My replies to mass email campaigns

Britain's withdrawal from the European Union

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me regarding Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.

I am firmly committed to supporting the Prime Minister in her efforts to secure a deal with the EU, and I am encouraging fellow colleagues to do likewise. 

Whilst the deal was rejected by MPs in its current format, I am confident that the Prime Minister will be able to negotiate further with the EU to secure a deal that both benefits the nation and fully delivers on the result of the 2016 referendum.  As a democrat, I believe it is vital that this referendum result is delivered, and the best approach for this is to ensure that a deal is agreed to protect from a disorderly exit. The deal will lay the foundations for a new, positive and practical relationship with our friend and neighbours in the EU. 

I understand that some people would prefer to see the vote overturned, however I think this would do irreparable damage to our democracy and is the wrong approach; indeed, I stood on a manifesto to deliver the result of the referendum.

Some people have asked me to support a second referendum.  I am not convinced that this is the right approach at this time.  It would cause further division and would be unlikely to address the current issues.  Furthermore I do not believe there is a majority in Parliament to support this movement.  I am also concerned over how the question would be asked, as a referendum is styled as a 'Yes/No' question, with two options for the voter to pick from; having several options defeats the objective. 

At the other end of the spectrum is the potential for leaving the EU without a deal.  I do not support this as an option, as it does not allow the UK to leave the EU in an orderly fashion, and creates several risks to people's livelihoods.  This is why I support the Prime Minister in pursuit of a deal; it delivers on the wishes of the nation, and avoids the uncertainty surrounding a 'No-Deal' exit.

Many constituents have asked me to support an extension to Article 50.  I believe that any extension is an attempt to delay our withdrawal from the European Union, and eventually stop the process altogether, contravening the result of the 2016 referendum, and hence proving damaging and divisive to our nation.

Other constituents have raised concerns about opportunities for young people after Brexit. Let me assure you that the prospects for young people have not been ignored as a part of planning for Brexit. The Government is seeking visa-free travel, and under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement the UK's right to participate in EU programmes during the current Multi-Annual Financial Framework spending period, including Erasmus+, will be unaffected by our withdrawal from the EU for the lifetime of projects financed by the current MFF. The Government is considering the proposals for the 2021-2027 successor scheme to Erasmus+ carefully and will continue to participate in discussions on them while we remain in the EU.

I am aware that this position may not be universally supported by all of my constituents, however I believe that the Prime Minister's plan is the best option for our country that has the agreement of the other EU members."

February 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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Community Energy

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about local, clean energy.
 
I believe distributed generation may have a role to play in a smarter, more efficient energy system and the Government should ensure small scale low-carbon technologies have a level playing field as the market for smarter services evolves.
 
Community energy is a key part of clean growth, showing what can happen when groups of people come together to de-carbonise energy in local areas, while also investing in these places to bring other economic, or social, benefits. That is why I the welcome the introduction of the Local Energy Programme, which supports local actors, community groups, local authorities and combined authorities to develop their own energy strategies and deliver their own energy programmes. 
 
However, after publishing a call for evidence on the role small-scale low-carbon generation last year, Ministers are aware that routes to market for exported electricity are currently limited and have an emphasis on larger capacity generators. Based on this evidence, the Government is exploring possible arrangements for the small-scale low-carbon generation sector after the closure of the Feed-in Tariff scheme.
 
To that end, the Government is consulting on introducing a mandatory supplier-led route to market, the Smart Export Guarantee. This new scheme could create a whole new market, encouraging suppliers to competitively bid for this electricity, giving exporters the best market price while providing the local grid with more clean, green energy, unlocking greater choice and control for solar households over buying and selling their electricity. This could also reduce strain on energy networks with a more decentralised and smarter local network delivering resilience much more cost effectively."

February 2019

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Iran and the Upcoming Summit in Warsaw

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the summit to promote a future of peace and security in the Middle East held in Warsaw on 13/14 February.

I appreciate your concerns about Iran's destabilising activity in the region and I know that Ministers share those concerns. 

