who use it, the better informed the Government response. It will enable staff to understand the spread of the virus, as well as to get in touch with people who may be at risk.

I absolutely agree that it is important to protect people's privacy, which is why I am pleased that the Government has been working with Apple and Google to ensure that the security is of the highest standard and is compatible with all devices.

This programme is vital to the national effort to defeat coronavirus, and I will continue to monitor it closely."

June 2020

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Immigration and Coronavirus

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about immigration and visas as the Coronavirus outbreak continues.

This is of course an unprecedented time and I know the Home Office is working hard to ensure people are not unfairly affected by circumstances beyond their control. You may be pleased to know that the Government is keeping family immigration requirements under review and this includes the minimum income requirement. I have been assured that Ministers will make adjustments where it is necessary.

I understand that the Government has already introduced measures to support and help those with immigration status. If an individual is in the UK and their leave is expiring, their visa will be extended to the 31 July 2020 they are unable to leave the UK due to travel restrictions or self-isolation relating to Coronavirus.

As a temporary response to coronavirus the Home Office has increased screening facilities across the UK to facilitate asylum applications. This will allow asylum claims to be made in a safe way that adheres to social distancing guidance. This is a proportionate response to the risks posed by coronavirus, and is in line with Government guidance. The Asylum Intake Unit (AIU) in Croydon will continue to operate as normal but will additionally be supported by limited operations in Glasgow, Belfast, Liverpool, Leeds, Solihull and Cardiff. These new locations will enable asylum seekers to attend appointments without having to travel long distances.

We are confident these will be to meet the demands of asylum registrations within the geographical areas and will not operate a 5-day service. There is no need to go further to introduce online appointments. Asylum seekers including failed asylum seekers are entitled to asylum support in line with travel restrictions due to coronavirus. There is no need for this cohort to call on any funding outside asylum support."

June 2020

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Self Employed Income Support Scheme

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about support for the self-employed. It really is appreciated in what I know is a difficult time.

I welcome that measures have been announced to help self-employed people, many of whom are especially vulnerable during this time.

These measures take the form of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS), which seeks to match the support already afforded through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) by providing a taxable grant worth 80 per cent of a self-employed person’s average monthly profits over the last three years, up to £2,500 a month. The scheme was launched ahead of schedule in the first weeks of May, and applications for the first grant remain open until 13 July.

I welcome that the extension of SEISS means that self-employed individuals can qualify for a second and final taxable grant, when the scheme reopens for applications in August. This second grant will be worth 70 per cent of average monthly trading profits, capped at £6,570 in total, and according to the same eligibility criteria as the first grant. This extension is fair as it matches the support available under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Some self-employed individuals may have only been adversely affected by COVID-19 during this second stage of the scheme, therefore an individual does not have to have claimed a grant in the first stage in order to apply for and receive a grant in the second stage.

It is important that this scheme is fair and that it benefits those whose livelihoods are genuinely at risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I understand that to achieve this goal, the SEISS has been limited to those who having trading profits of less than £50,000, as determined by the year 2018-19, or an average of trading profits in 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19. These profits must make up over half of income in 2018-19, or by an average of the past three years. this threshold ensures that 95 per cent of those who are majority self-employed are covered by the scheme, and also balances against widespread fraud.

For the self-employed, income tax self-assessment payments for July have been deferred until the end of January 2021, and the minimum income floor has been suspended for 12 months, meaning self-employed people can now access Universal Credit at a rate that is equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay for employees.

I hope that these measures come as a welcome relief to those in self-employment who have been put in a difficult position during this crisis."

June 2020

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'View from the Red Wall' Campaign by Best for Britain on Extending the Transition Period

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the economy and your proposal to extend the transition period.

I understand your concerns, but 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.

An extension to the transition period could also have significant economic and political consequences for the UK. Our contribution to the EU budget would continue and we would remain under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The UK left the EU in January this year and the EU’s control over our affairs 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. Progress has been made across a number of areas and the technical detail is well understood by both sides. The differences that remain are largely of a political nature and I am hopeful that these can be resolved. The UK is not asking for a special, bespoke, or unique deal. We are looking for a deal like those the EU has previously struck with other friendly countries like Canada.

The UK and the EU agreed that the transition period would end on 31 December as part of the Withdrawal Agreement. This is part of UK law and there is no intention of extending it. I do not believe that further delay will help business confidence.

No deal is now an irrelevant concept. The UK left the EU on 31 January with a deal. The question now is whether we can agree with the EU a deeper trading relationship on the lines of the free trade agreement the EU has with Canada, or whether we have a trading relationship based on the 2019 deal, without a free trade agreement on the lines of Australia’s. 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.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me."

