My replies to mass email campaigns

Britain's withdrawal from the European Union - Public Vote/Second Referendum

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me regarding a public vote on any Brexit deal.

I have always said that it is vital that we respect the referendum result and leave the European Union. Therefore, I have supported the Prime Minister’s deal at every opportunity. It is a deal that provides certainty for business, while protecting jobs, the economy, and provides many of the benefits of members of the EU.

I have previously been reluctant to support a further referendum because of the impact on the public confidence in our democratic processes, as well as because of the delay it would cause. This delay would be up to a year and would continue to leave businesses and individuals having to deal with uncertainty regarding the future.

However, as you will be aware, I supported an option for a confirmatory public vote in the second round of indicative votes in April. I am working to try and get a deal done that respects the referendum result, and support a Peoples Vote only in the event of a total log-jam in Parliament where it is clear no deal is possible. I do not believe we have currently reached that point."

May 2019

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Support for Cyprus

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about Cyprus.

It is my view that it is important that we put 45 years of great difficulty behind us. I have a long history of standing up for Cyprus and have repeatedly condemned Turkey over many years. I have been active in supporting the Federation of Cypriots, and have a history of long-standing campaigning against the illegal occupation.

I know that the UK Government strongly supports a just and lasting settlement of the Cyprus issue, based on the internationally accepted model of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.

I think that the UK has had an important role to play in helping to bring the two sides together and I know that Ministers continue to encourage all sides to work towards a resumption of talks, and stand ready to discuss how the UK can support progress. I continue to work with Foreign Office ministers to ensure the views of our friend and ally Cyprus are protected. The Foreign Secretary has already made clear his view that the waters are for Cypriots.

As a government whip and therefore a Member of the Government I cannot attend APPGs, as doing so is likely to breach the Ministerial Code's rules on collective responsibility."

May 2019

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Animal Testing at Porton Down (EDM 2113)

Mike's reply:

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

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.  However, I know that 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 righty, 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. 

Thank you for taking the time to contact me."

May 2019

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Hamas and Violence in Gaza

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about violence in Gaza.
 
I am deeply concerned by the deaths and injuries in both Israel and Gaza - the violence is shocking and tragic. Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself from rocket fire by militants in Gaza. All Palestinians and Israelis deserve to live in peace. The Government supports any independent and transparent investigation into violence at the Israel/Gaza border. It is highly regrettable the recent Commission of Inquiry Report does not look comprehensively at the actions of non-state actors such as Hamas. The Government has said any inquiry must cover Hamas. 
 
The right to peaceful protest is important. I am extremely concerned by the ongoing approach by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to embrace indiscriminate attacks against civilians. Above all, it is important that this violence is not repeated and that all those involved commit to peaceful protest, restraint and observe international law.
 
There is a pressing need for all parties to reach a wider agreement that addresses the underlying causes of conflict in Gaza and to take the necessary steps to ensure Gaza's reconstruction and economic recovery. Any agreement should ensure that Hamas and other militant groups permanently end rocket and other attacks against Israel, that the Palestinian Authority resumes control of Gaza and restores effective governance. 
 
I firmly believe that the international community must redouble its efforts to support a comprehensive peace agreement that delivers a safe and secure Israel alongside an independent Palestine. A two-state solution brought about through agreement is the most effective way for Palestinian aspirations of statehood to be met."

 

May 2019

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Access to Medical Cannabis

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about medicinal cannabis.

There is strong scientific evidence that cannabis is a drug which can harm people's mental and physical health, and damage communities. However recent cases have shown the need to look more closely at the use of cannabis-based medicine in the healthcare sector in the UK. This is why the Government decided it was appropriate to review the scheduling of cannabis.

The decision of the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, to reschedule these products is welcome. This decision means that senior clinicians will be able to prescribe the medicines to patients with an exceptional clinical need. Following short term advice issued in September 2018 the ACMD are to review the current rescheduling and its appropriateness by November 2020 and provide further initial advice on synthetic cannabinoids by summer 2020.

