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Frequently Asked Questions


Campaign groups like 38 degrees often organise e-mail write-in campaigns to MPs. Harriett welcomes these campaigns as they give her a good sense of what her constituents care about. However, they often end up in Parliament’s e-mail spam folder, so here is a list of replies to Frequently Asked E-Mail Questions which constituents can refer to while the e-mails are retrieved, compiled and replied to.
Child Refugees
Article 50
Worcestershire NHS
Istanbul Convention
National Funding Formula
Universal Credit
Sustainability and Transformation Plan for Worcestershire
Nuclear Power and Hinkley Point C
Animal Snares
Electoral Reform Bill
EU Referendum Result
Land Registry
Refugees - Dubs Amendment
Academies
Community pharmacy
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
Renewal of the BBC's Royal Charter
Use of Snares
Support for victims of child abuse
Alcohol Duty
Dementia Care
Madaya
Syrian Refugees
Polio
Student Grants
Food Waste
Donald Trump
Motor Neurone Disease (MND) who rely on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights
Lead ammunition
Welfare of Pheasants bred for Shooting
Age UK Loneliness Campaign
Fracking - Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015
EU – US Free Trade Agreement
Neonicotinoid insecticides and bees
Syria - post vote
ISIL in Syria (United Nations Security Council Resolution 2249)
Paris Climate Change Conference
National Wildlife Crime Units
Energy Efficiency and Insulation
Junior Doctors
Trade Union Bill
Draft Investigatory Powers Bill
Dogmeat in Asia
Sanitary Products
Sugar Tax
Feed-in Tariffs (FITs)
Mothers’ names on marriage certificates.
Student loan repayment threshold
First-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system
BBC and the Charter Review period
Puppy breeding
Community Pubs
Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF).
Care in Custody
Dr Wood and his pregnant wife
Universal Infant Free School Meals
Pakistan Aid
Welfare of Gamebirds
Veterinary Nursing
Electricity Suppliers
Whaling
Trade Unions
Solar Panels
Syrian Refugees
Puppy Breeding
Banks Fair Share
Because I am a girl
Assisted dying
Child tax credits
Fair fuel duty
Unicef and children
Hunting
Digital streaming for the deaf
Anthony Nolan’s campaign
Bees
Seals
Benefits
Minimum wage
Water and Sanitation
Walking Britain
Cross out cancer
Motor Neurone Disease
Living Wage
Affordable Housing
Financial Transactions Tax (FTT)
Fuel Prices
Population Matters
Amnesty International and human rights
CPR in schools
Multiple Sclerosis
Christianity in Britain
Trident
Problem Debt
Protecting Children
The New Alliance
Act for Nature
Campaign to Protect Rural England
Countryside Alliance
Nursing
MacMillan Cancer Support
Alzheimer’s
Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) Manifesto
Rail Fares and public ownership
Compassion in world farming
Ambassador for Breast Cancer
Solar panels on schools
Cigarette Packets - Plain packaging
International Fund for Animal Welfare survey
Violence against children
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home’s backstreet puppy campaign
Insult to injury Campaign
Older pedestrians
NHS
Woods and Trees
Vote Cruelty Free (animal welfare) Campaign
Digital Radio
What will you do to crack down on tax dodging?
Human Fertilisation and Embryology
Infrastructure Bill - Pubs
Infrastructure Bill - Cycling
Infrastructure Bill - Fracking
Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) / NHS
South Worcestershire Development Plan
Firefighters’ Pension Scheme 2015
NHS Amended Duties and Powers Bill
Bees
Tenancies (Reform) Bill
Campaign to save lives
Marine Protected Areas
Sex Selection Abortion
Recall of MPs
Cycling
Arms sales
Fly grazing of horses
Vote for Bob - RSPB nature campaign
Modern Slavery Bill
Palestinian statehood
Affordable Homes Bill
HMRC data sharing
Extraction of shale gas
Recall of MPs
Section 119 of the Care Bill
Smoking in cars when children are present
Lobbying Bill
PCC Consultation
Draft Police and Crime Plan
McKay Commission
Bovine TB and Badgers
Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill
Live Animal Exports
Animal Fighting Sentencing
38 degrees NHS
Justice and Security Bill "Secret Courts"
Energy Bill
Monitor and taxing profits of private healthcare providers
Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill
Prime Minister's speech on Europe
Bees and Neonicotinoid Pesticides
Leveson Report
NHS in England
 
 
 

 
Pakistan Aid

The Department for International Development (DFID) plays a key role in combatting extreme poverty worldwide. In 2013, the UK became the first G7 country to meet the United Nations target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income on aid. I believe that this is firmly in our national interest.

Receipt of UK aid is subject to strict criteria. The Government is clear that the UK will consider reducing or interrupting aid if countries move away from agreed poverty reduction objectives. For example, an unjustified rise in military spending is specifically referenced as a circumstance where the UK may consider this. Aid is also conditional on a country’s commitment to the Government’s Partnership Principles, including commitments to strengthen domestic accountability, thus tackling corruption and ensuring value for money. The Government of Pakistan recognises problems remain, and I am glad that it is working to solve them.

There is, however, a clear case for providing aid to Pakistan. Over 60 million Pakistanis live in extreme poverty, and the country is facing rapid population growth. DFID plans to spend £386 million in Pakistan during this financial year. This gets more children into school, makes childbirth safer, and provides humanitarian assistance. This is having a positive effect. By March 2014, we had enabled nearly 900,000 births to be properly assisted. We are also encouraging economic growth by supporting small businesses, and helping the country increase its tax take, to stop it being aid-dependent. In fact, UK aid to other countries has already ceased - we stopped approving new financial grant aid to India from November 2012, and will no longer provide direct financial aid to South Africa from 2015.

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Welfare of Gamebirds

Thank you for contacting me about the welfare of pheasants bred for shooting.

I appreciate your concerns on this issue. This Government is committed to the highest standards of animal welfare and I strongly support this.

Under existing laws and regulations all animals, including farmed poultry, must be looked after in ways that meet their welfare needs. Guidance is maintained on the steps stock-keepers must take to avoid risking prosecution. This includes an explicit reference to the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s ‘five freedoms’, which state that animals must be kept free from hunger and thirst, from discomfort, from pain, injury or disease, from fear or distress and free to express normal behaviour. Regulations on housing vary depending on how the birds are being raised, but in all cases it must allow essential biological needs to be fulfilled.

Furthermore, under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, gamebirds must not be caused any unnecessary suffering. Under this Act, 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. It can be found at www.gov.uk by searching on the term ‘Gamebirds’. These rules are enforced by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, which carries out routine welfare inspections and investigates complaints; prosecutions can be initiated where necessary.

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Veterinary Nursing

Having looked into the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' campaign, I understand it has prepared a draft Bill that would prevent people from describing themselves as ‘veterinary nurses’ without being registered as such. I gather it then intends to seek the support of a backbench Member of Parliament to take it forward as a Private Member’s Bill.

I recognise fully the importance of veterinary nurses and the value of their work, not only to pets and animals but to the people who own and look after them. I am also committed to the highest standards of animal welfare. However, until the full details of the proposals have been published I do not feel able to take a firm view on them.

I remain extremely supportive of the veterinary profession and the dedication and professionalism of its nurses and surgeons. I will be sure to follow the progress of this campaign as it develops.

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Electricity Suppliers

My views on switching energy suppliers.

It is absolutely right for customers to consider switching their electricity or gas from one supplier to another, and Ministers are working with energy companies to reduce the time it takes. As a result, the big energy firms have halved that time, a reduction from five weeks to around two and a half. The long-term ambition is to enable switching within 24 hours.

Since 2010, over two million people have switched to independent electricity suppliers and the number of independent suppliers has more than trebled, providing consumers with more choice than ever.

To ensure the energy market is competitive and offers a good deal for consumers, the Government brought in an annual competition test to look at price, profits, competition, barriers to entry and how easy it is for consumers to get the best deal. The experts recommended an independent Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) inquiry, as only the CMA has the powers needed to fix the market.

I fully support this decision and the Government has also given its backing. The inquiry has now entered its second phase and expects to report finally at the end of the year.

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Whaling

Whale populations have still not recovered from past overexploitation and face serious threats such as pollution, habitat degradation and climate change. The Government therefore opposes this activity, which has been illegal in this country for the past 30 years.

The UK has long worked to protect and conserve whales both around the UK and internationally. We have a long-standing commitment to maintaining the moratorium on commercial whaling and supporting ongoing work to strengthen conservation and welfare initiatives managed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). At the IWC’s meeting in late 2014, I am pleased to say that all the UK’s objectives were achieved. Most notably, an action plan that we led to improve the body’s consideration of cetacean welfare was adopted. This was thanks to the Government’s hard work with all parties including whaling nations such as Norway and Japan. Other UK-led measures to strengthen IWC conservation financing and improve its governance were also adopted. In addition, the EU has made representations to Iceland concerning its continuing commercial whaling and international trade in whale products. Many countries drew attention to this during the IWC meeting and requested that Iceland consider more profitable and sustainable alternatives like well managed whale watching.

I am assured that the Government will continue to raise its concerns, including the UK’s opposition to so called ‘scientific whaling’, at every appropriate opportunity.

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Trade Unions

Trade unions are valuable institutions in British society and dedicated trade unionists have a strong history of working hard to represent their members, campaigning for improved safety at work and giving support to their members when it’s needed. But it is only fair that the rights of unions are balanced with the rights of hardworking taxpayers who rely on key public services.

It is wrong that politicised union leaders can hold the country to ransom with demands that only a small percentage of their members voted for; causing misery for millions of people and harming our economy too.

I am glad the Government will rebalance the interest of employers, employees, the public and the rights of trade unions by introducing a 50 per cent voting threshold for union ballot turnouts. The requirement for there to be a simple majority of votes in favour would remain.

To tackle the disproportionate impact of strikes in essential public services such as health, education, fire and transport, a requirement will be introduced in addition to the 50 per cent minimum voting turnout so that 40 per cent of those entitled to vote must vote in favour of industrial action for it to take place. Action will be taken to ensure strikes cannot be called on the basis of ballots conducted years before.

The Government will also introduce a transparent opt-in process for union subscriptions to political funds. Political donations should always be voluntary and this will help ensure that is the case.

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Solar Panels

The Government is committed to meeting 15 per cent of the UK’s energy demands from renewable resources by 2020, and I believe solar power has an important role to play in this.

Renewable energy is supported through a scheme called the Levy Control Framework (LCF), which allows the Government to control public expenditure paid for out of consumers’ energy bills through the Renewables Obligation. This has provided significant financial support to the renewable sector, but in real terms (2011/12 prices) current LCF forecasts are equivalent to an increase from £7.6bn to £9.1bn in 2020/21. This makes it necessary for DECC to take action to control costs, so the Department is now consulting on a set of proposals that include closing the Renewables Obligation to new solar PV projects of 5MW and below, and additional capacity added to an accredited solar PV station up to 5MW, from 1st April 2016.

Government support has already driven down the cost of renewable energy significantly, and this makes it easier for parts of the industry to do without subsidy from taxpayers. I believe it is important to reduce carbon emissions in a cost-effective way while keeping household energy bills as low as possible, protecting existing investment as well as consumers.