June 2020

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Sunday Trading and Covid-19

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about Sunday Trading and for sharing your concerns about calls to relax the laws at this time. 

The Employment Rights Act 1996 recognises Sunday as a special day for many people and entitles employees in shops and betting shops to opt out of working on Sunday if they do not wish to work on a Sunday. Unless Sunday is the only day they have been employed to work, all shop and betting shop employees can opt out of Sunday working at any time by giving their employer three months’ notice, even if they agreed to it in their contract.

As you may know, legislation dictates that a large shop may only be open for 6 consecutive hours between 10am and 6pm on a Sunday. If a large shop is restricted by Sunday Trading hours, they must display their opening times both inside and outside their premises. Small shops, measuring up to and including 280 metres, can open any day and any hour with no trading restrictions. 

Some large shops are exempt from Sunday Trading restrictions, including airport and railway outlets, service station outlets, registered pharmacies selling only medicinal products and medical and surgical appliances, farms selling mainly their main produce and exhibition stands selling goods. The full list is available online at: https://www.gov.uk/trading-hours-for-retailers-the-law.

There is a precedent for temporarily relaxing Sunday trading laws. This took place during the London 2012 Olympics to support consumers and, of course, the economy as well.  

I understand that while some large establishments support a temporary relaxation of Sunday Trading laws during the Covid-19 crisis, other SME businesses have been in touch with me to voice their concerns. These include concerns over preserving Sunday as a special day, possibly for religious purposes, and also concerns about physical exhaustion that working longer hours may cause when businesses have already been working flat-out to stay afloat during this crisis. 

I will continue to raise these concerns with my Ministerial colleagues who have assured me that they are aware of the concerns of workers and the range of views on this issue. I understand that the Government is keeping Sunday Trading laws under review throughout this crisis."

June 2020

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The Environment Bill

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the Environment Bill.

The Environment Bill will place environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of Government. Legislative measures will be introduced to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age, including nature recovery, ensuring we can deliver on the commitment to leave the natural world in a better condition than we found it.

In the 25 Year Environment Plan, the Government committed to developing a Nature Recovery Network and, in the long term, to create or restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site series. A new framework for Local Nature Recovery Strategies will be legislated for in the Environment Bill, to help support the Nature Recovery Network and better direct investment in the environment and green infrastructure – creating places that are richer in wildlife and provide wider benefits for local communities. The Bill will also require the preparation and publication of Local Nature Recovery Strategies, mapping nature-rich habitats, so that investment can be targeted where it will make the most difference. These local plans will embrace local knowledge to strengthen links between neighbouring communities and support the wider Network.

Finally, the Government will establish a £640 million Nature for Climate Fund. The Fund will be used to plant more than 40 million trees and restore 35,000 hectares of peatland in England."

June 2020

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The Death of Shukri Abdi

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about Shukri Yahye-Abdi.

The death of Shukri was tragic and deeply distressing. My thoughts continue to be with her family and friends at this difficult time.

I know you, like many of my constituents, have raised concerns regarding the role of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) in this case. I welcome the fact that the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) had the opportunity to investigate GMP’s handling of the case. 

I am sure you will appreciate that as the inquest is yet to finish, it would not be appropriate for me to comment in detail regarding the IOPC investigation or the role of GMP. I understand that the IOPC report has been shared with Shukri Yahye-Abdi’s family. I will continue to follow this inquest closely. 

I entirely understand your concerns about reports of bullying faced by Shukri at school. Bullying is absolutely unacceptable and should not be tolerated in our schools.

All state schools in England are required to have a behaviour policy in place that includes measures to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. While schools are free to develop their own anti-bullying strategies, they are held to account for their effectiveness by Ofsted. Schools also have an important role to play in promoting community cohesion and integration.

Ultimately, it is important that school leaders identify any bullying in our schools and work hard, with the support available, to stamp it out. I am deeply troubled by Shukri’s case and will be urgently bringing this to the attention of the Secretary of State for Education.

The local MP advises that he is liaising with the Mayor of Greater Manchester I will of course be following developments closely."

June 2020

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Israel and the West Bank

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about Israel and the West Bank.

I appreciate your concerns about the situation in the region. That is why I firmly support the UK’s longstanding position on the Middle East Peace Process.

There should be a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states, and a fair and realistic settlement for refugees. The UK Government consistently calls for an immediate end to all actions that undermine the viability of the two-state solution.