It is crucial that this country keeps in step with the latest scientific evidence, so that patients and their families have access to the most appropriate course of medical treatment.

My Ministerial colleagues have also been clear that given the nature of the medicine, it should only be prescribed be specialist doctors and on a case-by-case basis. I believe these strict controls are necessary to develop clinical expertise and an evidence base for this treatment's effectiveness.

The decision whether to prescribe an individual with medicinal cannabis is therefore not a political or financial decision, but a decision by a medical expert, who will have considered whether it is the most effective treatment based on an individual's particular condition.

I will continue to closely monitor the roll-out of medicinal cannabis."
 

May 2019

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Human Rights and Colombia (EDM 2232)

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about Colombia and EDM 2232.

As a Government Whip, and therefore a Minister, I am not able to sign EDMs as doing so would likely breach the Ministerial Code's rules on collective responsibility.  However, I share your concern about human rights defenders in Colombia.  Over the past year, they have faced increasing levels of threats, intimidation and killings.

I understand that the UK regularly expresses its concerns to the Colombian authorities over the fate of human rights defenders. The UK Embassy in Bogotá funds human rights programmes that help human rights defenders, and the UK works closely with civil society groups to bring individual cases to the Colombian government's attention.

At a Ministerial level, this Spring, the Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN, Lord Ahmad, met with the Colombian High Counsellor for Stabilisation, Emilio Archila, and directly raised the issue of human rights defenders.  

I am encouraged that the UK has reaffirmed its unwavering support to the Colombian authorities as they seek to ensure sustainable peace in Colombia.  The UK has reiterated the importance of pressing ahead with work to implement the peace agreement in order to consolidate peace and build stability.

At the same time, the UK, alongside international partners, has continued to urge a negotiated end to the conflict."

May 2019

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Support Pubs and Cut Beer Duty

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about support for pubs.
 
I recognise the crucial role that pubs play in the social and economic life of our nation, as well in helping to promote responsible drinking, which is why I am encouraged by the support which the Government has made available to pubs.
 
Through the Asset of Community Value scheme, communities can list facilities of local importance, including pubs. This means that if a pub owner wishes to sell up, the community has six months to come up with a plan and funding in order to try to save it. I am glad that there are now around 2,000 pubs across England listed as assets of community value. 
 
I am pleased that the £3.6 million 'More than a Pub: The Community Business Support Programme', launched in 2016, is helping to support communities across England to own their local pub. On top of this, the Government continues to support the work of the Pub is The Hub initiative to help landlords diversify and provide essential services, such as village shops and post offices, in order to improve the sustainability of their pub.
 
To further support pubs, the Chancellor announced in the Autumn Budget 2018 a freeze on beer, cider, and spirit duties, a decision which I welcome. The Spring Budget 2017 also provided a £1,000 discount on business rates bills in 2017 for pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000 - 90 per cent of pubs in England - and I was pleased to see this extended in the Autumn Budget 2017 for a further year, through to March 2019. In addition, a one-third discount to business rates for pubs and bars with a rateable values below £51,000 was introduced in 2018."

May 2019

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End the Cage Age - Welfare of Farm Animals

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the welfare of farm animals.
 
I understand your concerns on this matter, however 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 and up-to-date 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. As I understand it, important steps have been made on the use of free farrowing systems, but more 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 as we leave the EU. There are plans to increase maximum penalties for animal cruelty from six months' to five years' imprisonment and statutory welfare codes are being updated. These codes strengthen guidance on how to meet the needs of livestock animals and enhance their welfare."

 

May 2019

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Climate Change

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about climate change.

I am proud of the Government’s record on addressing climate change. The UK has played a leading role as the world has worked towards a global deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We were the first country to introduce legally binding long-term emissions targets under the landmark Climate Change Act in 2008 where we played an important role in offering committed cross-party support to pass the legislation. 

