My replies to mass email campaigns

HS2 & Trees - 'Stand for the Trees' Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the environmental impact of HS2.

Ensuring that HS2 strikes the right balance between the needs of affected communities and the environment, and the long-term needs of the country as a whole, is essential. As you may be aware, Ministers have launched an independent review of HS2, which is also considering HS2’s environmental benefits, in particular for carbon reduction in line with net zero commitments. While the review is ongoing, removals of ancient woodland for HS2 have been stopped – unless they are deemed to be absolutely necessary to avoid major cost and schedule impacts in the event the project proceeds.

As matters stand, HS2 Ltd’s Sustainability Policy commits to the protection of the environment through seeking to avoid significant adverse effects on communities, businesses and the environment, including the prevention of pollution.

The policy also commits to minimising impacts where they occur, and delivering enhancements as far as reasonably practicable to attain no net loss to the natural environment. I am pleased that on current plans a green corridor is also being created alongside the railway, including the planting of seven million new trees and shrubs along the Phase One route from London to the West Midlands.

The Government has also previously committed to providing support for local communities if HS2 is constructed, first along the Phase One route.  An overall £70 million funding package has been made available which would help enhance community facilities, improve access to the countryside, and help improve road and cycle safety in towns and villages along the HS2 Phase One route. It would support local economies where businesses may experience disruption from the construction of the line."

January 2020

---

'Help Clean Up the Air' Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about air quality.

Poor air quality is the greatest environmental risk to our health. Our air is now cleaner than at any point since the industrial revolution, but there is more work to be done if we are to protect the health of our nation.

The Government’s Clean Air Strategy aims to cut air pollution and save lives, backed up by new primary legislation. The Strategy details how the UK will go further and faster than the EU in reducing exposure to particulate matter pollution. It sets out a goal to halve the number of people living in locations with concentrations of particulate matter above WHO guidelines, legislate to give councils more powers to improve air quality and ensure only the cleanest domestic fuels and stoves can be sold. I am encouraged that it has been described by the WHO as 'an example for the rest of the world to follow'.

The Environment Bill will build on this Strategy, and highlight our drive to go further to clean up our air and fight air pollution so children and young people can live longer healthier lives. The Bill will set an ambitious, legally-binding target to reduce fine particulate matter, and increase local powers to address sources of air pollution, enabling local authorities to work with families to cut harmful pollution from domestic burning by using cleaner fuels. This target will be among the most ambitious in the world and improve the quality of millions of people’s lives.

This action supplements the £3.5 billion plan announced in 2017 to reduce air pollution from road transport and diesel vehicles. The investment includes £1 billion to support the uptake of ultra-low emission vehicles, nearly £0.5 billion to help local authorities implement local air quality plans and about £90 million through the Green Bus fund.

Disappointingly, the Mayor of London’s decision regarding the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has made things worse locally. A high proportion of the worst locations for air quality are next to TfL roads. The ULEZ boundary is the North Circular and so those vehicles that don’t comply are forced into the road. The Mayor needs to reconsider his policies on this."

January 2020

---

Access to Medicinal Cannabis - 'End Our Pain' Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about medicinal cannabis.

There is strong scientific evidence that cannabis 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 treating patients with very specific conditions in exceptional circumstances. This is why the Government decided it was appropriate to review the scheduling of cannabis.

The decision to reschedule these products 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.

Moreover, NHS England has published a review which is aimed at assessing the barriers to prescribing cannabis-based medicinal products where it is safe and clinically appropriate to do so.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has also been developing updated clinical guidance on prescribing cannabis-based products for medicinal use, including for the management of chronic pain. NICE is currently consulting on the draft guidance.

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 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."

January 2020

---

Brexit – Trade Deal Negotiations

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about agreeing a trade deal between the UK and the EU.

The UK will leave the EU on 31 January. An implementation period will follow during which the UK and the EU will negotiate an agreement on their future relationship. The manifesto I stood on was clear that the implementation period would not be extended beyond December 2020 and this is being put into law. I fully support this approach.

I appreciate that you have concerns about the deadline but I believe that it will focus the negotiations. The Prime Minister has already shown that he is able to negotiate international agreements with speed and efficiency. The Withdrawal Agreement was re-opened and re-negotiated in under three months despite many believing that this would be not be possible.

Much of the detail on the future partnership negotiations has already been agreed in the Political Declaration. The UK and the EU share closely aligned interests and I am confident that the determination and willingness of the Parties to reach a free trade agreement will ensure that the matter is brought to a conclusion by the end of 2020 as legally committed to in good faith by both parties as part of the implementation period. Neither is working towards a no deal scenario although both are prepared for every eventuality. The UK will maintain high standards including for workers’ rights, consumer safeguards and environmental protection."