The UK’s position has not changed, including towards the West Bank and the 1967 borders. I am glad that the UK repeatedly reaffirms this commitment, including most recently at the UN Security Council, and will continue to do so.

I am concerned by reports of possible Israeli moves towards annexation and believe that any such unilateral moves would be damaging to the renewed efforts to restart peace negotiations, and contrary to international law. No changes to the status quo can be made without an agreement negotiated by the parties themselves and I join my colleagues in Government in calling for a meaningful return to negotiations by all concerned parties.

As a Government Whip, and therefore a Minister,  I am unable to sign EDMs as, in doing so, it is likely to breach the Ministerial Code's rules on collective responsibility. "

June 2020

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Support for British Universities

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for taking the time to contact me about supporting the UK's universities.

Our universities contribute hugely to the economy and more widely to society and I understand the concerns about their finances. Universities are at the core of our response to this coronavirus, not only leading on research into potential cures and vaccines, but also being fundamental to the knowledge economy which will be so key to the national recovery.

I am pleased that Ministers have announced measures to support students and universities through these difficult times.

To stabilise admissions, temporary student number controls will be put in place. Providers will be able to recruit students up to a temporary set level, based on provider forecasts, which allows additional growth of up to 5 per cent in the next academic year. The Education Secretary will also have the discretion to allocate an additional 10,000 places on top of the controls, of which 5,000 will be allocated to students studying nursing or allied health courses, to ensure growing numbers that will support our vital public services. A ban on unscrupulous recruitment practices, such as the large-scale use of unconditional offers, and a more structured approach to clearing will also ensure the admissions process this year is fair and orderly.

An estimated £2.6bn of tuition fee payments will be bought forward to help universities better manage financial risks over the autumn. This will have no impact on students. A further £100m of public funding will be brought forward to this academic year to help protect vital university research activities.

Ministers have confirmed that education providers are eligible to apply for the broader COVID-19 support packages, including business loan support schemes, which the Office for Students estimates could be worth at least £700m to the sector. Further guidance has been published about how providers should access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to safeguard staff jobs, in particular stating that any grant from the scheme should not duplicate other sources of public funding where these are being maintained, such as UK home student tuition fees.

Further details about the support for universities can be accessed here - https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-support-package-for-universities-and-students

Much of this support draws on proposals from universities. I would encourage Ministers to remain open minded about adapting to the needs of universities as the pandemic unfolds."

June 2020

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'UNRWA #70YEARSOFFAILURE' Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). 

The UNWRA has a unique mandate to support Palestinian refugees until a lasting political settlement is reached, and until then, the UK is clear it will continue to meet humanitarian need and promote regional security by supporting the 5.6 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. 

The UK's contribution to the UNRWA last year helped provide education to more than 533,000 children, half of whom were girls and health services for around 3.1 million Palestinian refugees. While I appreciate concerns around the UNRWA, I believe that we cannot afford to lose the progress made, or risk young people, especially girls, losing the opportunity to have an education at all.

I am concerned about the allegations of incitement in the Palestinian Authority’s school textbooks. The PA needs to prepare their populations for peaceful coexistence, including by promoting a more positive portrayal of each other. I welcome that the UK lobbied, and funded work to develop the methodology, for an in-depth review of school textbooks, and this review is now underway.

More broadly, I am told that UK officials are in regular contact with the UNRWA to ensure high quality aid delivery. I am encouraged that they judge that UNRWA is effective in allocating resources on the basis of need however I appreciate your concerns about the performance of the UNRWA and have raised these with Ministers at DFID.

Ultimately, there needs to be a just, fair, agreed, and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee question as part of a negotiated peace agreement. The UK is firmly committed to a two-state solution to provide the long-term answer for Palestinian refugees."

June 2020

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UK Food Standards and Future Trade Deals

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me regarding UK food standards and future trade deals.

The Government will not compromise on our standards. The Government remains firmly committed to upholding our high environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards outside the EU and the EU Withdrawal Act will transfer all existing EU food safety provisions, including existing import requirements, onto the UK statute book.

These import standards include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products and set out that no products, other than potable water, are approved to decontaminate poultry carcases. Any changes to existing food safety legislation would require new legislation to be brought before this Parliament. The UK’s food standards, for both domestic production and imports, are overseen by the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland. These are independent agencies and provide advice to the UK and Scottish governments. They will continue to do so in order to ensure that all food imports comply with the UK’s high safety standards. Decisions on these standards are a matter for the UK and will be made separately from any trade agreement.

We should be proud of our world-leading food, health and animal welfare standards and we will not lower our standards as we negotiate new trade deals."