Since 1990, we have now cut emissions by 42 per cent while growing the economy by over 72 per cent and an independent assessment by PWC shows that the UK has decarbonised its economy at the fastest rate of G20 countries since 2000 – we have cut our emissions per unit of national income on average by 3.7 per cent a year, well ahead of the EU average of 2.3 per cent and the G7 average of 2.2 per cent. The last time the UKs emissions were this low was in 1888!

The UK has invested more than £52 billion in renewable energy in the UK since 2010. The Industrial Strategy and Clean Growth Strategy identify and target the huge potential opportunity for the UK from clean growth and transition to low carbon economy, while the National Adaptation Programme 2018-23 sets out a strategy for dealing with the effects of a changing climate. The Government has also agreed to support and expand offshore wind, and made the historic commitment to close all coal-fired power stations by 2025.

The threat of global warming has never been more apparent, as highlighted by the sobering conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPPC) special report on global warming of 1.5°C.  But, in parallel, we are also now witnessing an unstoppable momentum towards a more ambitious global response, most recently demonstrated by agreement on a ‘rulebook’ for the Paris Agreement at the most recent round of UN talks in Poland last year."

May 2019

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The Debate on Proportional Representation

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about Proportional Representation (PR).
 
I was unable to attend the Westminster Hall Debate. Such debates are predominantly for backbenchers and as a Government Whip, and therefore a Minister, I was not able to attend.

I am afraid that I do not agree with your views on PR, and fully support First Past the Post (FPTP). This tried and tested system ensures stability and clear governance, preventing disproportionate influence by minority parties with minimal public support, who typically end up holding the balance of power in PR systems.
 
The British people were clear on this matter in 2011. While the Early Day Motion suggests that the referendum is not relevant, it is clear that the verdict was not only against the Alternative Vote system, but in favour of FPTP. The system is clearly well established and understood by voters, and also provides a very clear link between constituents and their representatives in Parliament.
 
More often than not, FPTP results in a Government with a working majority in Parliament, making decisive government possible. It allows the formation of a clear opposition that can provide an alternative to, and a check on, the Government of the day. The Government therefore has no plans to change the voting system for elections to the House of Commons."

 

April 2019

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5G

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me.
 
I believe it is vital that the UK has the digital infrastructure it needs to compete and grow in the modern economy. The Government wants the UK to be a world leader in 5G and to ensure that the majority of the population have access to a 5G signal by 2027. 5G is still in its development stages and is likely to be rolled out as part of a patchwork of technologies, including those already in use, such as 4G, Wi-Fi, as well as 5G new radio.
 
Considerable research has been carried out on radio waves and the Government does not anticipate any negative effects on public health. I understand that existing technical standards, which take into account international guidelines and research on non-ionizing radiation, are expected to be followed throughout the development of 5G products and networks. I am assured that as 5G continues to develop, the Government will work with Public Health England to monitor available evidence and take any necessary action."

April 2019

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Animal Sentience Bill

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about animal sentience and the #Betterdealforanimals campaign.

As a Government Whip, and therefore a Minister, I do not sign Early Day Motions, as doing so is likely to breach the Ministerial Code's rules of collective responsibility. However, I firmly believe animals are sentient beings who can feel pain and suffering, and I would like to reassure you that strong action is being taken to reduce their risk of harm.

The Government is committed to making any necessary changes to UK law in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is legally recognised once the UK leaves the EU. This also includes ensuring the UK has an effective means of making sure that animal sentience is reflected in future policy decisions. I understand that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently engaging closely with relevant organisations and authorities to enhance its policies on this issue further; the Secretary of State recently met leading members of the #BetterDealForAnimals campaign to discuss this important matter.

I am aware of research in relation to the sentience of decapod crustaceans and their ability to feel pain. I understand that the Government is continuing to engage with third-party organisations to refine proposals on animal sentience, including which animals should be covered by any new legislation.