The consultation closed on 2nd September. You can find further details on the UK Government website, www.gov.uk, by searching on the term 'Solar PV projects of 5MW and below'.

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Syrian Refugees

Let me share with you, in case you have not seen it, my article from this week’s Malvern Observer.

“…As far as refugees and asylum seekers are concerned, it is worth summarising what the Government has done so far. It has already committed £900 million of international aid budget to help refugees, more than the rest of Europe put together and this week announced an extra £100 million. The Syrian Vulnerable Person Scheme was launched last year and the Government has given amnesty to over 5,000 Syrians. Our Navy has also been active carrying out a humanitarian mission in the Mediterranean and helping to save lives. We must also focus on preventing the criminal gangs transporting people illegally towards Europe. We have this week offered to take more people fleeing the war-torn region to reduce pressures on Turkey, Jordan, Hungary, Italy and Greece…

There are some hurdles that do need to be overcome. Any vulnerable Syrian person, who, for example, may have been the victim of serious sexual assault or extreme violence or is an orphan will have complex, long-term needs from our social services and healthcare system. At present, the re-settlement budget only extends to one year so this needs to be addressed before our councils can agree to offer help to such victims. Also, the current scheme only allows for the use of scarce social housing while there may be individuals locally who might want to offer their homes.

These complex problems need to be considered. The UK has always been proud to offer freedom and security to genuine asylum seekers. I will continue to work with local authorities and the Home Office to see how big-hearted local people can best offer the hand of friendship to those in most need, fleeing the horrors of war.”

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Puppy Breeding

Anyone in the business of breeding dogs must be licenced. They must demonstrate that the animals have suitable accommodation, food,water and bedding material; are adequately exercised and visited; and that all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent the spread of infection.

For dogs bred by so called “hobby breeders”, who are not in business but do breed occasionally, there is the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal or fail to provide for its welfare. Anyone breaking this law could face a fine of up to £20,000 and /or 51 weeks imprisonment.

Only about 70 pet shops sell puppies and kittens, and these are licensed and regulated. Local authorities can restrict which animals a pet shop can sell, and new guidance stresses the need for interaction with people. I share concerns about unregulated sales over the internet, so am pleased that the Government has created a voluntary code which has resulted in 100,000 adverts being removed since the start of 2014.

Lastly on the issue of sales across borders, I am pleased to be able to tell you that changes to the EU pet passport scheme mean that it is no longer possible to bring a puppy under 15 weeks old into this country.

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Banks Fair Share

Some banks made large losses as a result of the financial crisis and under the rules we inherited these losses are now being used by banks to eliminate corporation tax payments on current profits.

As a result, some banks would not, if the situation remained, be paying tax for 15 or 20 years, which is totally unacceptable. The banks got public support in the crisis and I believe they should now support the public in the recovery.

I am therefore pleased that since April 2015 the amount of banks’ profits that can be offset by carried forward losses is restricted to 50 per cent, increasing their contribution to public finances through their tax payments.

I hope this reassures you that this Government is taking action to ensure banks pay their fair share to support the recovery.

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Human Rights: Because I am a girl

Like you, I want to see the UK working to promote girls’ education, tackling violence against women and girls, ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and combating early and forced marriage. Development cannot occur if half the population are excluded. Girls need to have voice, to participate in political processes; the chance to go to school and get a job, and the power to decide whether or not they get married and have children, and to live free from violence and the threat of violence. Since 2010, the Department for International Development has already helped more than 5 million girls go to school, given 7.9 million women access to modern family planning methods and secured land and property rights for 2.4 million women.

The UK Government was one of the first to push for a stand-alone gender goal in the new development framework and a holistic set of targets that address the root causes of inequality and discrimination that affect girls and women, including widows. I know the Government will continue to push for greater investment in gender equality in negotiations around financing for development, and for a strong outcome at the UN General Assembly in September.

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Assisted dying

Thank you for contacting me about the Assisted Dying Bill.

I appreciate your concern on this very sensitive issue. Coping with terminal illness is distressing and difficult both for the patient and their families.

While accepting that this is an extremely difficult area, I believe that all human life is intrinsically valuable. I disapprove of any lessening of the strong moral and legal imperatives against the taking of life and therefore also disagree with the Assisted Dying Bill. The lives of the terminally ill and the frail are of equal value to anyone else’s. They deserve equal protection under the criminal law.

I fully accept that suicide, assisting or encouraging suicide, assisted dying and euthanasia are all subjects on which it is entirely possible for people to hold widely different but defensible opinions. This is why the Government believes that any change to the law in this emotive and contentious area is an issue of individual conscience and a matter for Parliament to decide rather than one for Government policy.

Everyone would agree that terminally ill patients should receive the highest quality palliative support and end-of-life care, and that they and their families should be certain that their end-of-life care will meet all of their needs. With that in mind I welcome the Department of Health’s End of Life Care Strategy which is intended to improve access to good quality palliative care and encourage the Government further to develop specialist palliative care and hospice provision.

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Child tax credits

Thank you for contacting me about the welfare budget and child tax credits. As you are aware, the Government has made a commitment to reduce welfare spending. While it has already set out where some of the savings will come from, such as freezing and capping working age benefits, further details will be given in due course. It is, however, a key element of the Government's reforms to restore fairness to the welfare state and to create clear incentives for people to get into work, ensuring taxpayers that the high claims of the past are no longer possible. The system we inherited was not only unaffordable, but trapped people in poverty and created a culture of entitlement.

I believe that the best route out of poverty is to have more people in work, with higher rates of pay and lower taxes. The household benefit cap already ensures that no out-of-work household can receive more in benefits than the average family earns, while Universal Credit is a vital reform which will ensure that it always pays to work. At the same time, I am glad that the Personal Allowance was increased again in April to £10,600. This means individuals can earn up to this amount without paying any income tax on it and means a typical taxpayer is £825 better off in 2015-16 since 2010. This increase also means that over three million of those on the lowest paid have been taken out of tax altogether. The proportion of workless families, and the proportion of children living in workless families, are both the lowest since records began in 1996. Employment is also at record levels, with nearly 2.3 million more people in private sector jobs than in 2010.

I appreciate your concern about Child Tax Credits. As you are aware, details about the welfare savings have not yet been announced. I welcome, however, that other steps have been taken to help families. The new Tax-Free Childcare scheme will provide 20 per cent support on childcare costs up to £10,000 per year for each child, meaning parents will receive support of up to £2,000 per child per year. The scheme will mean all working parents with children under 12 will be eligible for the scheme from autumn 2015. I also welcome the Government’s commitment to doubling the entitlement of free childcare for 3-4 years old to 30 hours a week during this Parliament.

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Fair Fuel Duty

Thank you for contacting me in connection with the fuel duty campaign. I know this is an important issue for families and businesses in the constituency.

The Chancellor will deliver his Budget on 8th July and I would not wish to speculate on what will be set out. However, I am proud of the strong action we have taken on fuel duty to help ease the pressure on family budgets.

As a result of the continued action taken on fuel duty since 2011, by the end of 2015-16 the typical motorist will save £9 each time they fill their tank compared to what it would have been had this action not been taken.

I know this is a key issue for motorists and I will monitor closely any announcements the Government makes in relation to fuel duty.

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Unicef Children Campaign

Thank you for contacting me in support of the current Unicef children campaign. I share your concerns about the millions of children across the world who are subjected to violence and abuse. The UK supports efforts to end all forms of violence against children through its humanitarian and development programmes.

Many of the Department for International Development’s (DFID) programmes help to protect children from violence. DFID works with mandated child protection agencies including UNICEF in conflict-affected countries to assist and protect children. In Syria, Iraq, and the wider region the UK has pledged more than £800 million to help those affected by conflict, including vulnerable children. Through the No Lost Generation Initiative, the UK is funding education and psychosocial support for Syrian children to protect them from violence, abuse and exploitation.

The UK has a close working relationship with UNICEF. The International Development Secretary recently met with UNICEF UK’s Ambassador, Michael Sheen, to discuss the campaign, and how we can work together to ensure vulnerable groups are protected. In 2013, the UK was the largest government donor to UNICEF, with a combined contribution of nearly £375 million. UNICEF plays a vital role in delivering projects in a number of challenging environments, such as the Middle East and ebola-affected countries. In addition I am delighted that the UK is supporting UNICEF’s new child protection fund, announced last December, to combat the online sexual exploitation of children.

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Hunting

Thank you for sending me a Hunting Act campaign letter. I am grateful to you for sharing your point of view with me.

As you know, the Conservatives have pledged in their manifesto to introduce a government bill to repeal the Hunting Act during this Parliament on a free vote. This means that MPs would be free to vote as they personally choose, rather than being “whipped” to vote for their party.

However in the Queen’s Speech the Government gave priority to other important manifesto commitments and as yet, therefore, we do not have a timetable for any legislative process in respect of the Hunting Act.

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Digital streaming for the deaf

Thank you for contacting me in support of the campaign regarding people with sensory loss and digital services.

I appreciate your comments on this important issue. The UK is a world leader in the TV access services both in extent and in quality. This includes subtitles, audio description and signing and I am encouraged that UK broadcasters and content providers are committed to meeting the needs of disabled people and want to ensure that this remains the case in the future.

The Government is working with the Authority for Television on Demand Digital (ATVOD), Digital Television Group (DTG) and others to monitor the quality and the amount of subtitles and audio description delivered online via Catch up and On Demand services. As you may know, ATVOD published their report Provision of Video on Demand Access Services - 2014 Report – last year which looked at the level of provision by On Demand Programme Service providers of subtitling, audio description, signing and other services for people with disabilities relating to sight, hearing or both.

The findings of this report show that there is good progress being made, especially on websites such as 4oD, and the development of accessible services on apps such as Demand 5 and the STV Player. However, ATVOD also said barriers remain and conversations need to take place between content providers and platform operators to overcome these barriers.

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Anthony Nolan’s ‘Destination Cure’ campaign

Thank you for contacting me about the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and what the Government is doing to protect those on low pay.

Part of the Government’s long-term economic plan is about creating jobs, cutting taxes and making work pay so that living standards rise in a sustainable way. I am pleased the adult rate minimum wage will increase by 20 pence in October 2015 to £6.70 per hour. This will help 1.4 million of the lowest paid workers and means more economic security for families across the country. This increase will be the largest increase in the minimum wage since 2008 and is only possible because of the careful management of the economy over the past years.

It is important to protect those on low incomes and that due to the difficult decisions that have been made the Government has delivered a typical tax cut of £825 for 26 million people and taken 3 million people out of tax altogether. The Prime Minister has also announced that a future Conservative Government would increase the personal allowance to £12,500 by 2020 which would take one million more of the lowest paid workers out of income tax and mean anyone working 30 hours a week on the minimum wage would pay no income tax at all.

In addition, I am pleased we have committed in our manifesto that the next Conservative Government will pass a new law to guarantee a Tax Free Minimum Wage, so that no-one earning the minimum wage will pay income tax ever again.

Compared to the last administration, which left us with the worst recession in a century, made our country poorer, and people who work hard poorer this Government is committed to sticking to our long-term economic plan that will ensure a better and more financially secure future for hardworking people, their children and their grandchildren.