Iran's human rights record continues to be of serious concern to the UK, and that is why the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has designated it as one of its Human Rights Priority Countries.

I understand that the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was in attendance at the conference underscoring the importance the UK placed on this summit. I was also encouraged that whilst in Warsaw, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, with US Secretary of State Pompeo, co-hosted a meeting of the Yemen Quad - Foreign Ministers of the UK, UAE, USA and Saudi Arabia - to discuss the Yemen crisis, in Warsaw to inject fresh international political momentum and support to the Yemen peace process, and discuss measures to alleviate humanitarian suffering."

February 2019

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NHS Waiting Times (38 Degrees Campaign)

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me NHS waiting times.
 
As our population ages, demand for the NHS continues to rise. I would like to commend the dedication compassion of our NHS staff, and assure you that the Government is taking clear steps to support the NHS, and ensure it offers the world's finest healthcare. 
 
I appreciate your concern about waiting times in the NHS. Many NHS trusts have faced difficulty in meeting their waiting time targets thanks to acute challenges this winter. The NHS sets exceptionally high waiting time standards, and the Government works with bodies like NHS Improvement to make sure they are delivered throughout the health service. The NHS mandate has set clear goals for the health service, and I am confident that they will be achieved. 
 
Not only is the Government increasing NHS investment by over £20 billion in real terms over the coming five years, it is making progress on reforms which will reduce waiting times, and alleviate pressures on the NHS. Through the £3.6 billion investment in the Better Care Fund, and the NHS's continuing implementation of its own plan for the future, the Five Year Forward View, I believe the proper integration of health and social care over the next three years will be of huge benefit to the NHS and patients alike. Excellent progress is being made. Compared to five years ago, nearly half a million more people are treated within 18 weeks of referral; and I am happy to say that safety in the NHS continues to improve.
 
Over the next five years, as part of the NHS Long Term Plan, the local NHS is being given enough money to grow the amount of planned surgery year-on-year, to cut long waits, and reduce the waiting list. The ability of patients to choose where they have their treatment remains a powerful tool for delivering improved waiting times and patient experiences of care. The NHS will continue to provide patients with a wide choice of options for quick elective care, including making use of available Independent Sector capacity. These steps come alongside measures to offer patients the choice of quick telephone or online consultations, saving time waiting and travelling.
 
The Long Term Plan sets out that a review of A&E waiting time standards is taking place within NHS England. The Department of Health and Social Care will consider the conclusions of the review once it's been completed. This must be clinically led to enable best delivery of care for patients.
 
I believe this mandate will uphold the founding ideals of the NHS as it continues to celebrate its 70th anniversary, and provide the health service with the resources and guidance to face the challenges of today's ongoing social, demographic and technological change. "

February 2019

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Faster Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer (Pancreatic Cancer UK)

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about pancreatic cancer treatment timelines.
 
We all know someone close to us who has been affected by cancer. Sadly, pancreatic cancer is a common form of cancer with a higher mortality rate than others. I'm pleased that tackling this is a top priority for the Government.
 
Unfortunately I was unable to attend the debate on Cancer Targets in 2018, at which Members of Parliament raised the devastating impact of Pancreatic Cancer in particular. My colleagues discussed work being done in Birmingham to establish a 'fast-track pathway', which sees a dedicated specialist nurse prepare a patient to receive surgery within 16 days of referral. The results of this pilot scheme are being examined by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). 
 
In February 2017, Public Health England launched 'Be Clear on Cancer', a campaign targeted at identifying symptoms of pancreatic cancer earlier - early diagnosis is key to improving outcomes. This regional pilot included symptoms like persistent diarrhoea, bloating and discomfort. More than 90 per cent of the target audience reported that the campaign made them realise these symptoms could be a sign of something more serious. More than 80 per cent reported they were more likely to visit a GP as a result. 
 
In October 2018, the Prime Minister launched a new Cancer Strategy, outlining aims for tackling cancer. These priorities include lowering the screening age for bowel cancer, facilitating earlier detection, and establishing a cervical cancer screening programme.
 