January 2020

---

Withdrawal Agreement Bill – Child Refugees

Mike's reply:

"Please be assured that Government policy has not changed on this matter, and protecting vulnerable children remains a key priority. The UK has a proud record of doing so through our asylum stem and our resettlement schemes. In the last 12 months, the UK granted protection to over 7,500 children, and 41,000 since 2010. This is more than the vast majority of EU countries have done to help vulnerable children. In addition, in the year ending September 2019, 6,035 family reunion visas were issued to children and partners of those granted humanitarian protection or refugee status in the UK.

Our schemes offer a safe and legal route to the UK for the most vulnerable refugees. As of September 2019, over 18,250 people have been resettled through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and over 1,700 have been resettled through the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme. Over half of those resettled via these two schemes have been children.

The Prime Minister has been clear that this Government places a high level of importance of ensuring that unaccompanied children who are seeking international protection in an EU member state can continue to be reunited with specified family members who are in the UK, as well as children in the UK with family in the EU> This remains a negotiating objection of the Government. We will continue to reunite unaccompanied children with family members in the UK under the Dublin Regulation during the implementation period, processing and deciding all ‘take back’ requests that have been submitted.

These amendments that create a statutory obligation to negotiate with the EU do no themselves lead to an agreement. That is not in the gift of the UK government alone as it requires EU co-operation at a time of complex negotiations on a range of priorities.

It is right that the statutory obligation to negotiate previously contained in section 17 of the Withdrawal Act is removed and not retained by this amendment, so that the traditional division between Government and Parliament can be restored, and the negotiations ahead can be carried out with full flexibility and in an appropriate manner across all policy areas.

As the Prime Minister told the House of Commons in December, “We remain proud of our work in receiving unaccompanied children. We will continue to support fully the purpose and spirit of the Dubs amendment, but this is not the place – in this Bill – to do so. The Government remain absolutely committed to doing so."

January 2020

---

Government Inquiry - Assisted Dying

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about assisted suicide.

Coping with terminal illness is distressing and difficult both for the patient and their families. These cases are truly moving and evoke the highest degree of compassion and emotion.

Assisting or encouraging suicide is a criminal offence under Section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 for which the maximum penalty is 14 years’ imprisonment. I am aware that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) published guidelines primarily concerned with advising the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecutors about the factors which they need to consider when deciding whether it is in the public interest to prosecute a person for assisting or encouraging another to commit suicide.

The House of Commons has discussed the DPP’s guidelines and these were unanimously commended as being a compassionate and measured way of dealing with one of the most emotionally-charged crimes in the statute book. However, they do not change the law; assisting or encouraging suicide has not been decriminalised.

The DPP further clarified the CPS Policy on the likelihood of prosecution of health care professionals, to specify that the relationship of care will be the important aspect and it will be necessary to consider whether the suspect may have been in a position to exert some influence on the victim.

I believe the application of the law should be flexible enough to distinguish the facts and the circumstances of one case from another. To this end, the DPP’s policy offers important and sensitive guidance.

I fully accept that suicide, assisting or encouraging suicide, assisted dying and euthanasia are all subjects on which it is entirely possible for people to hold widely different but defensible opinions. This is why the substance of the law in this area is not a matter of party politics but of conscience, and any vote would be a free one should the law in this area ever be altered"

January 2020

---

Withdrawal Agreement Bill – Caroline Lucas MP Amendment

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the amendment tabled by Caroline Lucas to the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.

I do not support the amendment. The Government has engaged extensively with Parliament, businesses and civil society throughout the negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU. I am confident it will continue to do so during the future relationship discussions.

The shape of the future relationship has already been broadly agreed in the Political Declaration. The negotiations will address a range of issues including trade, mobility and security. The Withdrawal Agreement legally requires both sides to negotiate a future relationship in good faith based on that framework and Parliament has voted in favour of it. I know that the Government has no intention of reneging on workers’ rights or environmental protections.

At the General Election in December, the British electorate supported the Government’s proposals for leaving the EU and gave the Prime Minister a strong mandate for the next phase of negotiations. I will be working to help secure a comprehensive agreement that works in the interests of businesses and people on either side of the Channel."

January 2020

---

End Homelessness

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about homelessness.

I firmly believe that just one person without a roof over their head is one too many, and it is vitally important that the most vulnerable people in society, including homeless people and rough sleepers, are helped to get their lives back on track. That is why I am pleased that £263 million was announced in December for 2020-21 to help local authorities tackle homelessness in our communities.

Between 2010 and mid-2018, there have been over 1.6 million cases of homelessness prevention and relief across England. While this is welcome progress, there is much more to be done, which is why I am glad that over £400 million in additional funding was announced this September toward tackling homelessness and rough sleeping.