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Bees and neonicitinoids

Thank you for contacting me about neonicotinoid insecticides and bees. I am sorry that I am unable to attend the reception being held this Wednesday here at the House of Commons due to ministerial commitments.

However I entirely agree with you that bees and other pollinators play a vital role in the security of our food supply and the quality of our natural environment. I welcome the work the Government has done over the last few years to understand and protect them, most recently through the draft National Pollinator Strategy, recently under consultation.

I understand that the Government is keeping evidence on neonicotinoids under close, open-minded scrutiny and I have personally spoken to the Minister to let him know your thoughts.‎

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Benefit sanctions

It is important to have a system based on fairness which will provide value for the taxpayer’s money and place greater emphasis on personal responsibility. The Government spends £94bn every year on working-age benefits, so that unemployed people and people on low income can meet basic needs. Consequently, I believe that claimants have a responsibility to do everything they can to get back into work. Benefit sanctions are not new: they have existed for decades to encourage people to engage with the support being offered. Over 70 per cent of claimants say they are more likely to follow the rules if they know they risk having their benefits stopped. I am glad the overwhelming majority of claimants stick to their commitments and are not sanctioned.

However, I can assure you that sanctions are used as a last resort. The Government has put in place a comprehensive monitoring regime to ensure that sanctions are only applied where appropriate. Importantly, the decision to impose a sanction is taken by an independent decision maker, and everyone is made aware of their right to appeal. Claimants have every opportunity to present additional evidence. Those in genuine need are able to apply for hardship payments. I can further reassure you that the Department of Work and Pensions does not sanction vulnerable claimants – such as those with learning difficulties or mental health conditions without making every effort to contact them, their carer, or their healthcare professional first.

FinalIy may I reassure you that there are no targets for sanctions, and, in fact, the number of sanctions has gone down over the past year. 94 per cent of Jobseekers Allowance claimants stick to their commitments and are not sanctioned, and less than 1 per cent of Employment and Support Allowance claimants – the main in-work sickness benefit - are sanctioned.

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Protection of seals

Thank you for sending me a campaign email about the protection of seals.

This issue has attracted considerable attention recently and I can appreciate your concern. As you know, it is lawful to kill a seal if it is deemed to pose a threat to fishing operations, in accordance with the Conservation of Seals Act 1970. I am not aware of any current plans to change this position.

Like you I would much prefer to see non-lethal means of controlling seals being developed so that culling will no longer be thought necessary. I understand that such methods are already in use, and a representative of a Scottish aquaculture organisation recently stated that seals are only shot as a last resort. The fishing industry does need at present to retain the right, however, to cull when it is necessary to prevent damage to their operations.

I am also pleased to say that the seal colony I know best, on Blakeney Point in Norfolk, has seen record growth in recent years, and is thriving. Apparently there has been some concern that the population growth there might lead to calls for a cull, but the National Trust, which controls the property, has confirmed that there would be no need for this to be considered.

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Minimum wage

Thank you for contacting me about the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and what the Government is doing to protect those on low pay.

Part of the Government’s long-term economic plan is about creating jobs, cutting taxes and making work pay so that living standards rise in a sustainable way. I am pleased the adult rate minimum wage will increase by 20 pence in October 2015 to £6.70 per hour. This will help 1.4 million of the lowest paid workers and means more economic security for families across the country. This increase will be the largest increase in the minimum wage since 2008 and is only possible because of the careful management of the economy over the past years.

It is important to protect those on low incomes and that due to the difficult decisions that have been made the Government has delivered a typical tax cut of £825 for 26 million people and taken 3 million people out of tax altogether. The Prime Minister has also announced that a future Conservative Government would increase the personal allowance to £12,500 by 2020 which would take one million more of the lowest paid workers out of income tax and mean anyone working 30 hours a week on the minimum wage would pay no income tax at all.

In addition, I am pleased we have committed in our manifesto that the next Conservative Government will pass a new law to guarantee a Tax Free Minimum Wage, so that no-one earning the minimum wage will pay income tax ever again.

Compared to the last administration, which left us with the worst recession in a century, made our country poorer, and people who work hard poorer this Government is committed to sticking to our long-term economic plan that will ensure a better and more financially secure future for hardworking people, their children and their grandchildren.

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Water and Sanitation

Access to clean and safe water, sanitation and hygiene are among the most basic of human needs. Providing access to clean drinking water and effective sanitation is vital for improving people’s health and will give them the opportunity to work, which in turn will drive economic growth, helping countries become self-sufficient.

I am therefore encouraged that the Government is helping to provide access to clean drinking water, improving sanitation facilities and provide basic hygiene education, such as the need to wash hands. As part of this the Department for International Development is building wells, standpipes, pumps and toilets and sewerage systems and encouraging the private sector in developing countries to do more to improve facilities and infrastructure. For example, DFID funding will provide six million people with access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene education in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the next four years. The £25 million funding and UNICEF programme is helping to improve water quality and sanitation in rural areas.

The current Millennium Goals will end in 2015 and as part of the process of negotiating the next set of goals, the UN Secretary General asked the Prime Minister to co-chair a panel of 27 members from around the world to put forward recommendations. This panel concluded its work in 2013 and put forward a bold and ambitious agenda for ending extreme poverty by 2030. Since then the Prime Minister has campaigned for a simple, compelling and measurable set of goals that reflect the panel’s recommendations. Negotiations to finalise the new goals are now underway and will conclude in September 2015.

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Walking Britain

Thank you for contacting me about the importance of walking. We all know that walking has many health, economic and environmental benefits.

We are fortunate in Worcestershire to have spectacularly beautiful countryside, and I like to spend much of my spare time walking with my husband and our dog, Poppy, near our home in the Teme Valley.

Through its Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF), the Department for Transport (DFT) has provided £600 million to support a range of sustainable transport projects across England of which about £120 million in 2012/13 was spent on projects that directly benefitted walkers.

Parliament has also recently passed the Infrastructure Act which introduced a commitment to create a “cycling and walking investment strategy” with dedicated funding. I look forward to further progress being made on this strategy.

The Department for Health has invested £1.2 million in five English cities to help residents to build walking into their day-to-day lives. Evidence shows that these programmes have been very successful at encouraging older people to become more active. The Department Health also works closely with the Ramblers/McMillan Cancer Support to promote their nationwide Walking for Health Programme.

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Cross out cancer

I know that early diagnosis of cancer is vital to give people the best chance of successful treatment and I am pleased that the Government is providing more than £450 million to help the NHS to diagnose cancer earlier. That money is part of more than £750 million in additional funding for cancer over four years.

To ensure that people get an early diagnosis the Government is making sure they know the signs of cancer and when to speak to their GP. Since 2010-11, the Department of Health has undertaken a series of Be Clear on Cancer awareness campaigns covering bowel, bladder & kidney, breast and lung and other cancers. In addition to this, the Government is expanding screening programmes to support earlier diagnoses of asymptomatic cancer.

People deserve the best cancer treatment which is why I support the £1.16 billion Cancer Drugs Fund which has helped more than 55,000 cancer patients since it was set up four years ago to provide pioneering drugs to those who need them most.

I am sure you will have shared my support at the opening in January of the new state of the art Oncology Centre at Worcestershire Royal Hospital. This will enable 90-95% of patients to receive their radiotherapy locally.

Finally, I believe that it is important for Members of Parliament to see for themselves the extent of the research taking place. That is why I visited the cancer research unit at Birmingham University last February, a visit I found most interesting and helpful.

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Motor Neurone Disease

Ensuring better care for those with long-term conditions, such as MND, is essential and it is clear that those with MND need to have easy access to appropriate support and equipment to ensure the best quality of life possible.

NHS England has a person-centred approach to long term neurological conditions, putting personalised care planning at the centre of care tailored to each person’s needs and goals. It has set up strategic clinical networks (SCNs) for neurological conditions to provide clinical expertise and guidance to service commissioners. Operational Delivery Networks (ODNs), working closely with SCNs, commissioners, providers and patients are responsible for ensuring the delivery of safe and effective services across help secure the best outcome for people with neurological conditions.

Our long-term plan for the economy means we have been able to increase the NHS budget by £7.3 billion over this Parliament and we are now committing to increasing health spending in real terms by a minimum of £8 billion in the next Parliament. This commitment to the NHS has allowed us to invest in MND research and we are working to give new hope to thousands of people suffering from long-term conditions, such as MND.

  • We are working to ensure that the NHS is among the best in Europe at supporting people with neurological conditions such as MND. The government has asked NHS England to make progress in improving outcomes for people with long-term conditions, by making the NHS more responsive to their needs.
  • The Department of Health’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funds a range of research on MND to improve the care of patients. This includes a £1.1 million project looking at whether there are better ways of treating breathing problems associated with MND.

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Living Wage

I support businesses which choose to pay the living wage when it is affordable but not at the expense of jobs as I believe the priority must be boosting growth and creating jobs. I know these have been challenging times and I applaud companies that have chosen to pay higher wages.

It is important to support those on low incomes and I am pleased that last year the minimum wage increased above inflation for the first time since 2008 to £6.50 an hour benefitting more than one million workers. The minimum wage will increase again in October 2015 with the adult rate rising by 20 pence to £6.70 per hour, helping 1.4 million of the lowest paid workers and giving more economic security to families across the country.

Strong action is also being taken to help increase take-home pay by cutting taxes, particularly those of the low paid, and raising the personal allowance, taking three million people out of income tax altogether.

Employers are of course legally required to pay their staff in accordance with the National Minimum Wage and to prevent exploitation, stronger measures are being introduced to deal with companies that fail to pay their staff the minimum wage.

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Affordable Housing

I share your desire to see more new affordable homes built in areas where there is a need for them. That is why the Government has reformed the planning system by allowing local communities to determine how they will meet local housing needs in a way that is appropriate to their area and which commands local support. This new system is working, with planning permission granted for 240,000 new homes in the 12 months to June 2014, the highest number since 2007.

In Malvern Hills and Wychavon districts, 740 new affordable homes were completed in the year 2013 / 2014.

At the same time the Government is helping to get empty homes and redundant land back into use. Since 2010 over 135,000 empty properties have been brought back into use, something that councils are now rewarded for doing through the New Homes Bonus. Changes to permitted development rights are making it easier to convert existing buildings into homes, while alterations to the Community Infrastructure Levy now make it more attractive to build new homes on brownfield land.

Housing supply is now at its highest level since 2008 and there are now 700,000 more homes in England than in 2009. The Government has delivered over 217,000 new affordable homes and is building the first garden city and town in decades, which will see a total of 28,000 new homes built at Ebbsfleet and Bicester. In addition, the Help-to-Buy scheme has helped over 71,000 people access an affordable mortgage, giving more families the chance to find a good quality, affordable home.

However, the Government recognises that it needs to go further. That’s why it has committed to building 275,000 new affordable homes from 2015-20 and will allow 100,000 new starter homes to be built which will not only be affordable but reserved exclusively for first-time buyers under the age of 40 so that more young people can get their foot on the housing ladder.

