My replies to mass email campaigns

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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Support for the Performing Arts During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about support for the performing arts during coronavirus.

I very much regret the impact that coronavirus has had on performing arts in our country, and look forward to when our treasured cultural sector can make a full return. 

In the meantime, it is welcome that a huge package of support has been rolled out by the Government. I know that Ministers have worked closely with Arts Council England (ACE) to determine what should be done to support the sector.

In March, ACE announced a £160 million emergency response package to complement the financial measures already announced by the Government and support the resilience of this vital sector. This funding package will support organisations and individuals who need the most support to see them through this crisis. More details can be found on the Arts Council’s website (https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/covid19).

£90 million is being made available to National Portfolio Organisations and Creative People and Places lead organisations. £50 million is being made available to organisations that are not in receipt of regular funding from the Arts Council in order to maintain their survival through this crisis. Finally £20 million of financial support is being made available to individuals, so they can better sustain themselves, and their work, in the coming months. 

I welcome the establishment of the Entertainment and Events Working Group, which will be working with the arts sector to find innovative ways of reopening as soon as possible. The Working Group will bring together representatives from theatres, performing arts and other creative organisations as well as medical advisors to develop advice and guidance on reopenings in line with phasing ambitions and public health directions. Its work will inform and support the Cultural Renewal taskforce which the Culture Secretary announced recently.

It is most welcome that the Prime Minister has announced that from 4 July theatres will be able to reopen for rehearsal, pre-production and broadcast, although not yet for live performance with an audience. This, alongside the work being done with representatives of the entertainment and events industry to develop supporting guidance, represents the first steps in the roadmap to recovery for our nations’ theatres. 

Finally, I know that the Secretary of State, Ministers and officials continue to consult the arts sector extensively to ensure they fully understand the financial impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the sector. I am confident that more support and guidance will be provided if it proves necessary."

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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IR35

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about off-payroll working including the position with Covid-19 in mind.

Flexible labour plays an important role in the UK economy. The option to work through an intermediary, including a company, helps support this labour market’s flexibility. While it is important that everyone pays the right amount of tax, it is welcome that the Government has recognised concerns expressed by businesses about changes to off-payroll working rules, known as IR35.

I therefore hope it comes as a reassurance that the Government is taking the concerns about IR35 seriously, and I proudly stood on a manifesto commitment to launch a review into this matter. As part of the review on the implementation of changes to off-payroll working rules, I understand the Government held a series of roundtable talks with industry representatives and those affected by the reform. As a result of the review a ‘light touch approach’ will be taken for the first year. Businesses will not pay penalties for inaccuracies in the first year, except in cases where there is deliberate non-compliance, and I understand from colleagues at HMRC that new information from the changes will not be used to start investigations into Personal Service Companies (PSC) in past tax years, except where fraud or criminal behaviour is suspected.

Colleagues at Treasury have reassured me that they are committed to commissioning external research to analyse the impacts of the reform after six months, thereby highlighting any further evidenced based changes to implementation that might be required.  I also hope that the enhanced Check Employment Status for Tax tool released in November 2019 will help with the implementation of these rules. I and others continue to discuss the issue with Treasury Ministers.

I believe in the importance of Parliamentary scrutiny and I value the work of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee. I am committed to ensuring people working as employees pay broadly the same tax and National Insurance contributions, even if one of them worked through their own company and the other is directly employed. I do, however, welcome the decision to delay the roll-out of IR35 reform due to the coronavirus pandemic. I understand the Government will use this additional time to conduct further external research into the long-term effects of the reforms in the public sector, ahead of a full roll-out in the private sector in April 2021.

I appreciate this might not be the outcome of the review that you were hoping for. I hope, however, that I can provide some reassurance to you by saying that I will continue to follow developments on this very closely, to ensure that the Treasury are aware of the strength of feeling about changes to off-payroll working rules. 

Finally, I note that, after the reforms were due to be implemented on 6 April 2020 to give individuals and businesses ample time to adjust, the Government has announced that in the context of the coronavirus pandemic the reforms will be postponed for one year only from 6 April 2020 until 6 April 2021."