I share your ambition for faster treatment pathways across pancreatic and all types of cancer; my colleagues at DHSC are working hard to examine the work being done by clinicians to improve treatment timelines across the country."

February 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 I have always believed it should be made as fair as possible. It is also the case that fees are a vital part of protecting access to justice through the funding of modern courts and tribunal service. The Government is still paying off the deficit inherited and seeking to ensure we have increased funding for the NHS, elderly social care, schools, police and other front line services. In finding increased funding for key services and paying of debt, the Justice Department are seeking to be more self-sufficient in funding key elements of the courts system.

To ensure the courts continue to receive the necessary funding, a banded fee structure for grants of probate has been announced. I know that Ministers have listened to a variety of concerns raised about these changes and, in fact, the most recent proposals have been revised to ensure fees will not amount to more than 0.5 per cent of the value of an estate. This is a welcome change to keep the system fair and proportionate.

I believe it is important to recognise that 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. This means that after the Government's reform, fifty per cent of people will not pay fees at all. I also understand that 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 my view the new banded fee system is a fairer and more progressive replacement to the current flat fee structure and ensures the courts system is properly funded without placing an excessive burden on other taxpayers. I am assured that the Government is set to release guidance to help applicants choose the option to pay which best suits their circumstances."

February 2019

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Debate on Rough Sleeping on 7 February 2019

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about rough sleeping.

As a Government Whip and therefore a Minister, I am not able to speak in debates, as in so doing would breach the Ministerial Code's rules on collective responsibility.

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 over £1.2 billion has been allocated to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping through to 2020.

St Mungo's does excellent work in tackling rough sleeping and homelessness, and is a member of the Government-backed rough sleeping advisory panel set up in 2018, which focusses on rough sleeping prevention, intervention, recovery and support. Whilst the number of rough sleepers declined in 2018 compared to the previous year, more needs to be done to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. This is why in January 2019 the Government announced a £500 million boost in funding for housing associations to build 11,000 more affordable homes, including properties for social rent. This will help reach the target of building 300,000 properties each year by the mid-2020s.

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. This will complement 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, the most ambitious legislative reform for tackling homelessness in decades, has recently come into force. This Act, praised by St Mungo's, 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 halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it altogether by 2027."

February 2019

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Close the Loophole - the Protection of Children (NSPCC Campaign)

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about changing the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

I share your concern about this hugely important issue and I agree that the protection of children and young people must remain a priority. I want to pay tribute to those who have spoken out about child sex abuse.

As I am sure you are aware, sexual activity with a child under the age of 16 is a serious criminal offence, regardless of whether consent is given. It is also the case that any non-consensual sexual activity is a crime. It doesn't matter the age of the victim or the relationship between the victim and perpetrator. I understand it is also the case that where a manipulative offender grooms a child under the age of consent and then engages in a sexual relationship with them when they are over 16, offences are in place to deal with this such as Section 15A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

I do welcome the fact that the Sexual Offences Act 2003 also provides increased protection for younger people aged 16 and 17. Offences criminalise those in a position of trust who sexual abuse young people in their care. The offences target relationships where the young person has some dependency on the adult involved and often combined with an element of vulnerability of that young person.

I have been assured that Ministers across Government are keeping this sensitive and important area of the law under review and working together to ensure our young athletes feel safe in their training environment.

I hope this reassures you that the Government is committed to doing all it can to protect children and young people."

February 2019

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The Agriculture Bill - Report Stage and Third Reading

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the UK's future agricultural policy.

I am told that the Government is currently reflecting on concerns raised during Committee Stage, from conversations with colleagues and interested parties and on the amendments tabled to the Bill. I look forward to the Bill coming back to the House, at which point I will have the opportunity to vote on any amendments brought forward there.

Food and farming is a bedrock of our economy and environment, generating £112 billion a year and helping shape some of our finest habitats and landscapes. I am pleased that the Government will continue to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of this Parliament in 2022. Once we have the freedom to move away from the Common Agricultural Policy, the proposal is for an 'agricultural transition' period in England, allowing farmers to prepare for a new system.