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Financial Transactions Tax (FTT)

It is right that the financial sector makes a fair contribution to the public purse, which is why we have introduced the UK bank levy. In 2015-16 this will raise £3.6 billion and £3.8 the year after that.

Additionally, the Government has acted quickly to reform the banking system to ensure it supports families, the economy and jobs, in which the public do not subsidise banks, and banks are allowed to fail without a threat to the system at large. These reforms will separate the branch on the high street from the trading floor in the City to protect taxpayers if mistakes are made. They also include measures to make banks more resilient and increase competition in the banking sector.

I can assure you that the Government continues to engage with its international partners on a FTT to discuss this matter carefully in order to assess its impact on non-participating EU Member States and the single market. However, Ministers have made clear they do not intend to join this grouping for a number of reasons.

They remain of the view that an FTT would have to be applied globally; otherwise those transactions covered by the tax would simply relocate to countries that chose not to apply it. The EU Commission’s own assessment of the impact of an FTT applied only in the EU assumes the relocation of 70 per cent to 90 per cent of some markets away from the EU. It should also be noted that the UK is not alone in its stance, with only 11 of 28 member states agreeing to adopt an FTT by 2016

That is why, through international discussions, it is clear that a consensus for the introduction of a global FTT does not currently exist. Therefore, while the United Kingdom is not opposed in principle to others introducing a FTT, the UK Government has concerns about the design of the tax currently proposed by the Commission.

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Fuel Prices

Thank you for contacting me about fuel prices.

I know that times are hard for many families and businesses in the constituency at the moment. Therefore, I am pleased the Government is doing everything it can to ease the cost of living, including taking action on fuel duty.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, has announced fuel duty will be frozen again for another year. By the end of 2015-16, fuel duty will have been frozen for 5 years, the longest freeze for more than 2 decades

As a result of the action taken on fuel duty since 2011, by the end of 2015-16 the typical motorist will save £9 each time they fill their tank.

Petrol is around 20p a litre cheaper than it was at its peak in 2012, but the Chancellor has made clear that falls in the oil price must be passed onto families at the petrol pumps. We will continue to monitor this with the full range of powers available to the government.

I hope this reassures you that the Government is listening to the concerns of motorists and has taken action to help with fuel costs.

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Population Matters

Thank you for contacting me about Population Matters manifesto.

I understand your concern about the growth of our population, and that is why as a Conservative I believe in controlled immigration, not mass immigration. Immigration brings benefits to Britain – to our economy, our culture and our national life – but we know that it must be controlled to ensure it is fair to British citizens and legitimate migrants and tough on those who abuse the system or flout the law.

You will also be pleased to know that all Local Authority secondary schools are legally required to teach sex and relationship education. We also expect academies to do so, and support primary schools teaching young people about the importance of family and relationships. Teenage pregnancies have declined to their lowest level in 46 years.

Our international aid budget also supports family planning and women's empowerment.

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Amnesty International and human rights

Britain has a proud tradition of human rights and they remain a central part of what this country does to promote good practice around the world. The European Convention on Human Rights, written after the Second World War, set out the basic human rights we should respect. The Government has every intention to stand by the Convention.

You may be aware that the Conservative Party has set out its plans to reform the Human Rights Act. I am pleased this is the case, because I believe the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, has extended its remit unilaterally by going into areas which have little to do with real human rights issues.

A future Conservative Government would introduce a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, making clear when human rights laws should apply, that rights should be balanced with responsibilities and which would stop terrorists using human rights to prevent deportation. I can assure you that the UK would stand by the Convention and put the text of the original human rights into primary legislation. Only if the UK is unable to agree on a legitimate application of the Convention, would we withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, as this would be the only viable alternative.

Let me be clear, torture is an abhorrent violation of human rights and human dignity. Its impact on societies and individuals is devastating. I would like to stress that the UK does not participate in, solicit, encourage, or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for any purpose, and international action against torture remains a human rights priority for the Government.

The UK’s torture prevention work supports our consular work by helping to reduce the mistreatment of British nationals imprisoned overseas. The UK is continuing to pursue the three goals of the FCO Torture Prevention Strategy: ensuring legal frameworks are in place and enforced; developing political will and capacity to eradicate torture; and giving organisations on the ground skills to ensure its eradication.

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CPR in schools

I realise that cardiac arrests can have devastating consequences for patients and their families. I would like to pay tribute to the work of the British Heart Foundation who do so much to raise the profile of this problem. I think it is important that we continue to do all we can to tackle this issue.

Schools have the opportunity to teach Emergency life-saving skills (ELS) as part of personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education. Whilst it is up to individual schools precisely what to teach in PSHE, they are encouraged to work with expert organisations to teach ELS.

For example St John Ambulance who visited approximately 2,000 schools in 2013. Their 'Teach the Difference' website has over 7,000 registered users, most of whom are teachers, and users downloaded over 16,000 first aid lesson plans in 2013. The British Heart Foundation, is also offering free cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training kits to all secondary schools as part of its Nation of Lifesavers campaign.

In addition, the Government has negotiated a deal to offer an initial 500 defibrillators to schools at reduced prices. This will benefit thousands of pupils and teachers by helping to put life-saving equipment in classrooms across the country. The DfE has also published a new guide for schools covering the purchase, installation and maintenance of these defibrillators. This was developed with help from a wide range of voluntary and community sector organisations.

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Multiple Sclerosis

I recognise that MS is a difficult and debilitating disease. People with MS, and their families and carers, should have access to the right care and support and to co-ordinated care and services. I firmly support the ambition to make the NHS among the best in Europe at supporting people with neurological conditions such as MS.

NHS England has been responsible since 2013 for commissioning all specialised neurological services, including those for people with MS. These are governed by national service specifications which set out what commissioned services should include. For specialised neurology services this means ensuring that services provide high quality care for all people with a neurological condition such as MS. Services should also provide improved quality of life and patient experience for all patients and carers, and should be accessible to everyone, across the country.

This Government has worked hard to ensure that assessments for disability benefits work for everyone. The introduction of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is part of the Government's commitment to continually improving the assessment process and ensuring that support is targeted at those who need it most.

It is also important that people with MS are able to access the medicines that they need. The NHS Constitution clearly states that patients have the right to drugs and treatments recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence for use in the NHS, if their doctor says they are clinically appropriate. Many thousands of people in England have benefitted from those MS drugs recommended by NICE or covered by the MS Risk Sharing Scheme.

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Christianity in Britain

Britain’s churches are at the centre of thousands of communities and provide support and comfort to millions in our society.

As the Prime Minister has said many times, we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country and more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations. Christian values are those of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, tolerance and love – and we should be confident in standing up to defend them. The Church of England also has an important continuing constitutional role as England’s established church.

The Government has backed faith groups in carrying out their valued work, supporting moral leadership and a sense of community. It is challenging extremism in all its forms, tackling the violence and hatred that seeks to create division and is championing what unites our country across class, colour and creed, standing up for and supporting British values.

In regard to abortion, in May 2014, the Government issued guidance, making clear to doctors and healthcare professionals that abortion on the grounds of gender alone is not lawful, that there is an expectation that two doctors should consider the circumstances of the woman and for at least one of the doctors to have seen the woman before reaching a decision. It is clear that abortion is a matter of conscience and will continue to be an entirely free vote issue for the Government.

I acknowledge that a number of the Government's actions in the area of gay rights lie contrary to the beliefs of some Christians, and both the Church of England and the Church in Wales have been very clear that they do not currently wish to conduct same-sex marriages. The Government respects this and the Same Sex Marriage Act provides the necessary legal protections for them, as it does for other religious organisations that do not wish to marry same-sex couples. The Church of England and the Church in Wales will be able to decide for themselves whether and when to allow marriages of same-sex couples according to their rites.

A Conservative Government will continue to support our Christian churches and faith groups, promote British values and defend freedom of religion. That includes standing up for the hard-fought British liberty of freedom of religion, and taking on aggressive secularists who have tried to end the role of faith in public life.

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Trident

I believe it is vital that we maintain a continuous independent nuclear deterrent as the ultimate guarantee of our national security. The Government, and its predecessors, have consistently set out the case for maintaining our nuclear deterrent: that although no state currently has both the intent and the capability to threaten the independence and integrity of the UK, we do not know how the international environment will change in the future. We cannot dismiss the possibility that a major direct nuclear threat to the UK might re-emerge.

Despite successes over recent decades in limiting the number of states with nuclear capabilities, we cannot rule out a major shift in the international security situation which would put us under grave threat. That is why the Government believes it would not be right unilaterally to give up this capability. I fully support this position. Given the range of potential nuclear threats the UK could face over the coming years and decades, I believe that maintaining our continuous deterrent is a national security imperative.

As was set out in the Coalition Programme for Government and subsequently in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Government’s policy is to maintain a continuous submarine-based deterrent and to proceed with the renewal of Trident and the submarine replacement programme. Work on that programme has already begun, although final decisions on the number of replacement submarines to be ordered and the final design will be taken in 2016 at what is known as the ‘Main Gate’ checkpoint of the acquisition programme.

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Problem Debt

If you have had your own personal debt problems then do please contact the local Citizens Advice Bureau, which is supported by your local council.

Over the last five years as your MP I have supported the following measures:

Ensuring borrowers can afford loans. Under new rules, lenders will have to carry out affordability checks for all their lending to make sure they only lend to those who can pay them back. Because of the failure by, e.g. Wonga, to carry out adequate checks they have now agreed to write off the debts of approximately 330,000 customers.

Introducing a loan price cap. From January this year, most people using payday lenders have seen their cost of borrowing fall. Interest and fees have been capped at 0.8 per cent per day, and no borrower will ever pay back more than twice what they borrowed. A person taking out a loan for 30 days and repaying on time will pay a maximum of £24 in charges and fees on each £100 borrowed.

Tough new rules on payday lending. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has announced they will limit lenders to two loan rollovers, compel lenders to signpost borrowers to free debt advice at a rollover, and force them to display clear risk warnings on all advertising.

Boosting competition by ensuring payday lenders allow price comparison. The Competition and Markets authority have said that payday lenders must make their product details available on at least one price comparison website to encourage more competition.

Investing in credit unions. The Government is investing £38 million in credit unions. This will ensure there is a good value alternative to help people save and access loans if they need them.
loan price cap, new rules on how much interest and fees can be charged and boosting competition.

Furthermore, I am glad the Government has put in place a long-term economic plan to build a stronger, healthier economy. One thousand jobs a day have been created since 2010, and the Government has been able to cut income tax, freeze fuel duty and back savers to help hardworking people be more financially secure. Action has also been taken to reform consumer credit markets so they work fairly for people who use them.

Although there is still more to do, with 1.9 million more people in work now than five years ago, the first above-inflation rise in the minimum wage since the recession and a cut to income tax, I believe the Government’s actions are helping to tackle problem debt and I am delighted that families are seeing the results of the long-term economic plan.

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Protecting Children

Regarding the NSPCC's valuable work.

As the MP for the area for the last five years I have paid close attention to child welfare and mental health issues locally, including with extensive personal help for some of the families involved.

The Conservative party made an announcement this week about restricting Internet pornography to over 18s.

I share your aspiration to keep our local children safe.