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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Support for Self-Employed and Freelancer workers in the Creative Industry

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about support for self-employed and freelance workers.

I share your desire to support everyone across the economy, and I read the Bectu proposals with great interest. During the current pandemic, it is crucial that everyone, no matter what their field, is supported to the fullest possible extent.

I am happy to say that the Chancellor has put in place measures to support self-employed workers. The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme allows claimants to receive a first taxable grant worth 80 per cent of trading profits, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month. In order to claim the grant, the self-employed individual needs to have submitted their Self-Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018 to 2019 and have traded in the tax year 2019 to 2020, amongst other criteria. I welcome the Chancellor's announcement that this scheme will be extended, with applications opening in August for a second and final grant. 

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can be applicable to full-time employees, part-time employees, employees on agency contracts, and employees on flexible or zero-hour contracts. 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. Colleagues at the Treasury assure me that they have done all they can to make sure the scheme covers as many employees as possible.The scheme is available online at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme. I welcome that the Scheme has been extended until the end of October. 

I do, however, understand that every individual circumstance cannot necessarily be accounted for. In the event that you have been affected by the pandemic, yet you are ineligible for the aforementioned schemes, I urge you to apply for Universal Credit. The Chancellor has recently increased Universal Credit by £1,000 a year for 12 months in order to support people through Covid-19."

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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'Save the Independent Press' Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about support for independent and local newspapers during Coronavirus. Like you, I appreciate just how important independent newspapers are. 

I know that Ministers share your desire to help independent publications through this period of hardship and I have been assured that they are in regular dialogue with publishers to ensure that the Government response to the challenges they are facing is as effective as possible. 

I am very pleased that a variety of support has been made available for local newspapers. Importantly, this includes the designating of journalists and ancillary staff as 'key workers', meaning they have been able to keep working and have access to childcare and education for their families.

A major Coronavirus public information campaign has been launched, through which Ministers have sought to maximise advertising opportunities for news outlets. Worth up to £35 million in advertising revenue, this campaign brings together over 600 national, regional and local titles across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to reach 49 million people a month. As with any media planning approach, titles have been selected on their ability to engage with audiences and to ensure value for money, reach and targeting efficacy. It is my understanding that the vast majority of titles involved are local papers and additional titles have been selected in order to further reach priority audiences including BAME and older men.

The Chancellor also brought forward the zero rating of VAT on all e-publications to the 1st May - seven months ahead of schedule. The Government expects the tax relief to be passed on to consumers in the form of reduced prices, and publishers should benefit from increased sales.

Independent publishers may also benefit from several measures included in an unprecedented business support package, such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, Job Retention Scheme, Bounce Back Loans, VAT deferrals, and coverage of statutory sick pay costs."

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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Phased Re-Opening of Schools

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the phased reopening of schools.

I believe it is important that we get children back to school as soon as it is safe to do so. As you know, since 23 March 2020 education and childcare settings have only been open to priority groups (vulnerable children and children of critical workers). I am married to a teacher and so I understand the concerns teachers may have. Now that we have made progress in reducing the transmission of coronavirus, the Prime Minister has set out plans for a phased reopening of schools and educational settings. 

From 1 June at the earliest, primary schools in England may be able to welcome back children in key transition years – nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6. As the Prime Minister has said, progress will be monitored and schools will only reopen if the five key tests set by Government justify the changes at the time, including that the rate of infection is decreasing.

I know that keeping children and staff safe has been the upmost priority for Ministers in making decisions about opening schools for more children, but I also appreciate that teachers and parents may have concerns about these plans. It is very welcome that the latest scientific advice indicates that more children will be able to return to school from 1 June, but it will be important to continue to limit overall numbers in school and introduce protective measures to prevent transmission. An overview of the latest scientific information can be viewed using this link - https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/885631/Overview_of_scientific_advice_and_information_on_coronavirus_COVID19.pdf

In addition, sector representatives have attended an expert panel to be briefed on the science underpinning government decisions. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) regularly publishes papers outlining the scientific advice provided to the government. Further batches will be published in due course.

I am pleased that clear guidance has been published to help schools prepare for the wider reopening. The guidance providing details of what educational settings need to do, including advice on implementing social distancing and protective measures."