Encouraging action is being taken to improve animal welfare at home and abroad by increasing maximum sentences for animal cruelty, banning third party sales of puppies, and introducing one of the world's toughest bans on ivory sales. I believe these very welcome steps demonstrate exactly how seriously this Government takes animal welfare.

Once we have left the EU, we could do even more. The UK's current position of full harmonisation with EU rules on pet travel means the import of puppies under 6 months cannot be banned, and cracking down on puppy smuggling is a challenge because of the difficulty in accurately identifying underage puppies at the border. EU rules also restrict our ability to control live animal exports.

We are a nation of animal lovers and I am pleased with the commitments to make Brexit work not just for citizens, but for the animals we love and cherish too."

April 2019

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‘Green New Deal’ – EDM 2177/the Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about decarbonising the economy and Early Day Motion (EDM) 2177/the Decarbonisation and Economic Strategy Bill which calls on the Government to support a 'Green New Deal'.

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. However, the Industrial Strategy and Clean Growth Strategy identify and target the huge potential opportunity for the UK from clean growth and our transition to a low carbon economy through the 2020s. This includes a detailed plan to create thousands of highly skilled, well paid jobs and to help protect the climate and environment upon which future generations depend.

Indeed, the recent Offshore Wind Sector Deal was a fantastic example of how the Government is working with industry to advance our decarbonisation but also to create jobs right across the UK. In addition, I welcome that at the latest United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Government gave its commitment to the Just Transition Declaration to manage impacts on workers and communities transitioning away from high-carbon sectors. 

The UK also played a leading role in delivering the Paris Agreement; a global deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This leadership was underpinned in part by our significant domestic success: since 1990, the UK has cut emissions by more than 40 per cent while growing the economy by more than two thirds, the best performance on a per person basis than any other G7 nation. Britain is firmly on track to meet the 2050 target to reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases by 80 per cent and has cut its emissions in each of the last six years.

That said, I do recognise the hugely pressing challenge we face, which is why Ministers have asked the Committee on Climate Change for advice on a net zero emissions target. Limiting climate change is also an international effort and I very much hope that the UK gets the opportunity to host the UNFCCC in 2020, so we can further encourage our friends and allies to do more."

April 2019

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Probate Fees

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about probate fees.

I understand your concerns over the change to fees for a grant of probate. Dealing with the aftermath of the death of a loved one is a difficult process and it is only right that the service should be as easy to use as possible.

To that end, you may be pleased to know that the Government is modernising the service to ensure the user experience is as easy as possible, by making changes to the Probate Service to improve the service and experience of the user, thereby reducing the burden on those who are grieving.

These changes will include the public or their representatives being able to initiate cases online, all applicants being able to pay by credit or debit card, the swearing of an oath is being replaced with an online statement of truth which means the user doesn't have to visit the Registry in person or pay an additional fee to swear the oath in a solicitor's office and more individuals empowered to make applications themselves instead of needing to instruct and pay for solicitors. It will be easier for people to understand whether they actually need to apply for probate or not. For 'simple' estates, where all assets pass to a spouse/civil partner, a grant of probate is often not required. There will be assisted digital support to help users interact with the digital services and this means help will be provided for those who may not necessarily have the skills or access to engage digitally.

As you have mentioned, the Government is also looking at the fee charge for grant of probate. It has long been a principle of the justice system that the users of the court service make a contribution to its upkeep. Funding the court system in this way through fees - including probate - limits the demands on the wider taxpayer. I welcome the fact that all of the income generated will be used to fund an efficient and effective courts and tribunals service, including cross-subsidising areas such as domestic violence proceedings in the family court and access to the mental health tribunal where no fees are charged. I believe this strikes the right balance between those users of the service who are able to pay and the burden on general taxpayers.

I welcome the fact that the Government initially consulted on a new banded structure in 2016. However, given the strong responses to the original proposals, Ministers are now proposing a different structure with a much lower level of fee at every band. Under the new proposals, the top fee has been reduced from £20,000 to £6,000 - and this will only be paid by estates of a value in excess of £2 million.