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The New Alliance

This alliance is a joint initiative involving African governments, local and global companies and donors. It aims to lift 50 million people out of poverty by 2022 through accelerating agricultural sector growth in Africa. Although it started out as a G8 initiative in 2012, the New Alliance is now supported by a wide range of African and global states and businesses.

I believe the New Alliance can make an important contribution to tackling the underlying causes of poverty and hunger in Africa, promoting growth in African agriculture through coordinated public and private investment. This is a critical step that will create jobs in rural areas, raise smallholder farmer incomes and increase the availability and affordability of nutritious food.

I would like to assure you that African government participation in the New Alliance is voluntary and donor funding commitments are not in any way dependent on government policy reforms. Policy changes are the result of a process of negotiation between African governments, companies, farmers and civil society. This year, the UK is supporting efforts to establish an annual review of all agreements, or ‘Cooperation Frameworks’ in each partner country, involving all concerned parties.

Agriculture has always been a predominantly private sector activity and for the Government, the private sector includes a small holder farmer selling surplus at a local market as much as global agribusinesses. Increased domestic investment in agriculture by small-scale farmers and agribusinesses is critical for sustained growth. However, I do also believe that global food and agribusiness companies can make a valuable contribution to agriculture sector growth and poverty reduction in Africa, by sourcing products from small-scale farms and by providing training and access to improved technology.

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Act for Nature

I am determined to protect Worcestershire’s natural surroundings and wildlife. I am therefore delighted to say that the Conservative Party is committed to protecting our natural environment, keeping development sustainable and giving everyone the opportunity to access and enjoy the great British outdoors.

I’m proud that this Government published the first Natural Environment White Paper for 20 years and established a proper strategy, Biodiversity 2020. £7.5 million has been provided to establish 12 Nature Improvement Areas, providing space for wildlife to thrive; 150,000 acres of priority habitats are being created, and over 11 million trees will have been planted during this Parliament. England’s woodland cover is now expanding at a rate that hasn’t been seen since the fourteenth century.

Being outside in nature benefits people physically and mentally, so it is important too to protect access to the countryside. Our network of public rights of way plays an important role, so the Government is simplifying the process of recording them to ensure no historic rights of way are lost. Work is also ongoing with Natural England to establish the England Coast Path.

The Government’s vision for sustainable development, launched in February 2011, made clear that it must be ‘central to the way we make policy, run our buildings and purchase goods and services’. For the first time all departmental business plans include actions that contribute to sustainable development, and tools and capabilities in this area are being embedded right across the Government.

At the General Election I will be standing on my party’s manifesto, but I believe the progress the Government has made shows our commitment to protecting and promoting our natural environment for the present and for the future.

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Campaign to Protect Rural England

Regarding the Campaign to Protect Rural England ‘Stand Up for the Countryside’ manifesto. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my perspective on some of the important issues it raises.

The National Planning Policy Framework is a very clear document that gives protection to our countryside. Our local plan – the South Worcestershire Development Plan – will, when approved by the Planning Inspector, give even better local protection.

I am delighted to say that the Conservative Party is committed to protecting our natural environment and giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy the great British outdoors. Over 11 million trees will be planted during this Parliament, along with 12 Nature Improvement Areas and 150,000 acres of priority habitats. England’s woodland cover is now expanding at a rate that hasn’t been seen since the fourteenth century.

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Countryside Alliance

Regarding the Countryside Alliance Manifesto 2015. I am privileged that I have been able to represent a beautiful rural constituency.

Fast, reliable broadband is essential for homes to benefit from online services, and for UK businesses to compete globally. I am therefore pleased that the Government is investing £1.7 billion in extending superfast broadband provision to rural areas which will not be reached commercially. As a candidate in a rural constituency I have campaigned for faster broadband connection in West Worcestershire and you will see that on my website www.harriettbaldwin.com I list when and where superfast broadband is to be installed. I am determined to achieve full coverage for the constituents of West Worcestershire.

Consumers in this country have a strong desire to buy British. The Government is keen to support this, whether it’s promoting British food or helping people make an informed choice by improving labelling. From April, pork, lamb and poultry must show the country where it was reared and slaughtered.

We do need more affordable rural housing. If you are aware of a suitable rural exception site near you, do let me know. Ultimately local authorities are best placed to decide what development is suitable, and should plan positively to meet local housing requirements. Fairer funding has been secured for local authority schools in 2015-16, including an additional £390 million for the least fairly funded areas in England.

I fully appreciate the importance of the postal service in rural areas, so I am encouraged that Worcestershire Post Offices have received more support in the last five years and have stayed open and been improved. The Kempsey Post Office is set to reopen.

Finally, I recognise the important role that country sports play in our rural communities and I agree that it is vital that any wildlife legislation is based on evidence.

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Nursing

We need to continue to maintain safe staffing levels within the NHS to ensure the safety of patients and staff. In 2012, the Compassion in Nursing strategy was published to ensure that we have the right staff, with the right skills in the right place. In Worcestershire Acute Hospitals there are 124 more nurses than there were in 2010.

NHS Boards are required to sign off and publish evidence based staffing levels at least every six months, providing assurance regarding the impact on quality of care and patient experience and publishing these for patients and the public.

The priority for the Government has always been to ensure a fair pay award for hard working NHS staff whilst also doing what is best for patients, and those staff, which is protecting front line staff numbers. The Government has recently committed to providing more than a million NHS staff (not including doctors and dentists) with a 1 per cent pay rise this year.

Finally, in July 2014 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued the first of their guidelines to the NHS on how to make the right decisions about nursing staff requirements to provide safe care for patients on adult inpatient wards in acute hospitals. Further guidelines for safe staffing in maternity services, accident and emergency and mental health will follow in due course. In my view this is the right approach.

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MacMillan Cancer Support

I recognise cancers impose great emotional and financial costs for patients and their families, and that treatments such as chemotherapy can have profound impacts upon even the most ordinary of daily tasks. I am delighted that a new oncology centre has just opened at Worcester, as it will save local cancer patients the long daily trips to Cheltenham or Wolverhampton.

Improving cancer outcomes was a major priority for our Government. It published a cancer strategy in early 2011 and the ambition was to raise the cancer survival rate in Britain to be the best in Europe, saving over 5,000 lives every year. I am delighted to be able to say that the latest projections show that we are on track to save an extra 12,000 lives each year.

I believe patients of all ages deserve the best cancer treatment which is why I supported the creation of the Cancer Drugs Fund, which has helped more than 60,000 cancer patients since it was set up four years ago to provide pioneering drugs to those who need them most. Funding of £1.16 billion has supported funding innovative treatments that the NHS otherwise couldn’t afford; this underscores the Government’s commitment to improve the cancer survival rate.

That’s why I’m pleased that the Government has committed to spend £750mn since 2011 on raising awareness about cancer, including £450mn to achieve earlier diagnoses. This has meant that 400,000 more diagnostic tests were run in 2014 than in 2010. In addition, this money funds Be Clear on Cancer campaigns make people aware of the signs of cancer.

I share the ambition MacMillan has set out to be the best country in Europe for cancer diagnosis and treatment and I believe with the world – class research that happens in the UK alongside the brilliant doctors and nurses on the NHS frontline, we can get there. Of course, it helps that a strong economy allows us to spend more on the NHS each year.

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Alzheimer’s

I recognise the considerable amount of work that the Alzheimer’s Society does to support dementia sufferers and their families in West Worcestershire and across the country. I think it is entirely right that improving dementia care is a priority for the Government.

Since 2010 this Government has taken strong steps to improve the care we provide for people with dementia. We have more than doubled the annual funding for dementia research and we are investing £44 million for European research into new drugs to treat Alzheimer’s. We will also increase awareness of dementia by ensuring that all 1.3 million NHS staff receive training on the condition and by widening our awareness campaign, ‘Dementia Friends’, from one million to three million people. I have taken the Dementia Friends training and am a patron of the Malvern Dementia Alliance.

The Conservative Party are committed to investing over £300 million into UK research and medical innovation, and an international dementia institute will be established in England within the next five years.

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Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) Manifesto

As a key part of our long-term economic plan, the pub sector is being supported in a range of ways. I'm doing my fair share during the election campaign here in West Worcestershire.

Through the introduction of the Community Right to Bid, communities are able to ask their local authority to list buildings and facilities of local importance, such as pubs. This means that if a pub owner wishes to sell, the community will have six months to come up with a plan and funding in order to try to save it, provided it has been listed as an asset. CAMRA has been a firm supporter of this and more than 600 pubs have been listed so far.

Measures have also been introduced to ensure that tied pubs are given new rights under a statutory code, with the power to resolve disputes through an independent adjudicator. Underpinning these reforms is the principle that tied pub tenants are fairly and lawfully treated by pub companies. Many pubs have also benefited significantly from the Government’s package on business rates for small businesses, giving a typical pub savings of 30 per cent extra or more when compared to 2013-14.

I am also pleased that, for the third year in a row, the tax on a typical pint of beer has been cut by 1p since 23 March 2015. This means that an average pint of beer is 9 pence cheaper than under the previous Government’s duty plans. The duty on spirits and on cider has also be cut by 2 per cent as I know many had campaigned for, while the duty on wine will be frozen. This will keep the duties on beer and wine broadly similar.

The Government has also provided greater flexibility on weights and measures, allowing beer and wine to be sold in different sizes than was previously allowed by regulations, and has made it easier for pubs to play live music.

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Rail Fares and public ownership

I fully understand the concerns that rail passengers have with the cost of train fares, and the impact that this has on household budgets. I am therefore pleased that the Government has ensured for the first time in a decade average regulated rail fares have been capped at inflation for 2014, offering real relief for people across the country. Regulated fares account for around half of the fares available and include season tickets.

The Government is now helping families further – the Chancellor has recently announced that no regulated rail fares will rise by more than inflation in 2015. Together with last year’s freeze, this will save season ticket holders around £75 over 2014 and 2015. For each pound you pay on a train ticket, I think it is interesting to see the breakdown of how it is spent (the figures come from the Association of Train Operating Companies 2014) :

26p Industry staff costs
25p Improvement in rail network
22p Maintaining track and trains
11p Leasing trains
9p Interest payments etc
4p Fuel
3p Train company profits

Fares revenue is crucial to funding day-to-day railway operations and the massive upgrade programme which Ministers are driving forward, with £38 billion being invested over the next five years. That means new state-of-the-art trains, better stations and hundreds of miles of electrified track which will help cut journey times, provide better connections and stimulate growth across the country. For example, here in Worcestershire as you may know we are likely to have a new station at Worcester Parkway by 2017. You can read about it at:

http://www.worcestershire.gov.uk/parkway

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Compassion in world farming

As I am sure you know, many of the actions called for in Compassion in World Farming’s ‘Charter for a Caring Food Policy’ would need to be taken either by the European Union as a whole, or by individual farmers and consumers. The UK Government and the Conservative Party support the highest standards of animal welfare, including on farms. I can also assure you that having often visited West Worcestershire’s farms and met farmers I share this commitment.

I am pleased to say that all livestock farms must comply with comprehensive environmental and welfare legislation. It is important to recognise that poor welfare may occur within intensive or extensive farming systems, as well as ones that involve both indoor and outdoor housing. I therefore agree with the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, which advises the Government and the industry on these issues, that the most important influence on farm animal welfare in any production system is the knowledge, skills and experience of the stockmen.