I welcome the launch of a new £100 million Rough Sleeping Strategy expected to provide rapid support to up to 6,000 vulnerable people either new to the streets or at risk of becoming rough sleepers. A recent study showed that in 2018 alone, the Rough Sleeping Initiative helped reduce the number of rough sleepers by over a third in funded areas. The Initiative complements the £28 million Housing First pilots which are supporting the most entrenched rough sleepers off the streets by providing them with stable accommodation and intensive wrap-around support. Furthermore, I am glad that the Homelessness Reduction Act requires councils to provide early support to people at risk of homelessness.

I am confident that these measures will reduce homelessness across our country and help to achieve the aim of ending rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament."

January 2020

---

Animal Cruelty Sentencing

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about animal cruelty sentencing.

There is no place in this country for animal cruelty, and we must ensure that those who abuse animals are met with the full force of the law. I am therefore pleased that the Government remains committed to reintroducing a Bill to the House of Commons which will increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years’ imprisonment.

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

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

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

January 2020

---

The Impact of Pension Taxation on the NHS

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about NHS Pensions.

I understand your concerns on this matter, and I know that retaining and encouraging experienced, valued and hardworking consultants and GPs is absolutely a priority for the Government.

For the majority of savers, pension contributions are tax-free. This makes pension tax relief one of the most expensive reliefs in the personal tax system. The reforms to the lifetime and annual allowance made in the previous two Parliaments are expected to save over £6 billion per year, and are necessary to deliver a fair system and to protect public finances. Less than 1 per cent of savers will have to reduce their saving or face an annual allowance charge as a result of the tapered annual allowance.

NHS doctors are impacted by these reforms like all other individuals. However, the Government recognises they have limited flexibility over their pay and pension arrangements compared to those in the private sector and this is impacting decisions on workload.

I’m pleased the Government is listening to concerns raised by doctors that pension tax charges are driving decisions to retire early or limit their NHS commitments. The Department of Health and Social Care brought forward a public consultation on targeted proposals to make NHS pensions make flexible for senior clinicians. The consultation set out proposals that would allow senior clinicians to set the exact level of pension accrual at the start of each year. This would give them room to take on additional work without breaching their annual allowance and facing tax charges. Employers would then have the option to recycle their unused contribution back into the clinician’s salary. The proposals follow the commitment made in the NHS People Plan to deliver a fairer and more flexible approach to the NHS Pension Scheme for Senior Clinicians.

For more information, please find detailed guidance at the following link:

https://www.nhsemployers.org/case-studies-and-resources/2019/09/nhs-pensions-tax-guidance

I will continue to follow this matter closely; the consultation has now closed and the Government is now analysing feedback."

January 2020

---

Iraq and Humans Rights

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the situation in Iraq.

I condemn the excessive use of force by security forces against protestors in Iraq, including the use of live fire. The right to peaceful protest must be respected and those responsible for acts of violence held to account.

Lack of security, access to services and jobs, and marginalisation in general have been the principal concerns for Iraq’s religious and ethnic minority communities. Ministers consistently raise with the Government of Iraq, including the Foreign Minister, the need to protect vulnerable people, including members of minority groups. By December 2018, the UK had contributed over £14.4 million to the UN’s Funding Facility for Stabilisation to help the Government of Iraq rebuild communities in liberated areas, including the Ninewa Plains, which is home to many minority groups.

The UK will continue to support the Government of Iraq to deliver on the legitimate demands of the protestors. This means making substantive reforms to be more inclusive, protect vulnerable people, deliver services to all Iraqis, and ensure that the conditions which enabled Daesh do not return. Ministers will continue to press for improvements on human rights, with a particular focus on freedom of religion or belief. Guaranteeing the rule of law and fundamental human rights are crucial to Iraq’s long-term stabilisation and security.

I support the UK in its call for a peaceful, political solution to the unrest in Iraq, with meaningful reforms that respond to protestors’ legitimate demands. I also encourage the Government of Iraq to work with the UN on credible electoral reform."

January 2020

---

IR35

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about off-payroll working. 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, I am pleased 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. On 7 January this year, the Treasury announced that it will be launching a review on the implementation of changes to off-payroll working rules.

As part of the review, the Government will be holding a series of roundtable talks with industry representatives and those affected by the reform. I am told that the review shall be published in February and am confident that its conclusions will have the interests of affected parties at heart. As ever, I shall be following developments on this issue closely.

While I believe it is important that everyone pays the right amount of tax, government should at the same time be on the side of entrepreneurs and businesses."

January 2020

---

Climate Change

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about climate change.

The  threat of global warming has never been more apparent. However, I am encouraged that we are witnessing an unstoppable momentum towards a more ambitious global response, most recently demonstrated by agreement on a 'rulebook' for the Paris Agreement late last year.

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 of all G7 nations. To continue this momentum, in 2017 the Government published the Clean Growth Strategy, which has been boosted by significant innovation funding made available through the Industrial Strategy.

