My replies to mass email campaigns

The Re-Opening of Zoos and Aquariums

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about support for zoos and aquariums.

As a fond lover of these places, I understand the unique set of circumstances which they are facing. I have read some amazing stories in recent weeks of keepers moving into zoos and I can only thank them for their fantastic commitment to the welfare of the creatures in their care.

I am delighted that Ministers listened to concerns such as yours and they have now launched a £14 million support fund for zoos and aquariums. I know that zoos are undertaking valuable work at this time to ensure that their animal welfare standards are upheld and the animals’ health needs continue to be met. I am pleased that this funding will help zoos cover costs relating to animal keeping such as feed, heating and security, and is on top of a number of support schemes already available to zoos, including business rates relief, the business interruption loan scheme and the job retention scheme. I have spoken to Ministers who have assured me that they will continue to work with our zoos across the country to discuss additional concerns about funding in the long term.

I am pleased that vets have been allowed to stay open and that coronavirus has not caused any issues with the supply of veterinary medicines. I know that there are well-established procedures with the pharmaceutical industry to monitor and maintain veterinary medicine supplies which are needed, and these will continue.

The Government is working through its clear action plan based on doing the right thing at the right time, based on the best available science. As the Prime Minister has said, all restrictions will be kept under constant review and he will relax them when the evidence shows we are able to do so."

June 2020

---

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 have led them to conclude that the spitting attack was not linked to her death. The coroner’s report and wider details from the Police are yet to be released publicly and these may provide a different opinion and may throw more light on the case. I will continue to monitor closely.

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

---

Refugee Resettlement & Family Reunion

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about asylum seekers and refugee resettlement.

I continue to believe strongly that we need to do all we can to help the world’s most vulnerable people. The UK granted protection to over 7,700 children in 2019, and to 42,500 children in the past decade.

The UK’s resettlement schemes offer a safe and legal route to the UK for the most vulnerable refugees. Over 19,300 people have been resettled through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and over 1,700 have been resettled through the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme.

The Prime Minister made clear the importance that the Government places on 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, following the UK’s exit from the EU. 

It is also important to note that the UK 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.

Relevant measures in the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act are primarily about clarifying the role of Government and Parliament in negotiations. It is right that a statutory obligation to negotiate was removed from earlier versions of the Act to ensure the traditional division between Government and Parliament was restored, and the negotiations ahead can be carried out with full flexibility and in an appropriate manner across all policy areas.

A statutory obligation to negotiate with the EU will not itself 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. The Act required the Government to lay a statement before Parliament on its policy regarding any future arrangements between the UK and the EU regarding the family reunification for unaccompanied children seeking international protection. You may be reassured to know that the Government made this statement in March and I was glad that Ministers outlined clearly how the UK believes British withdrawal from the EU does not alter our commitment to this vital issue.

At the first round of the negotiations on the UK-EU future relationship, which also took place in March, our negotiating team outlined the UK's proposals as published in the document ‘The Future Relationship with the EU – The UK’s Approach to Negotiations’. In that document the Government has clearly stated its commitment to negotiate a reciprocal agreement in this area. I understand the EU is now considering the UK's proposals.

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

June 2020

---

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

---

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

---

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

---

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

---

#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

---

'Coronavirus Emergency Income Support Scheme' - Proposal by the Trussell Trust

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the Trussell Trust’s proposed Coronavirus Emergency Income Support Scheme.

The Coronavirus outbreak is the biggest public health emergency of a generation and, like you, I am deeply concerned about the economic impact it will have on people in our constituency.

As I am sure you are aware, ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have made significant enhancements to the welfare system to ensure people receive vital support at this time. The increases to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit are uplifting people’s income. This is in addition to the 1.7 per cent uplift to all benefits that came into effect in April, ending the benefits freeze.

I would also emphasise that where people feel they will struggle to wait for their first formal Universal Credit payment, advances are available. These are typically paid in a matter of days and recovered over a period of 12 months.

However, as you rightly point out, it is important to also try to reduce people’s costs. To help ease the pressure on outgoings, the recovery of most government debt has been paused for at least three months. This includes any overpayments of Universal Credit, Social Fund loans and Tax Credit debts. The Government has also introduced mortgage holidays and suspended new evictions while this national emergency is taking place, recognising pressure on household resources.

I know that my colleagues are continuously reviewing existing and new policies, and analysing how best to deliver crucial support to those that need it at this worrying time. I will pass the Trussell Trust’s suggestions on to colleagues in Government and make them aware of the coalition of charities’ views."