It is important for the courts to continue to receive the necessary funding, while ensuring that those with the smallest estates are spared the need to pay at all. Under the new proposals, the rise in estate value threshold from £5,000 to £50,000 will lift around an additional 25,000 estates out of fees altogether every year; fifty per cent of people will not pay fees at all. Of those who do pay, around 80 per cent of estates will pay £750 or less and the money raised will be invested into the courts and tribunal service. In all circumstances, no estate will ever pay more than 0.5 per cent of the value of an estate.

In reforming the fees, however, I know Minsters were concerned to ensure that those who could not afford to pay were protected, and that no one would be put in a situation whereby they were unable to meet the fees up-front. The fee will never amount to more than 0.5 per cent of the value of the estate and will be recoverable from the estate. In most cases, it is expected that banks will be able to release enough cash from the estate to pay the probate fee - HMRC figures show that the average estate is 25 per cent cash. I welcome the fact that the Government will publish guidance to help people understand the financial options available to them.

I strongly believe this is a welcome change to keep the system fair and proportionate."

April 2019

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Protection of Human Rights Defenders (Azza Soliman)

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about human rights defenders.

You are right to raise this important issue. Regrettably, human rights defenders face unprecedented attack in many parts of the world. In 2018 alone, I understand that more than 300 such defenders were killed, and thousands more imprisoned, attacked or tortured around the world.

I am assured that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) puts human rights and Human Rights Defenders at the heart of its work. The FCO learns from human rights defenders, as well as advocating for them and seeking to protect and strengthen the work that they do. Human Rights Defenders are also essential to the UK's work to promote good governance, media freedom, to deliver equality; whether it be gender or LGBT equality; and importantly to end the death penalty and torture.

Support is provided to human rights defenders through the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, most of which is allocated for implementation of projects by human rights defenders and civil society organisations. The FCO also highlights repression of human rights defenders in its Annual Human Rights Report. I understand that the FCO is also publishing guidelines for its embassies around the worlds about support for human rights defenders, to aid clarity and consistency.

The UK has followed Azza Soliman's case closely. She was released on bail in December 2016 and the UK has highlighted her case on several occasions as well as expressing concerns about the arrest of activists, bloggers and journalists in Egypt."

March 2019

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Brexit and the NHS - Tier 2 Visas (38 Degrees Campaign)

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about Tier 2 visas.
 
Since 2011, Tier 2, the main immigration work route for skilled non-EEA workers has been subject to an annual cap of 20,700 places, divided into monthly allocations. The cap was based on advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) and is one of the Government's key strategies for managing net migration. It operates by controlling the number of places allocated to UK-based employers who are seeking to recruit a migrant worker where no suitable resident worker can be found.
 
As you may be aware, the limit has been oversubscribed since December 2017, and it is clear that this cap is having an impact on the health sector as well as other sectors of the economy. 
 
It is therefore extremely welcome that all doctors and nurses have been exempt from the Tier 2 cap since July 2018. This means that doctors and nurses can be sponsored without putting pressure on the entire immigration system. This also frees up space for other highly skilled occupations, such as engineers, IT professionals and teachers which make an important contribution to our economy and the prosperity of the country.
 
The MAC has also been commissioned independently to review the full composition of the Shortage Occupation List. I look forward to reading the recommendation made by the MAC when they report by the Spring of next year. "

March 2019

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Protection of Muslims and Islamophobia

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about Islamophobia.

Let me begin by saying that I believe all anti-Muslim hatred is abhorrent. Such acts have no place in our communities, which is why the Government has updated its Hate Crime Action Plan in October 2018 to focus on five themes of countering hate: prevention, responding in communities where there are frequent incidents, increasing reporting, improving support for victims, and improving our understanding of hate crimes.