There are many achievements of this government regarding tackling climate change, such as:

  • The UK has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 25% since 2010, faster than any other G20 country.
  • The UK was the first country to phase out coal by 2020.
  • Invested £52 billion in renewable energy since 2010 with 400,000 people now working in low Carbon businesses.
  • 2018 was the cleanest and greenest year with renewable resources supplying a third of our electricity, up from just over 6% in 2009.
  • The Government has established the International Climate Fund (ICF) to provide £5.8 billion to help the world's poorest adapt to climate change and promote cleaner, greener economic growth.
  • Encouraging Greener Homes by bringing an end to fossil fuel heating systems in all new houses by 2025 and ensuring new housing developments deliver environmental improvements locally and nationally by using the ‘net-environmental gain principle.’
  • Introduction of the Clean Air Act in 1993.

There are also many other key environmental achievements, such as:

  • Banning plastic microbeads in personal care and cosmetic products; these include face scrubs, soaps, toothpaste and shower gels. Just one shower was sending 100,000 microbeads down the drain and into the ocean, causing serious harm to marine life).
  • Ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds and a deposit return scheme for single-use plastics that is underway and subject to consultation.
  • Introducing a 5p charge on single-use plastic bags: This has reduced their use by 85% - with each person on average now using 25 bags a year compared to 140 before the charge came into effect.
  • Doubling the maximum fine for littering to £150: For the first time, local authorities can also use these littering penalties against vehicle owners if it can be proved litter was thrown from their car.
  • Our Resources & Waste strategy: will end confusion over recycling and tackle problem packaging by making polluters pay.
  • Securing extra protection for precious Ancient Woodland and veteran trees: New planning rules have at last given ancient trees and woods the highest possible protection from development.
  • Protecting our bees and other pollinators by helping secure an EU-wide ban on neonicotinoids pesticides: The UK voted in favour of the proposals that will see a ban on outdoor use of three neonicotinoids - Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam.
  • Creating 41 new Marine Conservation Zones around the UK: Safeguarding almost 12,000 square kilometres of marine habitats and marking the most significant expansion of the UK’s ‘Blue Belt’ of protected areas to date.
  • Internationally protecting marine habitats with a Blue Belt to protect an area the size of India, including recently protecting 4m sq. kms of pristine waters around Ascension Island.

As of late, the Government has introduced a legally binding net zero target to end the UK’s contribution to global warming entirely by 2050. The foundations to achieve this have been laid and it is expected that other major economies will follow suit."

January 2020

---

Musician's Passport Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about Brexit and the creative industries.

I agree, the creative industries make a valuable contribution to the UK economy. I am assured that Ministers have been working closely with the creative industries to understand the impacts and opportunities presented by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

As you mentioned, a significant number of UK workers in the creative industries regularly travel for work in the EU, and similarly there are creative workers in the UK who are from other EU countries. Movement into and out of the UK for the purpose of short term engagement, such as orchestral performances, touring and festivals will continue to be important after the UK has left the EU.

I know that the Government wants to ensure the creative sector remains a key part of our economy and the UK’s world-class arts and cultural organisations continue to flourish. The Government will announce the details of the UK’s future immigration system early next year.

My colleagues and I fully recognise that international collaboration plays a vital part in the contribution that the creative industries make to the UK’s rich culture and economy. The future system will work in the best interests of the whole of the UK, including that of the creative sector."

January 2020

---

Welfare of Race Horses

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the welfare of racehorses.

Ministers have been in regular contact with the BHA about racehorse safety. Most recently in May, the then-Minister for Animal Welfare, David Rutley, met with the British Horseracing Authority CEO, its Director of Equine Health and Welfare, and the independent chair of the new Horse Welfare Board to discuss animal welfare and the future of the sport in England. In a constructive meeting, it was recognised that the fatality rate in racing rose in 2018 for the first time in recent years and the Grand National in 2019 experienced its first fatality in seven years.

It is always upsetting to hear about the death of a horse during a race. The BHA has a number of policies to ensure that racing is as safe as possible for horses. These include not licensing any racecourse in the UK which is not welfare approved, ensuring all races have veterinary surgeons on hand to administer treatment and investigating any course showing an increase in fatalities. However, both the Government and BHA agree that more can be done to tackle all avoidable harm for horses and the government will continue to press for a reduction in the number of fatalities.

It is important to recognise the industry’s recent reforms, including the establishment of a new Horse Welfare Board which includes members from across the racing industry, parliamentarians, veterinarians and animal health and welfare experts. The Board is focused on reducing all avoidable harm for racehorses and working to produce an equine welfare manifesto, outlining the industry’s priorities in this area.

The Government will stay in regular contact with the industry and continue to press for improvements on welfare. While there is an element of risk with any sport, I agree that it is critical the industry does all it can to make the sport safer."

January 2020

---