May 2020

---

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

---

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

---

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. I am pleased that legislative measures will be introduced to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age, ensuring we can deliver on the commitment to leave the natural world in a better condition than we found it.

The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will have the power to take public bodies to an upper tribunal if there are breaches of the law. I believe it is important that the OEP is independent and fully transparent in order to effectively hold the Government to account on its targets. I am therefore pleased by assurances from Ministers that the OEP will be operationally independent from Government, including from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This means that Ministers will not be able to set its programme of activity or influence its decision-making. 

The Bill will give the Secretary of State the power to set long-term, legally binding environmental targets on air quality, water, biodiversity, and resource efficiency and waste reduction that will be reviewed every five years. There will then be a published environmental improvement plan that will also be reviewed every five years, and a progress report will be published annually. I welcome the fact that the OEP will hold this and every future Government to account on these targets, and will report on the progress made to improve the natural environment.

I am also aware that if the Secretary wanted to lower or change a target, they would have to lay before Parliament, and publish, a statement as to why they had reached their decision. It would then be up to myself and other Members of Parliament to scrutinise this decision, before voting on a Statutory Instrument to change any necessary legislation."

May 2020

---

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

---

Free School Meals (FSM) during the Covid-19 Outbreak

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the provision of free school meals (FSM) during the coronavirus outbreak.

Like you, I welcome the action being taken to help schools keep providing FSM for eligible families during this difficult period. Schools are being encouraged, where possible, to continue providing meals or food parcels for eligible pupils through their existing food providers. Recognising that this is not always an option, on 31 March a national scheme was launched for schools to provide supermarket vouchers to eligible pupils, with costs covered by the Department for Education (DfE). This gives school leaders the flexibility to determine the best way to support families in their communities.

The vouchers are worth £15 a week per child, which is higher than the amount schools usually receive for FSM. Schools can place orders for vouchers online for parents and carers, who will be able to use them in a variety of supermarkets. The list of participating supermarkets currently includes Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons, M&S, Waitrose, Aldi and McColl’s and I know Ministers are working to expand this list. Where families are unable to access any of these supermarkets, schools are able to buy vouchers for other retailers and the DfE will refund the cost.

I welcome that during this challenging period, the eligiblity criteria for FSM is temporarily being extended. This includes some groups who have no recourse to public funds. Further details can be found here - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-free-school-meals-guidance/guidance-for-the-temporary-extension-of-free-school-meals-eligibility-to-nrpf-groups.

This system was developed at pace to support families across England, and  I am assured that the Department for Education is working closely with the supplier to ensure orders are processed quickly, develop the system capacity and resolve technical problems."

May 2020

---

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

---

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

---

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

---

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

---

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

---

'Save Future Travel' Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about support for the travel industry.

I fully appreciate your concerns and the seriousness of the situation for the whole UK travel industry, which I recognise is facing real difficulty in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

I know that the UK Government has been engaging with both the package travel sector and consumer advocacy bodies to assess the impact of cancellations made due to the coronavirus outbreak. I am closely monitoring the situation too and taking on board the views of those living and working here in our constituency.

I also want to reassure you that support is available right now for businesses who are struggling. The Government is deferring VAT payments due between now and the end of June, and all businesses in the retail, hospitality or leisure sectors are exempt from business rates for 12 months.

In addition, I would also encourage businesses in the travel industry who are facing cashflow and other difficulties to explore the Government-backed loans and guarantees that have been made available. A coronavirus job retention scheme has also been launched too.

The full list of support available can be found through this link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses"

April 2020

---

Coronavirus Bill and Cremation of the Deceased

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the emergency legislation relating to the Government's response to coronavirus.

I would like to reassure you that all the measures in the coronavirus bill are temporary, and proportionate to the threat we face. It is important that they will only be used when strictly necessary, and will only be in place for as long as required to respond to the situation.

The purpose of the legislation is to ensure that sufficient staff are available, and deployed where they are most needed, as well as supporting members of the public, containing and slowing the virus, and managing the deceased with respect and dignity. The government changed the legislation to ensure family, personal and religious wishes were respected

I recognise your concerns about measures relating to cremation outlined in the Coronavirus Emergency Act passed last week. I understand provisions have been included in the act to ensure that people’s choices for family and friends can be adhered to, and that support services for families are in place, even in times of great stress. Ministers assure me there should be no public health reason or capacity reason why someone who wished to be buried would be cremated.