May 2020

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Call for Changes to the Planning Process During the Covid-19 Outbreak

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the planning process during the coronavirus outbreak.

You make a number of important points about transparency. I believe that a planning system that is based on a legal framework and clear consultation with local residents is at the heart of responsible development. This is particularly relevant when normal working practices are disrupted, as has happened with the coronavirus outbreak.

The majority of planning decisions are made by planning officers. Planning committee meetings are held to decide a smaller number of cases. These meetings can now be held virtually as you mention.

The Government has emphasised that local planning authorities should seek to use all options available to them to facilitate decision-making. It has also explained that local authorities should ensure public participation in the planning process is maintained during the outbreak. My ministerial colleagues are working with the Planning Advisory Service to provide further information on how this can be achieved.

Amendments to existing regulations will temporarily supplement publicity requirements to put up site notice, issue neighbour notification letters and place newspaper advertisements. This will give local authorities more flexibility about the best way to publicise planning applications, including considering the use of social media and other online services.

Local authorities should continue to focus on decision-making during these difficult times. I believe that clear and timely decisions provide certainty for local people and benefit the local economy."

May 2020

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#FurFreeBritain Campaign

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."

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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Future Trade between the UK and the US

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about a UK-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

The benefits of an ambitious and comprehensive UK-US FTA are substantial. Aside from being the world’s largest economy, the US is the UK’s single largest trading partner. Total UK-US trade in the last year was valued at £220.9 billion, and our countries have over £700 billion invested in each other’s economies. Every day, over a million Britons and more than a million Americans work for companies from the other nation.

A long-run analysis by the Government shows that a UK-US FTA could boost trade between the UK and US by around £15.3 billion in comparison to 2018 and generate a £1.8 billion rise in UK workers’ wages.

A UK-US FTA could benefit all four nations of the UK and almost every sector. The agricultural sector would be a winner with lower input costs and a bigger export market. Moreover, the 30,000 Small and Medium Sized Enterprises who export to the US from all parts of the UK would benefit from the cutting of tariffs, trade barriers and red tape. 

Exports of Scottish salmon and Whisky, Welsh steel and lamb, machinery and furniture built in Northern Ireland, vehicles made in the Midlands, manufactured products from the North of England and financial services from London could all be boosted by a comprehensive FTA with the US.

I welcome that the Government has consulted widely on its negotiating plans. Indeed, there were 158,720 responses submitted to the consultation recently held on trade negotiations with the US. Respondents noted, for example, that further reducing US tariffs across the automotive, ceramics, chemicals, processed food and drinks and textiles sectors could be beneficial."

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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Support for Childminders during the Covid-19 Outbreak

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the impact of coronavirus on childcare.

I recognise these are difficult times but I want to reassure you that we will get through this together.

In response to the outbreak of coronavirus, the Government has closed early years providers. Early years providers will only remain open to the children of critical workers who are vital to our fight against coronavirus, such as NHS staff, police and delivery drivers, and the most vulnerable children. Children who do not fall into these groups should remain at home with appropriate care.

Clearly this decision will have a big impact on early years providers and so I am pleased that the Government has acted swiftly to support providers. A range of support is available, including a business rates holiday for one year. That means non-local authority providers of childcare will pay no business rates in 2020-21, from 1 April. The Secretary of State for Education has also confirmed that the Department for Education will continue to fully fund local authorities for free childcare entitlements.

Like all early years providers, childminders must close and should only provide places for vulnerable children or the children of critical workers.

Under existing registration arrangements, childminders can work for up to 50 per cent of the time on non-domestic premises. If childminders have the capacity and there is a local need, they could help support with staff shortages in centre-based childcare provision. Childminders who do not already have approval to work up to 50 per cent of their time on non-domestic premises will need to seek approval from Ofsted, after seeking initial support from their local authority. 

Childminders can access the Self-employment Income Support Scheme. This allows self-employed workers, including childminders, to claim a taxable grant worth 80 per cent of their trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.

For the self-employed, including childminders, the minimum income floor will also be temporarily relaxed, meaning Universal Credit can be accessed at a rate to match statutory sick pay."

April 2020

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Support for Renters - Shelter Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about support for renters during the Coronavirus outbreak.