Leaving the EU creates a once in a generation opportunity to design a domestic agricultural policy that will stand the test of time. We can bring in innovative new ideas to support investment in healthy, sustainable British food production and do much better for farming, the environment and animal welfare. The Government proposes to move to a system of paying farmers public money for public goods: principally environmental enhancement.

Ministers have consulted widely with farmers and others, and have published the Agriculture Bill alongside their response; it focuses mostly on England because they recognise that devolution provides each administration with the powers to decide its own priorities.

We must take this opportunity to use public money to reward environmentally-responsible land use, as well as maintaining and enhancing high standards of animal welfare. I am convinced that we will harness this opportunity and ensure that our best days as a food and farming nation lie ahead of us."

January 2019

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Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill, which will introduce legislation to replace the current system known as 'Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards' (DoLS).

As you may be aware, DoLS is an assessment currently carried out on people who lack the mental capacity to make their own decisions about their care, for example because they are living with dementia. However, the current system is broken and is ultimately failing to provide vulnerable people with the protections they need. More than 48,000 people have been waiting more than a year for an assessment, and I agree with my ministerial colleagues that we urgently need to act to tackle this injustice.

That is why the Government has brought forward a new system, known as 'Liberty Protection Safeguards', which will become law through the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill. These reforms will introduce a simpler, streamlined process that is essential to tackling the backlog of vulnerable people waiting for an assessment, but, crucially, robustly upholds the rights of the individual at all stages. Giving more power to the individual, the new Safeguards ensure their thoughts and feelings are taken into account throughout. 

As you may be aware, the Bill is currently making its way through Parliament. Far from being rushed, the Bill builds on the Law Commission's three years of engagement with vulnerable people, carers, local government and providers.

I know there has been some concern over the role of care home managers in this system. Care home managers, as in the current system, will continue to play a role in identifying a need for safeguards, as well as playing a role in flagging when someone has objections to their arrangements. The Minister for Care has made clear that care home managers will never be responsible for authorising arrangements or conducting reviews. This will rightly be the sole duty of responsible bodies such as local authorities or hospitals.

For people with long-term progressive conditions, starting the process from scratch every year can be cumbersome and unnecessary. The Liberty Protection Safeguards model therefore triples the maximum authorisation length from one year to three years, as recommended by the Law Commission. This will only be granted to people who have already received two prior assessments and authorisations, and whose circumstances are unlikely to change. Every authorisation will also be supported by a programme of reviews which can take place regularly within an authorisation period to ensure that the care arrangements in place remain appropriate for the individual. 

I hope this reassures you that the Government is steadfastly committed to tackling this broken system while ensuring the rights of those affected are robustly protected throughout."

January 2019

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The independent review of the Modern Slavery Act - ECPAT UK

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about providing support for trafficked children. 

I know that the Government is committed to tackling every form of modern slavery, including human trafficking. The Government has secured commitment from other governments and institutions, including the UN, the Commonwealth and the EU, to tackle modern slavery, and has successfully lobbied for the establishment of the first ever UN Sustainable Development Goal to end modern slavery. It is also working bilaterally with priority countries to deepen law enforcement cooperation.

The Prime Minister has announced a new taskforce to accelerate progress on tackling human trafficking and modern slavery. At the same time £33.5 million of development assistance funding was also pledged to tackle slavery in countries from where we know victims are regularly trafficked to the UK.

In July 2018, the Home Office announced a review of the Modern Slavery Act, which will incorporate the section on Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTAs), as you have outlined. This review will be published in spring 2019 and will inform the adoption of any additional methods to protect and support trafficked children. The independent review team has consulted with expert advisers in child trafficking including Professor Ravi Kohli, a Professor of Child Welfare and a qualified social worker. Professor Kohli is responsible for gathering evidence from Child Trafficking interest groups. If you would like more information on this process you can contact the secretariat by emailing info@modernslaveryactreview.independent.gov.uk 

I will monitor the progress of this independent review closely [optional - letter to third party: and will seek to engage with my colleague Vernon Coaker MP to share my feedback on the issue.] I look forward to the publication of the report in spring 2019."