I am especially proud of the work the Government has done to implement EU-wide bans on sow stalls and battery cages for laying hens. It has worked closely with the UK egg industry, processors, food manufacturers, caterers and retailers to reach a consensus that they will not sell or use battery-farmed eggs, helping British consumers avoid buying them unwittingly. Sow stalls have been illegal in this country from 1999 but were only outlawed throughout the EU as a whole on 1 January 2013.

The UK has long been calling for tough EU enforcement regimes in each of these areas aimed at ensuring welfare standards are raised.

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Ambassador for Breast Cancer

I know that early diagnosis of cancer is vital to give people the best chance of successful treatment. I am pleased that the Government is providing more than £450 million to help the NHS to diagnose cancer earlier. That money is part of more than £750 million in additional funding for cancer over four years.

To ensure that people get an early diagnosis the Government is making sure they know the signs of cancer and when to speak to their GP. Since 2010-11, the Department of Health has undertaken a series of Be Clear on Cancer awareness campaigns covering bowel, bladder & kidney, breast and lung and other cancers. In addition to this, the Government is expanding screening programmes to support earlier diagnoses of asymptomatic cancer.

People deserve the best cancer treatment which is why I support the £1.16 billion Cancer Drugs Fund which has helped more than 55,000 cancer patients since it was set up four years ago to provide pioneering drugs to those who need them most.

Finally, I am sure you will have shared my support at the opening in March of the new state of the art Oncology Centre at Worcestershire Royal Hospital. This will enable 90-95% of patients to receive their radiotherapy locally.

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Solar panels on schools

Solar is a success story in the UK. Since 2010, hundreds of schools up and down the country and half million homes have chosen to install solar technology. The Government is committed to meeting 15 per cent of the UK’s energy demands from renewable sources by 2020 and solar energy will play a central role.

Ministers published the UK’s first Solar Strategy which sets out the ambition to see solar rolled out more widely across the country. I support efforts to shift the focus of solar energy onto our south facing rooftops, including schools.

The Government has launched a number of initiatives to encourage further deployment by schools including the ‘Power to the Pupils’ factual leaflet aimed at providing more information to help schools wanting to install solar.

Solar panels on schools are a sensible choice for environmental reasons and also for the financial benefits they can bring. The Department for Education is working to help improve energy efficiency across the 22,000 schools in England and it continues to encourage the deployment of solar on schools throughout the country.

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Cigarette Packets - Plain packaging

Smoking remains one of our most significant public health challenges. It is a major cause of cancer, heart and respiratory disease and almost 80,000 people in England alone die every year from ill health caused by smoking. It places an enormous strain on the NHS. I will support any enforceable and reasonable measures which I believe will reduce smoking and its impact.

After carefully considering the issue of standardised packaging, I am unconvinced that the evidence from Australia is sufficiently strong to pass these regulations. Australia brought in standardised packaging a few years ago and it resulted in an increase in smoking, an increase in bootleg cigarettes and an increase in fake cigarettes. The ability to control who cigarettes are sold to, including children, diminished in Australia.

That is why I did not be vote in favour of this measure.

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International Fund for Animal Welfare Survey

As I have said before, I am a keen animal lover and firmly support the Government's commitment to the highest standards of animal welfare, both at home and by working with countries abroad. Britain engages with countries directly and through global forums such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, and Ministers are committed to promoting wild animal conservation.

Tackling illegal poaching and trafficking in endangered wildlife products remains a Government priority, and I am pleased to have supported its initiative to host the London Conference on Wildlife Trafficking in February last year. Over 40 countries adopted the London Declaration on protecting wildlife from poaching and the UK continues to take a lead on this issue internationally.

The UK has long opposed whaling and worked to protect and conserve whales both around the UK and internationally. We have a long-standing commitment to maintaining the moratorium on commercial whaling and supporting ongoing work by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

I recognise that the Hunting Act continues to raise strong views on both sides of the debate. Whatever an individual's view of the Hunting Act, the Government is clear that the Act must be complied with. It is possible that there might be an interest in a future Parliament in debating this issue again and if so it would be a free vote.

Lastly I’m delighted that the Government has established twelve Nature Improvement Areas, providing special space for wildlife to thrive. Nearly 150,000 acres of priority habitats and 20,000 acres of woodland are being created as well as another million trees in towns and cities. Rivers and lakes equivalent to the length of the Amazon and the Nile combined have been cleaned up, and more than 945 miles of hedges have been restored and planted.

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Violence against children

Peaceful societies, good governance and the rule of law are all important development priorities for the UK and central to protecting children globally.

The UK is fully committed to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in particular strengthening the protection of children in armed conflict. One of the ways we achieve this is through our support for humanitarian agencies working in conflict situations including the mandated protection organisations such as UNICEF. For example, in Syria and the region the Department for International Development (DFID) is providing more than £800 million in humanitarian aid to help those affected, including children, who have lost everything as a result of the violence. From 2010 to 2014, the UK has supported over 10.1 million children in primary and lower secondary school, and trained 123,000 teachers.

Finally, I can reassure you that the UK is one of the leading donors to UNICEF and has worked closely in co-hosting the Girl Summit in July, on the ‘Call to Action’ on Violence against Women and Girls in 2013 and through the fund announced at the #WeProtect Summit in December. I hope the UK will continue to work with UNICEF to make the world a safer place for children everywhere.

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Battersea Dogs and Cats Home’s backstreet puppy campaign

With reference to backstreet breeding and the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home campaign.

I share your love of dogs and find any instance of cruelty or neglect by a breeder abhorrent. I would strongly urge anyone with evidence of these crimes to report it to the police.

Under existing law, anyone in the business of breeding dogs must be licenced and must demonstrate that their animals are being adequately cared for. They must not breed a bitch more than once every 12 months, nor sell to the general public a puppy younger than 8 weeks old. Dogs bred by “hobby breeders”, who are not in business but do breed occasionally, are still protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal, or fail to provide for its welfare.

The Government’s advice to those looking to purchase a puppy is only to consider buying from a reputable breeder, and to consult guides published by charities working with dogs. I am pleased to see that the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home is offering such advice as part of this campaign; also available is the RSPCA’s legally binding puppy contract, which should ensure prospective owners have all the relevant information about their new pet.

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Insult to injury campaign

With reference to war pensioners the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme and their differing arrangement for paying for social care.

I understand why this important to you and I would like to pay tribute to the work of the Royal British Legion in highlighting these issues. As part of this work, I know that the Legion made a submission to a Department of Health consultation called Caring for our future: implementing funding reform in October 2013.

At this stage, the consultation is closed and the Department of Health is analysing the feedback it has received. I know that the Legion has made an impassioned and well-reasoned case and that the Government is committed to upholding the Armed Forces Covenant. That is why I am assured that the points made in this campaign will be given the attention and consideration they deserve and I look forward to the Department’s response with interest.

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Older pedestrians

Feeling safe while walking on the streets helps many older people maintain their independence and it is important that steps are taken to support walking. As you may be aware, Malvern Hills District Council introduced parking wardens for the first time this year and it is hoped that they will help to achieve this. In addition I have raised the question of poor pavements and dropped kerbs with the Council and I know that a number of these issues have already been addressed. If there are specific pavements which you believe need to be improved then please do let me know and I will ask them to be put on the Council’s priority list.

The DfT provides advice to local authorities on pedestrian crossings, including on calculating timings for crossings. Where a crossing might be used by a large number of older people or those with mobility issues, the DfT already recommends that this should be taken into account when the timings are set at each crossing – local authorities can also choose to use a slower walking speed for specific crossing sites if they deem it suitable.

In terms of pavement parking, all councils have been given authorisation to use a sign banning parking on the pavement without first asking Whitehall for permission. Ministers have also encouraged councils to use their powers to prevent parking on the pavement where it is a problem, and I support these calls.

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NHS

We are fortunate in Worcestershire to have first rate NHS care. I am sure, for example, that you will have shared my support at the opening this month of the new state of the art Oncology Centre at Worcestershire Royal Hospital. This will enable 90-95% of patients to receive their radiotherapy locally.

While I respect the sincerity of your point of view, I believe that the proposed Bill would be an unnecessary upheaval and the wrong approach to improving the NHS. You may be interested to know that the Commonwealth Fund comparative report into the performance of different national health systems recently concluded that the NHS, under this Government, is the best health service in the world. I think this is a ringing endorsement of the Government’s decision to reform the NHS and to invest an extra £12.7 billion in the health service. There are 850,000 more operations being delivered each year compared to 2010, over 6,500 more doctors and over 3,700 more nurses. I am also proud that the Prime Minister has promised to continue this investment in the next Parliament. This will mean spending on the NHS will rise in every year in real-terms.

In my view, giving operational control for the day-to-day running of services to doctors was the right decision -although the Government has always been clear that Ministers are responsible for the NHS, and I am proud of its performance in challenging circumstances. The Government's health reforms have focused on the role of the GP, believing that they are best placed to commission local health services, as they have the best understanding of local needs.

The use of private providers in the delivery of NHS services is not a new concept. The Government's health reforms do not favour any particular type of ownership or provider. They preclude the Department of Health, NHS England and Monitor from pursuing policies which would seek to increase the market share of, for example, independent providers. It is for local NHS commissioners to decide, not the Government, which providers - whether from the public, private or voluntary sectors - can best meet the needs of their patients and deliver high quality care. Any use of private or other types of provider will be a result of decisions by commissioners taken in the best interests of their patients, never as an end in itself.

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Woods and Trees

Britain’s woodlands are a tremendously valuable resource that provide us with a tremendous range of benefits. We are extremely fortunate to live in a beautifully area for trees – both in the Malvern Hills and Wychavon areas there are stunning stretches of woodland.

Over the course of the 2010-2015 Parliament more than 11 million trees will have been planted, including one million trees in our towns and cities. I especially welcome details announced in February of the 2015 Woodland Capital Grants, which have been given £4 million of funding to encourage farmers, land managers and foresters to create new woodland, while protecting existing woodland and restoring tree health. England’s woodland cover is now expanding at a rate that has not been seen since the fourteenth century.

I am also pleased to tell you that plant health is one of Defra’s top priorities. Last year a new strategy was published, setting out innovative approaches to detecting and diagnosing pests and pathogens. These include activities overseas in exporting countries, at the border and inland in the UK. The Defra budget was increased to fund this work, and a tree health management plan was issued at the same time.

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Vote Cruelty Free (animal welfare) Campaign

As I am sure you are aware, this Government is committed to replacing animal testing with alternatives where possible, reducing the use of animals to the minimum needed and refining their use as much as possible to minimise their suffering. There is a rigorous regulatory framework in place to enforce this approach. The goal to reduce the number of animals used in scientific research is being delivered through a programme led by the National Centre for Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), an organisation with a strong record in reducing animal use. The NC3Rs closely involves government departments and agencies, the Home Office Inspectorate, the research community in both academia and industry, and others with relevant animal welfare interests.