I agree that it is critical the Government delivers essential support to people across the country during this unprecedented time. It is very clear that the steps we need to take to confront this public health emergency are having a profound effect on our economy. I know that many people now fear losing their jobs, being unable to pay their rent or mortgage and bills.

This is a particularly stressful time for private renters and I welcome the Chancellor’s additional measures to protect private renters who claim Universal Credit (UC) and Housing Benefit, and provide them with additional support. From April, all Local Housing Allowance rates will be uplifted to the 30th percentile of market rents. This is worth roughly an extra £600 per year for the 1.4 million existing claimants and any additional UC claimants who rent in the private sector.

I also welcome that new Universal Credit claimants can receive an advance of their first month’s award from the first day of their claim if they need to. The Government has also removed the requirement for claimants to attend a jobcentre to receive their advance. This will ensure there is no barrier to people being able to claim housing support while in self-isolation."

April 2020

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Conflict in Syria and Covid-19

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the humanitarian response to the conflict in Syria.

The Government is working hard to alleviate the suffering in Syria and is at the forefront of the humanitarian response, committing over £3.1 billion since 2011, the UK's largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis. This is helping to meet the immediate needs of vulnerable people in Syria and refugees in the region.

UK aid is making a real difference, providing life-saving and life-changing support to the people of Syria and those who have fled to neighbouring countries. Since 2011, across Syria and the region, UK aid has delivered over 28 million food rations that feed a person for a month, over 18  million medical consultations, and over  12 million vaccines. In 2018/19 alone, UK aid provided over 2 million  people with clean water and over 300,000 children with access to quality education.

The humanitarian needs of the Syrian people are as grave now as they have ever been. The recent bombing of civilian targets in Idlib caused nearly a million people, mostly women and children, to flee their homes: the largest displacement of people since the civil war began. The UK has pledged a new £89 million package of aid support to step up the work to provide vital support to millions of Syrian refugees.

Like you, I am concerned about individuals in refugee camps in Syria who are understandably more vulnerable to Covid-19. While only a small number of cases have been confirmed in Syria, it is likely that the virus is already spreading across the country. I am told that DFID is closely monitoring the situation and looking at specific extra support that can be provided to existing partners, including in refugee camps where needs remain high. I await further announcements with interest.

In addition to the medical support DFID has already been providing in Syria, the UK is supporting global efforts to help prevent the spread of this outbreak. This includes a contribution of £10 million to the World Health Organisation to support developing countries to rapidly identify and care for patients with symptoms. I also welcome that the UK has so far pledged up to £544million  of aid to support the global efforts to combat this pandemic.

Ministers continue to stress the need for regular, unfettered humanitarian access for agencies working inside Syria, so that vital aid can urgently reach those who need it. Britain will continue to be at the forefront of the global humanitarian response, but while these efforts can help alleviate the suffering in the region, the only way to establish lasting peace in Syria is through a credible political transition away from the Assad regime."

April 2020

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"Support Animal Sentience and a Ban on Cages" Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the welfare of farm animals.

I understand your concerns on this matter. I am proud that the UK has some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world. There is comprehensive legislation to uphold these standards, as well as guidance on how best to protect the welfare of specific animals living on farms, such as hens, pigs and cattle. The Government has already banned cages or close confinement systems where there is clear scientific evidence that they are detrimental to animal health and welfare.

The new statutory Code of Practice for the Welfare of Laying Hens and Pullets came into force in August 2018. The Code provides improved guidance on welfare legislation and reflects the latest scientific and veterinary advice. I am also aware that all major supermarkets have said they will stop selling eggs from hens kept in enriched cages by 2025.

On pig welfare, the aim is to get to a point where traditional farrowing crates are obsolete and where any new system protects the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets. I understand that important steps have been made on the use of free farrowing systems, but further advances are needed before compulsory replacement of farrowing crates can be recommended.

The Government is committed in making the UK a world leader in protection of animals no we have left the EU. This includes increasing maximum penalties for animal cruelty from six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and an update of statutory welfare codes. These codes strengthen guidance on how to meet the needs of livestock animals and enhance their welfare."

March 2020

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