January 2019

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Review the Loan Charge - Loan Charge Action Group

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about disguised remuneration. 
 
The Government is committed to tackling tax avoidance and evasion at all levels in order to ensure that everyone, no matter who they are, pays the right amount of tax at the right time. Over 100 measures have been introduced since 2010 and significant action has already been taken, including securing and protecting over £185 billion of tax revenues that would otherwise have gone unpaid, and reducing the UK's tax gap to less than 6 per cent.
 
It is unfair to ordinary taxpayers, who pay the right amount of tax and do not use avoidance schemes, to let anybody benefit from contrived tax avoidance arrangements. That is why the Government has taken action to ensure that everybody pays the taxes they owe and contribute towards the public-funded services from which they benefit.
 
The 2019 Loan Charge has been applied to reclaim tax that is owed from disguised remuneration schemes, which are an aggressive form of tax avoidance which at their peak cost the Exchequer hundreds of millions pounds a year.
 
Disguised remuneration schemes have never been acceptable. However, in order to give those people still holding a 'loan' an opportunity to repay it, in 2016 the Government announced an amnesty period of three years to allow these people to agree a settlement with HMRC, which may include penalties. This period will come to a close on 5 April 2019.
 
A technical consultation was run on these changes, resulting in an improved process for submitting information to HMRC. The proposals are part of a package of reforms to prevent tax avoidance - all designed to make sure we have a tax system that is fair to everyone.
 
HMRC takes its duty of care very seriously and anyone worried about their ability to pay their bill should contact HMRC to talk about the payment options available to them."

January 2019

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UK Trophy Hunting imports- Early Day Motion (EDM) 1829

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for contacting me about trophy hunting imports.
 
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.
 
I understand your concerns, and I agree that it is important we protect endangered animals across the world. I am encouraged that the UK Government is committed to conserving the world's wildlife.
 
The wildlife trade is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, whose approach is to ensure that the trade is conducted legally and sustainably, not necessarily to reduce or end it. At its most recent conference the UK played a key role in developing a proposal for enhanced global rules on hunting and trade. The resulting tightening of controls are a very positive step towards ensuring sustainability.
 
Import controls are managed at an EU-wide level and stricter controls on the import of six species subject to hunting, including lions and African elephants, were introduced in 2015. Following our withdrawal from the EU, the Government will be in a position to consider future UK policy in this area. 
 
As part of its efforts to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, the UK hosted a fourth international conference on the illegal wildlife trade, building on previous conferences in held London, Kasane and Hanoi. It has also set up the £13 million Illegal Wildlife Challenge Fund to support projects in the developing world, and in 2012 funded a conference in Johannesburg to consider conservation of the African lion with other interested countries."

January 2019

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Welfare of pheasants and partridges bred for shooting - Animal Aid

Mike's reply:

"Thank you for your email regarding the welfare of pheasants and partridges bred for shooting.

I note that you ask me to sign an EDM. 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 appreciate your concerns on this issue. The Government is committed to the highest standards of animal welfare, and as you may be aware, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 already makes it clear that gamebirds must not be caused any unnecessary suffering.

A Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes was drawn up based on research carried out by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, advised by a working group that included animal welfare organisations such as the RSPCA. Stock-keepers who fail to follow it could be found to have committed an offence. The Code specifies that these birds must:

1.            have an environment appropriate to their species, age and the purpose for which they are being kept, including adequate heating, lighting, shelter, ventilation and resting areas;

2.            have ready access to fresh water and an appropriate diet to maintain growth, health and vigour;

3.            be provided with appropriate space and facilities to ensure the avoidance of stress and to allow the exhibition of normal behaviour patterns;

4.            be provided with company of their own kind as appropriate for the species concerned; and

5.            be adequately protected from pain, suffering, injury, or disease. Should any of these occur a rapid response is required, including diagnosis, remedial action and, where applicable, the correct use of medication.

The full Code can be found here.

These rules are enforced by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, which carries out routine welfare inspections and investigates complaints; prosecutions can be brought where necessary."

January 2019

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