June 2020

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The Death of Belly Mujinga and the Safety of Transport Staff

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about transport staff during the Covid-19 outbreak at the death of Belly Mujinga.

I was sorry to hear of Belly Mujinga’s death and my thoughts are with her family and friends.  I have read the statement issued by the British Transport Police carefully and understand that their investigations led them to conclude that the spitting attack was not linked to her death. I welcome their decision to request that the CPS review this decision to ensure the correct decision has been reached.

Guidance has been issued to transport operators to help them identify and address risks to their staff as the lockdown eases. For example, the guidance encourages operators to carry out risk assessments, set out clear rules on interacting with passengers, re-deploy clinically vulnerable people into roles where the risk is lower, support staff to wear face coverings safely and use screens to create a physical barrier at places such as ticket offices.

In addition, operators should put in place protocols to ensure that both public and private areas and vehicles are kept clean to stop transmission of coronavirus through people touching contaminated surfaces. Buttons, handrails, vehicle keys and other touch points should be subject to increased cleaning.

The guidance recognises that transport staff may not be able to stay 2 metres apart from each other or passengers at all times, but states that the length of these periods should be minimised.

Guidance for passengers also makes clear to those who have to make essential journeys that they should consider all other transport options before deciding to take public transport. Passengers have also been advised to avoid using public transport during rush hour, as well as to stay a distance of two metres from others, wash or sanitise their hands and catch coughs or sneezes with tissues. People should not be using public transport at all if they have symptoms of coronavirus or if they or anyone in their household is self-isolating."

June 2020

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Rough Sleeping

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about ending rough sleeping.

I welcome your efforts to end homelessness and I am proud to have been elected on a manifesto that pledged to end it under this Parliament by expanding programmes such as the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Housing First. 

This crisis has shown us what is possible, but at the same time presents new challenges as we work together to end rough sleeping here in the constituency and throughout the country.

As I am sure you are aware, the taskforce led by Dame Louise Casey will form the next phase of the Government’s support for rough sleepers during the current pandemic. The taskforce will work with councils to support rough sleepers into long-term accommodation once lockdown is lifted, ensuring as few people as possible return to the streets. Since the start of the pandemic more than 5,400 rough sleepers – over 90 per cent of those on the street at the beginning of the crisis and known to local authorities – have been offered safe accommodation. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has also recently announced a £6 million emergency fund to provide relief for frontline homelessness charitable organisations who have been affected by Covid-19.

I am proud of the steps taken prior to the pandemic to end rough sleeping. In January 2020, MHCLG announced allocations of a £112 million Rough Sleeping Initiative fund to provide support to those living on the streets. This funding will be used by local authorities, charities and other organisations in around 270 areas and will fund up to 6,000 bed spaces and 2,500 staff.

At this time of emergency we need to keep the momentum up."

June 2020

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The Trade Bill and the NHS

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the Trade Bill.

The Trade Bill is an important piece of legislation which has a number of practical functions.

The UK has been working to reach continuity agreements with countries who we currently trade with through EU trade deals. The Trade Bill will enable these continuity agreements to be embedded into UK law so that the agreements can be fully implemented.

In addition, in leaving the EU, the UK will be acceding to the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) in its own right. The Bill’s provisions will make sure the UK can implement procurement obligations under the Agreement, ensuring continued access to £1.3 trillion per year of global procurement opportunities for UK businesses. 

The Bill will also facilitate the creation of a new Trade Remedies Authority (TRA), to deliver a new UK trade remedies framework, which among other things will include protections for UK businesses from unfair trade practices or unforeseen import surges.

It is important to make clear that the Trade Bill is a continuity Bill, and its functions are largely distinct from the Government’s future trade agreements programme. Indeed, the Bill cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries such as the US. The Bill simply enables the 40 free trade agreements that the EU had signed with third countries before the UK exited to be transitioned.

Separate work on the future trade agreements programme is of course also pressing ahead, with negotiations already underway with the US, and soon to begin with Japan.

With specific regard to a UK-US free trade agreement (FTA), I believe that as our economy recovers from the challenges posed by COVID-19, we need to be negotiating enhanced trade ties rather than putting up barriers.

I am reassured by my Ministerial colleagues’ commitment not to compromise the UK’s high animal welfare, environmental, food safety and food import standards in any future FTA, including one with the US. Ministers do not want to compromise the UK’s domestic welfare production standards either.

The UK remains committed to the delivery of Sustainable Development Goals too, and will continue to meet all of its international commitments following a potential US trade deal.

I want to be clear that the NHS will also be protected in any future trade agreement, including one with the US. The price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table, and nor will the services the NHS provides."