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Digital Radio

I recognise the importance of local commercial radio stations to the communities they serve. I assure you the Government shares this view and is committed to reserving part of the FM spectrum as a platform for local and community radio stations, for as long as it is needed.

Officials are working with Ofcom to consider the potential options for smaller local stations to migrate to digital in the lead up to and after a future switchover. Recent research from Ofcom on software enabling low cost low power DAB transmissions, is very encouraging and has been successfully trialled in Brighton.

The Government is also firmly of the view that any possible transition from analogue to digital radio must be consumer-led, and it is essential that any switchover should only begin when the market is ready.

Given this, the Government has decided that a decision on switchover can only be made once

  • 50 per cent of all listening is to digital and
  • national DAB coverage is comparable to FM and
  • local DAB reaches 90 per cent of the population and all major roads.

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What will you do to crack down on tax dodging?

I believe we should welcome businesses to Britain with open arms and the fact that we have the lowest business taxes of any major country in the world. However, some companies are going to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying their taxes and that is not fair.

I am pleased action has already been taken on tackling the aggressive tax avoidance of some large companies and individuals to address the issues you raise. The UK started the global work on changing international tax rules and is now leading the world in implementing these changes in Britain.

This Government has already gone further on this issue than any previous administration and is committed to recouping at least another £5 billion each year in the next Parliament which would otherwise be lost through tax avoidance and evasion.

Action is being taken to tackle tax avoidance by the largest companies and we are providing help to those in developing countries in a number of ways such as:

  • Making sure the largest companies contribute by introducing a 25 per cent tax on multinationals’ profits where they are artificially shifted out of the country. This will raise over £1 billion over the next five years.
  • Introducing new anti-avoidance measures which will dramatically reduce the benefits from complex arrangements such as the so-called ‘double Irish’ used by some large multinationals, especially in the technology sector.
  • Introducing a new General Anti-Abuse Rule which will deter the creation of abusive tax avoidance schemes. The Government is also consulting on new powers for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to collect unpaid taxes from people owing more than £1,000.
  • Agreeing in G20 countries a new global mechanism that makes it easier for HMRC to identify UK taxpayers hiding assets or income offshore. Those avoiding tax can now be fined twice the tax owed, with the possibility of criminal prosecution and a prison sentence.
  • The Government committing to tackling poverty and helping the world’s poorest people which is why it is spending 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on aid and development. This is helping millions of the very poorest people to get protection against diseases such as cholera and aids; ensuring 10 million children get the food they need so they don’t die from hunger; and enabling 11 million children to attend school so they have the chance of getting a better start in life.

I hope this reassures you that the Government is already taking action on this issue and will continue to be relentless in tackling avoidance and aggressive tax planning where it arises within the UK to ensure large multinational businesses pay their fair share.

| Generalised Tax Avoidance, House of Commons Library (pdf: 1.13M)

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Human Fertilisation and Embryology

Regarding the vote on Human fertilisation and embryology. As it is a conscience issue, it is a free vote and I have given this matter an enormous amount of consideration.

I have taken into account constituents’ views, and consulted widely, including with the Church of England, where I am a communicant. I have also consulted with the Government’s Chief Medical Officer and a wide range of other doctors and scientists.

In the end, I though this statement from the Church of England best summarised my own views:

“We are, in principle, in favour of mitochondrial replacement therapy provided it can be established that it will be safe and effective.

The issue that is for Parliament to decide is whether it is now content to leave the judgement on safety and effectiveness to the HFEA, once current research studies are completed, or whether, in relation to such a major innovation, it wishes at this stage to continue to reserve the decision of principle to itself until the outstanding questions on safety and efficacy have been clarified.”

I decided that I am content to leave the judgement on the safety and effectiveness to the scientists and doctors at the HFEA, so I supported the motion to do so.

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Infrastructure Bill - Pubs

The hospitality and warmth offered by a good “local” is a real community asset and we are fortunate to have so many brilliant pubs in West Worcestershire.

Because local pubs are perceived as offering real value as an asset to the community they are amongst the most widely nominated in the “Community Right to Bid” survey carried out pursuant to the Localism Act. As a result of those nominations the Communities Minister has stated that the Government plans to “bring forward secondary legislation at the earliest opportunity in this Parliament, so that in England, the listing of a pub as an Asset of Community Value will trigger a removal of the national permitted development rights for the change of use or demolition of those premises”.

This will mean that where a pub is listed as an Asset of Community Value, a planning application will be required for the change of use or demolition of those pubs premises.

As the minister stated during the debate: “The Government have of course already put various other measures in place to protect community pubs. We have scrapped both the beer and alcohol duty escalators, and cut beer duty in successive Budgets, thereby reducing the tax burden on the pubs and brewing industry and enabling economic growth. We have provided £250,000 in funding for business partners to help deliver more community-owned pubs and pubs which provide community-focused services. This funding has contributed to the number of co-operatively owned pubs more than doubling over the last two years, and many rural pubs now offer a wide range of community-focused services and facilities—for example, a community centre and library at the Brockweir inn in Gloucestershire.”

These measures, which have already been taken by this Government, coupled with the new protective planning provisions will mean that popular pubs can be protected by their communities.

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Infrastructure Bill - Cycling

You will be pleased to hear that the Government added an amendment to the Infrastructure Act to create a "Cycling and Walking Investment strategy" with dedicated funding. This amendment makes provision for the Transport Secretary to set a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, which must specify objectives and financial resources to be made available to achieve them. The Transport Secretary must also report to Parliament on progress towards these objectives.

Since 2010, the Government's spending on cycling overall has more than doubled, with £374 million committed between 2011 and 2015. Spending on cycling is currently about £6 per person each year across England and £10 per person in London and the eight cycling ambition cities. In November 2014, Ministers announced a further £140 million for the cycling ambition cities, and, through the road investment strategy, a further £100 million between 2015 and 2021 for improving the conditions for cyclists and walkers travelling alongside and crossing our strategic road network.

The Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy forms part of the Government's wider action to encourage more walking and cycling. Last year the Department for Transport published a draft Cycling Delivery Plan which included a number of draft Government commitments and actions over the next 10 years, as well as quantified national ambitions, one to double cycling and one to increase the percentage of primary school children who usually walk to school from 48 per cent to 55 per cent, by 2025. It is in this same spirit that the Government tabled the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy amendment.

I am also delighted that Worcestershire County Council is supporting cycling. During 2013-14, £3.6 million was spent on schemes which contribute to the cycle infrastructure, safety and training. Over the last five years more than £4.5million has been spent on improving infrastructure for cyclists and walkers as part of the successful Connect2 project, the flagship of which is the hugely popular Diglis Bridge.

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Infrastructure Bill - Fracking

It is extremely unlikely that shale gas extraction would ever take place near your home as there is no shale gas under West Worcestershire.

Shale gas is a promising new potential energy resource which could create thousands of jobs, bring in billions in tax revenues and secure our energy supply for the future. However, operations to extract it should be safe, and must not be at the expense of local communities or the environment.

As I am sure you know, many other industries already access underground land in order to lay cables and build infrastructure such as water pipes and tunnels. These are much closer to the surface than the access concerned here. For comparison, the deepest London underground line is at 23 metres.

Existing procedures are appropriate for many types of access arrangements and government will continue to rely on these for access to surface land (and all land above 300 metres) to ensure that landowners retain the right to negotiate access to land that will have some noticeable impact on their use or enjoyment of the land. However, these procedures are not proportionate for the type of underground drilling that is the subject of our consultation, given the size of the underground area involved, the depth of the drilling and the potential numbers of landowners.

The Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey and the Labour Shadow Energy Secretary also agree on this point. The current procedures for shale gas exploration are costly, time-consuming and disproportionate. The new proposals would allow companies to explore the potential of shale gas sites while offering a community payment in return for underground access at depths so deep that the Energy Department states they will have no negative impact on landowners.

I believe we need to strike the right balance between the legitimate concerns of landowners, and the benefits to the community and nation at large of permitting development.

However, I must stress that the solution outlined does not change any other aspect of the existing regulatory system, such as procedures for surface access, planning, environmental permits or safety controls. In particular, the proposals do not weaken existing requirements for public consultation prior to the granting of planning permission or environmental permits for developments. Safety is the top priority. The UK has over 50 years of experience in regulating the onshore oil and gas industry and we have a strong regulatory regime for shale gas extraction.

UPDATE

Shale gas is a potentially new energy source, which could:

  • reduce our dependence on imported energy;
  • create thousands of jobs;
  • bring in billions of pounds of tax revenues to fund our public services;
  • reduce carbon emissions by providing a cleaner alternative to coal and imported gas
  • help to reduce energy bills.

Many people are concerned about the safety of this new technology and particularly the idea of companies operating beneath their property. Let me reassure you that this is not an issue in West Worcestershire where shale gas is not likely to be found. The Government’s approach is to try to strike the right balance, ensuring that the UK gets the benefits of shale gas whilst addressing people’s legitimate concerns about the safety of a new technology.

The Infrastructure Bill, which Parliament is currently considering, does not weaken the protections in place. Local councils can only grant planning permission if they are satisfied that shale will not have unacceptable adverse impacts on the environment and operators have to apply to the Environment Agency for permits.

An amendment has also been added to the Infrastructure Bill that places even stricter conditions on when and where shale gas extraction can take place. It will be forbidden:

(a) in land within the boundary of a groundwater source protection zone;

(b) in land within protected areas like National Parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty;

(c) unless an environmental impact assessment has been carried out;

(d) unless an independent inspection is carried out of the integrity of the well;

(e) unless monitoring has been undertaken on the site over the previous 12 months;

(f) unless site-by-site measurement and public disclosure of emissions is carried out;

(g) unless the local council has considered the cumulative impact of shale gas extraction activities in the local area;

(h) unless the operator makes a financial contribution to the local community. Operators have committed to pay at least £100,000 per exploratory well and 1% of revenue if the well goes into production; and £20,000 for each unique lateral well that extends by more than 200 metres;

(i) unless residents in the affected area are notified on an individual basis;

(j) unless the substances used have been approved by the Environment Agency;

(j) unless land is restored to a condition required by the local council; and

(l) unless water companies are consulted by the local council.

The element of the Bill that has attracted the most comment is giving companies the right to operate under people’s properties. I can understand people worrying about this, but of course many other industries already access underground land to lay cables and build infrastructure such as water pipes and tunnels. These are much closer to the surface than the limit which this Bill is proposing, which is a right to use land 300 metres or more below the surface. To put this in context, that’s three times the depth of the Channel Tunnel. There should be no impact whatsoever on landowners’ enjoyment of their land. Nevertheless to allay concerns, the Government announced yesterday that it would review the issue of depth limits.

I reassure you that the Government is trying to strike the right balance between ensuring that the UK benefits from the opportunities shale gas provides while protecting our homes and our groundwater.

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Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) / NHS

With reference to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). I believe it will be very helpful for jobs and growth in our local area if we can come to an agreement with the North Americans to lower or remove tariff and non-tariff barriers to transatlantic trade. For example, a small family-owned company like Morgan Motors in Malvern is not able to sell their full range of cars to the United States because of the bewildering array of different State regulations. It will also mean that our excellent local food producers will find it easier to export to North America.