I do hope you find this information useful; I will continue to monitor this issue and scrutinise the steps the Government is taking closely."

April 2020

---

Sanctions on Iran and the Coronavirus

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about sanctions on Iran and coronavirus.

The UK is working with the international community to ensure Iran receives the humanitarian support it needs during this global pandemic.

The UK, alongside its E3 partners (France and Germany) is offering Iran a comprehensive package of support to stem the rapid spread of coronavirus, including equipment for laboratory tests and protective body suits and gloves, as well as financial support.

The UK, France and Germany have also committed to provide a further €5 million to tackle the covid-19 epidemic in Iran, through the World Heath Organisation or other UN agencies.

I hope this reassures you that Iran is receiving the humanitarian support it needs, despite economic sanctions."

March 2020

---

"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

---

Dementia Care Funding

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about dementia care.  This is an important issue and a personal one as my own mother died suffering with dementia.

I can assure you that dementia is a priority for the Government. In 2015, the Challenge on Dementia 2020 was launched and I know that the Government remains committed to delivering this. This sets out the vision for dementia care, support, awareness, and research to be transformed by 2020. I fully support the ambition to ensure England offers the world’s best dementia care.

Progress in the care, support and treatment of people with dementia has been made, with more people receiving a diagnosis of dementia than ever before. Over 660,000 NHS staff have received dementia training with further training opportunities rolled out to all NHS staff by the end of 2018. Over 100,000 social care workers have received some form of dementia awareness training. Since 2015, new care staff have been trained to receive the Care Certificate, which equips them with the knowledge and skills to provide safe and compassionate care, including for those with dementia.

I believe it is important to increase public awareness and understanding of dementia among the wider public to ensure that people are supported to live well with the condition and I am encouraged that there are almost 2.5 million Dementia Friends.

Research is crucial to understanding and tackling dementia, which is why the Government has doubled research spending on dementia and remains committed to maintaining the current expenditure on dementia research of at least £60 million a year through to 2020. I am encouraged that over £83 million was spent on dementia research by the Government in 2016/17, the latest year for which figures are available, well in excess of the £60 million target.

The Government is integrating and improving health and social care to protect people at every stage of their lives. I am informed that the Government is committed to publishing a Green Paper this year, which will outline a new social care policy, which is financially sustainable, accessible, and properly integrated with the NHS."

February 2020

---

Youth Homelessness

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR).

I firmly believe that nobody should be without a roof over their head. That is why I welcome the Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping for good, with the aim of halving it by 2022.

Colleagues tell me that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has no plans at present to extend the exemption from the SAR to people aged under 25. I would note that there are already a number of exemptions to the SAR, such as for those with children or non-dependents, certain homeless people, those requiring overnight care, and those on the daily living component of a Personal Independence Payment. The DWP has also provided over £1 billion in Discretionary Housing Payment funding since 2011, enabling local authorities to protect the most vulnerable.

The cross-government Rough Sleeping Strategy was published set out an ambitious £100 million package to help people who sleep rough now, but also puts in place the structures that will end rough sleeping once and for all. In the recent Spending Round, the Chancellor committed £422 million in funding to help reduce homelessness and rough sleeping. I am pleased that £263 million was announced in December for 2020-21 to help local authorities tackle homelessness in our communities, coupled with an extra £112 million for the Rough Sleeping Initiative.

The Government launched the Rapid Rehousing Pathway to help rough sleepers and those at risk of rough sleeping. The Pathway includes Somewhere Safe to Stay Hubs, where people can shelter while their housing and support needs are assessed. The Pathway provides support to local lettings agencies to help rough sleepers into affordable settled accommodation.

I know this is not the answer you are hoping for, but I can assure you that action is being taken to tackle homelessness and I will continue to support improvements."

February 2020

---

'Please support pubs and help cut beer duty' Campaign

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about alcohol and beer duty.

In 2013, the Government took the decision to end the beer duty escalator, and beer duty has been frozen or cut several times since then. Duty on spirits has been frozen over the past two years. I have spoken with colleagues at the Treasury, who assure me that as a result of these changes, a typical pint is cheaper than it would have been had these measures not been introduced.

Following the announcement made in the Queen’s Speech that alcohol duty will be reviewed, I am confident that that the Government will continue to support pubs and will keep costs low for consumers. Any decision to modify alcohol duty is a matter for the Treasury. I have ensured my colleagues are aware of the points you raise and reminded them of the importance of local pubs in our communities."

February 2020

---