May 2020

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The Agriculture Bill - NC1/NC2

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about food standards, animal welfare and the Agriculture Bill.

I fully recognise the importance the public attach to the UK’s high standards of food production, and the unique selling point it provides for our farmers, whose high-quality produce is in demand around the world. 

I know that that in trade negotiations the Government will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards.  

Without exception, all animal products imported into the UK under existing or future free trade agreements from all trading partners, including the EU and others, will have to meet our stringent food safety standards, as they do now. These standards have been built up over many years and have the trust of the public and the world. I know the Government will not adjust those standards to secure a trade deal.  The standards will be based on science and decided by the UK alone. 

Regarding the Agriculture Bill, I will be voting alongside the Government against new clauses one and two. The UK already imports food from countries such as Canada, South Africa and Japan through preferences in existing free trade agreements – none of these agreements require those countries to follow domestic UK production standards.

The amendments would put up new trade barriers and prevent the Government from being able to agree fair and mutually beneficial trade deals. Indeed, forcing all our trading partners to produce to UK domestic standards will only result in fewer export opportunities for our own farmers. In addition, the amendments, if implemented, would cause real challenges for developing countries and our Commonwealth partners, as for them it would be particularly difficult to align with UK domestic production standards."

May 2020

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Abortion Framework in Northern Ireland - Right to Life Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the new abortion framework for Northern Ireland.

I do appreciate that this is a hugely emotive issue and one which has always been a free vote issue in the House. The motion to move the framework did not take place on 12 May, though I understand it is due to come before the House in due course.

I do not believe this is a more liberal regime than that in England and Wales in practice.  Although Northern Ireland now has a different starting point to the rest of the UK given abortion has been decriminalised through repeal of sections 58 and 59 Offences Against the Person Act, where appropriate, the Government has mirrored provisions under the Abortion Act 1967, to ensure consistency in provision of services across the UK.

A consultation was held on the proposed framework and on the specific point about severe fetal impairment (SFI) or fatal fetal abnormality (FFA), the consensus among most healthcare bodies, women’s groups and statutory bodies was that access to abortion services should be permitted without time limit in both cases of SFI and FFA, and that decisions to terminate in these circumstances should be made by the pregnant woman or girl.

I believe that this decision complies with the specific duty on the Government to implement the CEDAW recommendation and that the regime under the Abortion Act 1967, which provides a similar ground of access to abortion, is compliant with the international human rights framework.

I understand that this is not the response that you were hoping for, but I am sure we can agree that whatever decision is ultimately taken, women and girls should be provided with appropriate support and information on all their options to be able to make an informed choice either way."

May 2020

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Animal Testing at Porton Down

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about animal testing at Porton Down.

The work done by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down helps deliver the latest scientific and technological advantages for the UK’s defence and security. This includes the means to tackle chemical and biological attacks as well as injuries from conventional warfare. I know it is not the answer you were hoping to receive, but part of Dstl’s role is to find solutions to problems that unfortunately cannot currently be addressed without the use of animals in research. Animals are essential in supporting the scientific processes that save British lives at home and abroad. However, quite rightly, there are rules in place to make sure the testing of animals meets certain ethical standards.

Experimental procedures have to be in line with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which aims to ensure the suffering of the animals is minimised. This legislation requires the Dstl to report to the Home Office how many animals are used in research every year. When research programmes are being planned, Dstl also follows the 3Rs principle to seek experimental procedures which either replace the use of animals, reduce the number of animals used, or refine how the animals are treated.

As necessary as animal testing is for scientific research, I am glad that Dstl has made significant efforts to keep its levels of animal testing under control, while still helping contribute to the security and defence capability of the UK. Animal testing by Dstl only makes up less than 0.5 per cent of the national total."

April 2020

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Religious Freedom in China and Uyghur Muslims

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about Uyghur Muslims in China.

I share your concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and the Chinese Government's deepening crackdown on Uyghur Muslims, including the extra-judicial detention of over a million Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in “political re-education camps”.

I welcome that, in March, the Foreign Secretary directly raised these concerns with his Chinese counterpart and the UK used its national statement to raise concerns about systematic human rights violations and reports of forced labour in Xinjiang.

I join my colleagues in Government in urging China to implement important UN recommendations to end the practice of extra-judicial detention of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, and to allow UN observers unfettered access to the region.

The risk of the spread of Covid-19 in places of detention is a matter of concern in a number of countries around the world, including in China. I am told that the Government is aware of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom report on Covid-19 and will consider its findings."

April 2020

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