It is important that people can feel safe and secure in their places of worship.  The Government has a fund, which I aided in getting established, to protect faith buildings where the police recommended security assistance. Roundtables have also been launched on Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism co-chaired by Home Office and MHCLG secretaries. These will focus in part on discussing the impact of the far right on both Muslim and Jewish communities.  I am in regular contact with our main Islamic Centre and assist in ensuring additional police are available.

However, hate crimes against Muslims have grown over the last years, which is why more still needs to be done. The independent Commission for Countering Extremism will publish its study in spring 2019 on improving our understanding of all types of extremism. Also, through the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, the Government continues to engage with representatives from the Muslim community, experts, academics and government departments to identify and take forward solutions to tackle anti-Muslim Hatred."

March 2019

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World Autism Awareness Week Debate

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about autism.

Autism is a complex condition which affects many people in very different ways. In recent times, we have made great progress in improving our understanding of autism. However, I believe there is much more work to be done, and I am pleased to see that there are efforts being made across government and throughout society to support those with autism.

I am working hard to help raise awareness of Autism locally within our community. Last year I hosted a surgery at Resources for Autism; allowing local residents with Autism, along with their parents and carers, to share their concerns. I have held meetings with London Borough of Barnet and the Metropolitan Police to push for the ‘Dementia Friend’ model for an autism champion - a single nominated point of contact that focusses on issues and concerns affecting those with Autism. I also recently took time out to meet with the National Autistic Society to discuss their work and how we can make our area more autism-friendly. I backed last years ‘Autism Hour’, where over 10,000 shops and businesses across the country will be turning down music and other noise, dimming lights, and sharing information about autism with their employees, and hope this is something that can be built upon to allow for Autism-friendly shopping to be ever-present in our local area.  

Unfortunately, I will be unable to attend the debate on autism in Parliament due to my position as a Government Whip. However I am pleased to say that my ministerial colleagues are continuing to build on the advances made since the establishment of the Autism Act in 2009. Since 2010, the Autism Strategy has united multiple government departments, and improved the diagnosis and treatment of autism, and support available to those with the condition.

I hope you are pleased to know that the Government is considering the recommendations of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism's recent report. Since 2011, teachers and support staff in schools have been trained to help children with autism in schools; and, the Government is providing over £200 million to reform the support for autistic children in schools, and find ways of reducing rates of exclusions.

Furthermore, Health Education England, the body responsible for training NHS staff, have a range of training programmes to ensure NHS staff of all levels are sensitive to the needs of autistic people, and I am happy to see that the Department for Health and Social Care is working with the body Skills for Care to ensure the Autism Strategy is properly implemented through the health and care workforce.

I hope I have been able to offer you some reassurance that the Government is implementing significant measures to support people with autism."

March 2019

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Trade Bill (Lords Amendment)

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me regarding the Lords Amendments for the Trade Bill.

I understand your concerns regarding standards in future trade agreements and the scrutiny of such agreements. However, I would like to assure you that such concerns are unfounded.

With regard to scrutiny of future trade agreements, the Government is committed to transparency and scrutiny of its trade agreements. The Government has committed to Parliament scrutinising our future trade arrangements. Parliament will be able to inform negotiations, be regularly updated, and will ultimately play its role in the ratification of any new Free Trade Agreement through the process set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. 

The Government is reflecting on all the changes made to the Trade Bill in the House of Lords and the approach to take in the House of Commons. I look forward to debating the Bill when it returns."

March 2019

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Asbestos in Schools (38 Degrees Campaign)

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about asbestos in schools.
 
I can assure you that the safety of pupils and staff is of paramount importance to the Department for Education (DfE). Ministers are committed to supporting local authorities, schools and academy trusts to meet their obligation to manage asbestos safely.
 
The Health and Safety Executive's expert advice recommends that if asbestos is unlikely to be damaged or disturbed, then it is best managed in situ. A blanket policy of removing asbestos in schools could potentially pose a greater risk to pupils and staff. Decisions to remove asbestos in schools are taken carefully and assessed on a case-by-case basis that examines potential risk of exposure and the work being undertaken. 
 