It is estimated that TTIP will give the UK an opportunity to add £10 billion to our economy every year (almost £400 per household) which means more jobs, more choice and reduced prices. TTIP will not change the fact that it is up to UK governments alone to decide how public services, including the NHS are run and I assure you there is nothing in the agreement that has the power to change UK laws or lower consumer, labour or environmental standards. The EU and US have committed to maintaining standards at the highest levels and the Government has not authorised the EU to agree to anything that would lower standards. I enclose copies of two pamphlets which set out briefly what TTIP will and will not do.

TTIP will not change the fact that it is up to UK governments alone to decide how public services, including the NHS, are run. As was stated by the Minister George Freeman in the House of Commons on 21st October 2014:

I can absolutely provide that guarantee. UK sovereignty on health is not in any way threatened by TTIP. As I have already told the House, safeguards on this are being built in by both the American and the European negotiators. As my right hon. Friend points out, clinical commissioning decisions in the NHS will rightly remain with the clinical commissioning groups, which include the people who are closest to the patients.

The NHS will continue to provide excellent free healthcare for us all. In Worcestershire we have seen great steps forward in the provision of great healthcare: we now have at least 250 more clinical staff than in 2010 and in January this year we celebrated the opening of the outstanding new oncology centre at Worcestershire Royal Hospital – this means that 90-95% of radiotherapy can be received locally.

| The top 10 myths about TTIP (pdf)

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South Worcestershire Development Plan

Click here to read letter from Nick Boles on Planning Authority performance.
Click here to read Harriett’s letter to SWDP on latest housing numbers.
Click here to read Nick Boles’ letter on local planning
Click here to read Notes from Parish Neighbourhood Plan Meeting
Click here to read Harriett’s response to changes in national planning policy
Click here to read Harriett’s speech in the South Worcestershire Development Plan debate in Parliament.

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Firefighters’ Pension Scheme 2015

Public pensions need reform as people are now living longer, and taxpayers cannot be expected to meet all of the rising costs. The Government has worked hard to give firefighters one of the most generous pensions in the public sector in recognition of the risks they take. Under the new scheme nearly three-quarters of firefighters will see no change in their pension age in 2015.

A firefighter who earns £29,000 will still be able to retire after a full career aged 60 and get a £19,000-a-year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension. An equivalent private pension pot would be worth over half a million pounds and require firefighters to contribute twice as much.

Background

  • The Firefighters’ Pension Scheme 2015 contains the same Normal Pension Age as the New Firefighters’ Pension Scheme 2006. Firefighters who retire at age 55 will see an actuarially fair reduction rate of 21.8 per cent in the 2015 scheme, better than the 40.5 per cent in the 2006 scheme at age 55. The average firefighter will earn more pension each year they are in the 2015 scheme than if they were in the 2006 scheme.
  • A firefighter earning £29,000 will receive a pension of over £19,000 (67 per cent of their salary) at age 60 after a 40 year career. A worker would need to double the contributions of a firefighter to guarantee the same pension from a private pension.
  • Lord Hutton’s independent report recommended that a firefighter’s Normal Pension Age should be 60 in line with the New Firefighters’ Pension Scheme 2006. The Government has committed to keeping the Normal Pension Age under review.
  • The Armed Forces and Police will have a Normal Pension Age of 60. All other workforces will have a Normal Pension Age linked to the State Pension Age.
  • A greater proportion of firefighters are protected from the changes in the Normal Pension Age than any other large workforce. 35 per cent of firefighters already have a Normal Pension Age of 60. Only 23 per cent of firefighters will see a change in their pension age in April 2015.
  • The Government has listened extensively to the FBU but does not agree with their early retirement proposal. It would mean that a firefighter would earn less pension every year that they worked, and provide a worse deal for any ill-health retirements.
  • Dr Tony Williams, Medical Director of Working Fit, was commissioned by the Government to review the Normal Pension Age for firefighters as part of these reforms. He found that the average firefighter at age 35 is fitter than needed to maintain fitness into their mid-60s if they maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.
  • There are already over 1,000 firefighters aged 55 or over. No one will have to work beyond their current Normal Pension Age until beyond 2022. Younger firefighters have time to undertake training to maintain or improve their current fitness.
  • If lost, the great majority of firefighters will be able to regain their fitness within a couple of months. If a firefighter is permanently unfit for a medical reason (e.g. osteoarthritis of the knees, back pain, stress etc), they will be ill-health retired.
  • Dr Williams found that women who are recruited at sufficient fitness levels and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle will be able to maintain fitness until 60. 43 per cent of regular female pension scheme members already have a Normal Pension Age of 60.
  • The Government is amending the Fire National Framework to contain agreed fitness principles, and is setting up a working group on firefighter fitness under the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser which will also look the future workforce. The Government will audit Fire and Rescue Service compliance with the Fire National Framework.
  • The Government is providing greater security for firefighters whose fitness levels, through no fault of their own, do not enable them to continue working beyond 55. Employers will be required to consider providing alternative employment within the service or an unreduced pension.
  • Revoking the regulations would leave firefighters without access to a pension from 1 April 2015, as Parliament has already closed existing schemes through the Public Service Pensions Act 2013.

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NHS Amended Duties and Powers Bill

I believe that the proposed Bill would be an unnecessary upheaval and the wrong approach to improving the NHS. You may be interested to know that the Commonwealth Fund comparative report into the performance of different national health systems recently concluded that the NHS, under this Government, is the best health service in the world. I think this is a ringing endorsement of the Government’s decision to reform the NHS and to invest an extra £12.7 billion in the health service. There are 850,000 more operations being delivered each year compared to 2010, over 6,500 more doctors and over 3,700 more nurses. I am also proud that the Prime Minister has promised to continue this investment in the next Parliament. This will mean spending on the NHS will rise in every year in real-terms.

In my view, giving operational control for the day-to-day running of services to doctors was the right decision -although the Government has always been clear that Ministers are responsible for the NHS, and I am proud of its performance in challenging circumstances. The Government's health reforms have focused on the role of the GP, believing that they are best placed to commission local health services, as they have the best understanding of local needs.

The use of private providers in the delivery of NHS services is not a new concept. The Government's health reforms do not favour any particular type of ownership or provider. They preclude the Department of Health, NHS England and Monitor from pursuing policies which would seek to increase the market share of, for example, independent providers. It is for local NHS commissioners to decide, not the Government, which providers - whether from the public, private or voluntary sectors - can best meet the needs of their patients and deliver high quality care. Any use of private or other types of provider will be a result of decisions by commissioners taken in the best interests of their patients, never as an end in itself.

I've also received a letter from the Secretary of State for Health.

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Bees

The Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has just launched a new strategy to support bees and other pollinators that are vital for fertilising plants so that they produce fruit and seeds. Defra has announced that organisations such as Network Rail, Highways Agency and the National Trust who manage more than 800,000 hectares of land in England have signed up to the National Pollinator Strategy and have pledged to take action by doing things such as planting more bee-friendly wild flowers and allowing grass to grow longer.

Two new documents have been published by Defra which set out steps which can be taken to improve pollination and you can find these at:

Supporting document to the National Pollinator Strategy: for bees and other pollinators in England

The National Pollinator Strategy: for bees and other pollinators in England

Additional information can be found by going to the ‘bees needs’ website:

http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/Bees-needs

This Government has committed to protecting our natural environment and safeguarding animal and plant health. The UK’s vibrant native ecosystem is one of our most precious inheritances. That’s why the Government published the first Natural Environment White Paper for 20 years and established a proper strategy, Biodiversity 2020, aimed at halting and reversing this decline. Progress is being monitored through annual statistics and there is plenty of scope for public engagement, with the latest news, including on how local conservation groups can contribute. £7.5 million has been provided to establish 12 Nature Improvement Areas across the country: these are large areas containing more and better-connected habitats, providing space for wildlife to thrive. 24,000 acres of priority habitats are being created, along with 3,300 acres of woodland. England’s woodland cover is expanding at a rate not seen since the fourteenth century. The Government is also on track to plant one million trees in towns, cities and neighbourhoods across England by the end of the Parliament and more than 945 miles of hedges have been restored and planted. It has also helped clean up 9,500 miles of rivers and 625 square miles of lakes. There is of course more to do.

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Tenancies (Reform) Bill

I am fully aware of the problem of retaliatory evictions. The Government has been working out how best to tackle this issue and I am pleased that it supports Sarah Teather’s Bill, in principle, to outlaw revenge evictions.

As you know, the Bill would not only ensure that tenants do not face the prospect of losing their home simply because they’ve asked for essential repairs to be made but also extend existing restrictions on a landlord’s power to evict and build on a range of Government measures to empower tenants. Moreover it will ensure that tenants get a fair deal without introducing the excessive regulation on the private rented sector which would force up rents, cut investment in new housing and reduce choice for tenants.

The private rental sector provides a home to 9 million people across the country and the Government is determined to root out the minority of rogue landlords that give it a bad name. That is why it has given councils £6.7 million to tackle rogue landlords in their area. Alongside this, a new Model Tenancy Agreement has been announced which will help tenants to enter into longer tenancies with their landlords. This would give them more stability. Finally, a new industry Code of Practice set out clearly the legal requirements and best practice for landlords leaving them in no doubt about their responsibilities to their tenants.

The Tenancies (Reform) Bill is due to have its second reading on the 28th November and I will continue to follow its progress closely.

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Campaign to save lives

I realise that cardiac arrests can have devastating consequences for patients and their families and would like to pay tribute to the work of the British Heart Foundation who do so much to raise the profile of this problem. I think it is important that we continue to do all we can to tackle this issue.

For example, the non-statutory framework for Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education already provides a context for teaching young people about emergency lifesaving skills (ELS). At primary level, pupils can learn about basic emergency procedures and where to get help, and at secondary level they can develop the skills to cope with emergency situations that require basic first aid procedures, including resuscitation techniques.

In addition, the Department for Education has encouraged schools to purchase defibrillators as part of their first aid equipment and under plans announced this April, the Department of Education is finalising a deal that will enable schools to purchase defibrillators at a discounted price. The aim is to make it easier for schools to purchase and install these potentially life-saving devices and the government hopes schools right across the country will take advantage of this arrangement.I am informed that an announcement is expected by early December.

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Marine Protected Areas

I am very pleased that 27 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) have been created to help better protect our rich marine life. I understand that coral reefs, oyster beds and seahorses are just some of the marine life that will benefit. The MCZs join over 500 other marine protected areas that already exist in the UK.

Together these MCZs cover an area roughly three times the size of Wiltshire and span the waters around the English coast. This means that, in addition to the quarter of English inshore waters that already had protected status, nine per cent of UK waters will now be safer



Harriett says...

Harriett Baldwin
 
I am proud and delighted to have been re-elected to represent the people of West Worcestershire in Parliament and this website has been created to keep you in touch with my work both in Westminster and across the constituency.

Surgery Dates

24th February Flexible surgery
3rd March Upton upon Severn, The Hill Community Centre, Tunnel Hill
10th March Severn Stoke Village Hall
 
Surgeries are held at 5pm on Friday evenings. To book an appointment please talk to a caseworker at the constituency office on 01684 585165. | Full list of dates
 

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