You may also be interested to know that since 2015, the DfE has allocated £6 billion to those responsible for school buildings to ensure that essential maintenance work is carried out, and this includes removing or encapsulating asbestos if is the best course of action. Furthermore, the Department's £4.4 billion Priority School Building Programme is rebuilding or refurbishing more than 500 school buildings that are considered to be in the very worst condition, with asbestos a key factor in deciding which schools qualify for this funding. 
 
The Government recently concluded its Asbestos Management Assurance Process, which has collected the most up-to-date data on asbestos management in schools. This updated information will be published in spring 2019.
 
I hope this response has reassured you that over time, asbestos will be sensitively removed from school estates."

March 2019

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Trade Deals and the NHS

Mike's reply:

"As a Government Whip, and therefore a Minister, I am not able to speak in debates.

On the specific issue of public healthcare, the Government is committed to protecting the NHS. The NHS is safeguarded by specific exemptions in all EU trade agreements and, as our country leaves the EU, the UK will continue to ensure that rigorous protections for the NHS are included in all trade agreements it is party to.

In a recent debate in Parliament, Dr Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary was abundantly clear on the point, saying “We have made it very clear that there will be nothing in future agreements that will stop the Government being able to regulate our public services, including the national health service”. You can read the transcript of that debate on Hansard here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2019-02-21/debates/68C1429A-EBEC-40DF-BB99-D00DB8D95666/FutureFreeTradeAgreements?highlight=nhs%20free%20trade%20deals#contribution-D48012A4-BB27-4A5D-A885-6A1F3A7AE23A.

The Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement means that the UK can continue to protect our NHS. The Labour Party’s plans for a Customs Union would pose a serious threat to this. This is because it would see us tied to EU trade deals, without the ability to influence the deal itself. The EU were keen to enter into the Transatlantic Trade Partnership (TTIP), and a consequence of Labour’s policy is that it would be possible for the EU sign a deal that applies to the UK, with the UK having no power to stop it or influence it."

March 2019

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Puppy Smuggling

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about puppies being smuggled across borders.

I share your concern about this crime and am grateful to Dogs Trust for highlighting the issue. Responsibility for stopping illegal movement begins in the country where puppies are born, so the Chief Veterinary Officer will be writing to the authorities in highlighted countries to remind them of their duties.

An EU pet travel regulation introduced in 2014 has strengthened enforcement. The new-style passport is harder to forge, new rules apply when more than five animals are moved together and all EU countries must carry out compliance checks. A 12-week minimum age for rabies vaccination assists compliance checking and restricts the movement of very young animals. As the UK withdraws from the EU, there will be further opportunities to re-evaluate the rules.

There is a robust checking regime for pets travelling here. Every pet travelling with its owner on an approved route is checked for compliance with the travel regime and the UK Border Force carries out a wide range of checks on vehicles arriving in the UK.

Some of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group's minimum standards have become mandatory for online sellers; it has also been made illegal to sell puppies younger than eight weeks, and anyone breeding and selling three or more litters a year must now apply for a formal licence. The Government has also given support to 'Lucy's Law' by consulting on a ban on third party sales of puppies and kittens.

Government advice to prospective owners is very clear: people who buy a pet are responsible for knowing where it comes from and, if it is found to have been imported illegally, they will be held responsible for any necessary quarantine and veterinary fees."

March 2019

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Stop Christophobia

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the persecution of Christians.

It is an extraordinary figure that nearly a quarter of a billion people are suffering persecution today because of their Christian faith. In addition, 80 per cent of people who suffer persecution because of their faith are Christian.

As you know, the Foreign Secretary has asked the Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen to conduct an independent review into the UK's response to the persecution of Christians abroad. The review aims to map levels of persecution and other discrimination against Christians in key countries around the world. It will provide an objective assessment of the impact and levels of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) support, and make recommendations to the Foreign Secretary.

The UK has played an important role in bringing together other countries that share our values and giving a voice to those who don't have one. However, I fully support this review and am hoping that the outcome of this will be that the FCO has a deeper understanding of what it can do better in this arena.

I look forward to reading the reports that will be published as a result of the review, and I understand that the review will have a strong focus on evidence and consultation with a range of actors, including survivors/victims, civil society institutions, the diplomatic community, governmental and multilateral entities."

March 2019

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Fund Children's Services Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about funding for local children's services.

I care deeply about the services our children receive and want to ensure that they have a future in which they can grow and thrive.

I appreciate your concerns about the funding for these services, and likewise am pleased that at the 2018 Autumn Budget the Chancellor made an additional £410 million available to local authorities to ease cost pressures for both children and adult social care.

Furthermore, I welcome that £84 million has been allocated over a period of five years to assist up to 20 local authorities to enhance their social care services, ensuring that they are able to engage more effectively with those who need support the most.

However, I do also recognise that there needs to be a longer term solution to ensure sustainable funding for children's social services. I am assured that in preparation for the upcoming Spending Review, the Government is collaborating with the sector to establish an intricate understanding of the costs and funding pressures facing children's social services, for example through launching ambitious data research projects and developing up-to-date funding formulas. This will help to ensure that the decisions made at the Spending Review on the allocation of funding to local authorities are taken on the basis of the most comprehensive evidence.

I hope this letter has provided a measure of reassurance, and I will continue to closely monitor funding levels for children's social services."

March 2019

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Animal Sentience (Better Deal for Animals Campaign)

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about animal sentience.

First and foremost, I believe animals are sentient beings who can feel pain and suffering, and I would like to reassure you that strong action is being taken to reduce their risk of harm.

The Government is committed to making any necessary changes to UK law in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is legally recognised once the UK leaves the EU. This also includes ensuring the UK has an effective means of making sure that animal sentience is reflected in future policy decisions. I understand that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently engaging closely with relevant organisations and authorities to further enhance its policies on this issue.

Encouraging action is being taken to improve animal welfare at home and abroad by increasing maximum sentences for animal cruelty, banning third party sales of puppies, and introducing one of the world's toughest bans on ivory sales. I believe these very welcome steps demonstrate exactly how seriously this Government takes animal welfare.

Once we have left the EU, we could do even more. The UK's current position of full harmonisation with EU rules on pet travel means the import of puppies under 6 months cannot be banned, and the cracking down on puppy smuggling is a challenge .This is because of the difficulty in accurately identifying underage puppies at the border. EU rules also restrict our ability to control live animal exports.

We are a nation of animal lovers and I am pleased with the commitments to make Brexit work not just for citizens, but for the animals we love and cherish too."

March 2019

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Fracking and Earthquake Regulations

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about fracking.
 
The safe development of shale gas will be good for jobs, good for our energy security, and help the UK to decarbonise its economy. I believe that we need a diverse energy mix, and that shale gas can play a part in that. 
 
There is a very low risk that shale gas extraction could cause any noticeable tremor at the surface. Operators must now use all available geological information to assess the location of faults before wells are drilled and monitor seismic activity before during and after operations. 
 
The Oil & Gas Authority regulates on-site micro seismicity using a traffic light system. If activity passes a very low, precautionary threshold, it is immediately paused. This threshold, a 'red light' in the traffic light system, is set at 0.5 on the Richter scale, equivalent to less ground movement than you would feel from a passing car. For context, according to the British Geological Survey, we have on average 166 naturally occurring events of magnitude 2.9 or below each year in the UK, most of which go unnoticed. 
 
The UK has world leading environmental regulations and with these safeguards in place, I think it is right that we explore and make use of shale gas and oil. The opportunity to extract this energy, as well as to secure jobs and investment, cannot be ignored."

February 2019

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