Some voices have suggested that the vote last week on New Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill somehow signalled a weakening in the protection of animals. That is plain wrong. Voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain. That is a ridiculous misconception.

Ministers explained on the floor of the house last week that this Government’s policies on animal welfare are driven by our recognition that animals are indeed sentient beings and we are acting energetically to reduce the risk of harm to animals – whether on farms or in the wild.  Last week’s vote was simply the rejection of a faulty amendment, which would not have achieved its stated aims of providing appropriate protection for animals.

The Prime Minister has made it crystal clear that we will strengthen our animal welfare rules. This government will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a properly rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU. The Withdrawal Bill is not the right place to address this, however we are considering the right legislative vehicle.

We are already proposing primary legislation to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years, and the creation of a new statutory, independent body to uphold environmental standards. 

The truth is that the current EU instrument – Article 13 – has not delivered the progress we want to see. It does not have direct effect in law – in practice its effect is unclear and it has failed to prevent practices across the EU which are cruel and painful to animals.

In contrast, here in the UK, we are improving animal welfare standards without EU input and beyond the scope of Article 13. We are making CCTV mandatory in all slaughterhouses – a requirement which goes above and beyond any EU rule. We will consult on draft legislation to jail animal abusers for up to five years – more than almost every other European nation. We propose combatting elephant poaching with a ban on the ivory trade which is more comprehensive than anywhere else in Europe. Our ban on microbeads which harm marine animals has been welcomed by Greenpeace as “the strongest in the world”, and is certainly the strongest in Europe.

Once we have left the EU there is even more we could do. EU rules prevent us from restricting or banning the live export of animals for slaughter. EU rules also restrict us from cracking down on puppy smuggling or banning the import of puppies under 6 months. Article 13 has not stopped any of these practices – but leaving the EU gives us the chance to do much better. We hope to say more in these areas next year.

As you may be aware, the Government recently completed a consultation on changes to planning policy. Following this, a new 'housing delivery test' will be put in place to hold local authorities to account. I understand that this will show whether the number of homes being built is below target, help to establish the reasons why, and where necessary trigger responses to ensure that further land becomes available.

I would emphasise that the Housing White Paper, which announced these plans, maintains the existing strong protections for the Green Belt. It clarifies that Green Belt boundaries should be amended only in exceptional circumstances, when local authorities show that they have fully examined all other reasonable options for meeting housing requirements.

Of course, using brownfield land and increasing density are very important, and these should be prioritised. Indeed, the Government will make it clear that plans and development proposals should make efficient use of land, and avoid building homes at low densities where appropriate. Other changes will show that great weight should be attached to using suitable brownfield land within existing settlements.

The Commonwealth Fund, a respected healthcare think-tank which works to improve access to healthcare around the world rated the NHS as the best healthcare system in the world, in an authoritative, comparative study of healthcare systems in developed economies. Whilst there is no room for complacency, I am encouraged that the NHS is performing well, despite many years of difficult financial circumstances.

Despite tight public finances, the Government has actively supported the NHS's own plan for the future. That is why it is increasing NHS spending by a minimum of £8 billion in real terms over the next five years. This will ensure that by the end of this Parliament, everyone will be able to access GP services at evenings and weekends. At the recent Budget, additional capital funding was announced to support the NHS, with £325 million for local improvement plans and £100 million to improve A&E services.

In recognition of the pressures facing social care in local areas, the Chancellor has announced a package of measures in the recent budget which go even further to help the health and care system. Local Authorities in England will receive an additional £2 billion for social care over the next three years. This will help to ease pressures on the NHS by supporting more people to be discharged from hospital and into care as soon as they are ready.

Following are some figures about how our NHS is performing.  I know that simple statistics do not always tell a full story but it certainly shows that local people are being well served by our healthcare despite increasing demand.

Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust

A&E

•              4,782 more people seen in less than 4 hrs in 2016/17 compared to 2009/10.

•              In the year to date, 85.9% of people coming to A&E were seen within 4 hours.

•              In Sep-17 the figure was 90.5%

Workforce

•              There are now 128 more hospital doctors than 2010

•              There are now 223 more nurses than 2010 

Activity

                                2009/10                 2016/17                 Difference

Operations           63,200                   72,235                   9,035

Diagnostic tests    73,587                   119,466                 45,879

 

CQC

•              The overall CQC rating for Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust was Good (Dec-16)  

•              By May 2017, 89% of General Practices (which had been rated by CQC) in the NHS Mid Essex CCG area were rated as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’

Improving Access to Psychological Therapies - NHS Mid Essex CCG

•              95% of people referred to the IAPT programme are seen within 6 weeks (target 75%) compared with 88.8% nationally

•              99% of people are seen within 18 weeks (target 95%) compared with 99.0% nationally

Mid and South Essex STP Footprint

•              This year’s funding is £1.9 billion

•              Between 2015/16 and 2020/21, funding is expected to rise on current plans by £331.7 million – a cash increase of 19%  

NHS Mid Essex CCG

•              In 2017/18 received £451.7 million - a cash increase of 2.52% on the previous year

•              In 2018/19 will receive £462.8 million - a cash increase of 2.45%

 

I believe fully in the NHS and its values, and I would like to assure all of my constituents that the Government is committed to a tax-funded NHS, free at the point of use, wherever and whenever you need it. As Ministers plan a new relationship with the EU, I know they will continue to ensure that the NHS is given the priority it deserves.

An essential first step for a successful Brexit is to pass the Repeal Bill which will ensure that all existing European law becomes British law once we are no longer a member of the EU. This will then allow us to amend or repeal legislation in our own country’s interest. I also agree that if we are to have control of our own laws including on immigration as well as the freedom to reach new bilateral trade deals, this means that we can no longer be members of the European Single Market or the Customs Union.  You may rest assured that I will be voting for the Repeal Bill without amendment.

The UK will leave the EU and its institutions on 29 March 2019. It will no longer be in the European Council, the Council of the EU or in the European Parliament. Membership of the single market will also end on this day. I want a long-term partnership with the EU that will be of mutual benefit to all our people but a future trade agreement will take time to agree and ratify. It can also only be concluded after the UK has left the EU. This is why an implementation period is necessary. It would create instability and uncertainty if there were one set of changes after the UK left the EU and another of set after a trade agreement was reached. People and businesses should only need to adjust once to the changes.

As set out in Article 50, the treaties of the EU will cease to apply to the UK when the withdrawal agreement enters into force, or failing that, two years from the day the UK submitted its notification, unless there is a unanimous agreement with the other 27 member states to extend the process. The UK will leave the EU in March 2019 and its membership of the single market will end at this point.

The Prime Minister has said that she is certain that a positive withdrawal agreement can be reached with the EU. A good deal for Britain and a good deal for Europe are not competing alternatives and they are not mutually exclusive. Not reaching a deal would be a damaging blow for the future security and prosperity of the UK and Europe. For that reason, I do not want or expect an outcome with no deal but the Government is preparing for all eventualities as a responsible government ought to do.

Further to a large amount of correspondence from constituents on the subject of pension arrangements for Magnox workers, I thought you might be interested to see the Hansard Report of the statement by the Secretary of State in the House of Commons chamber yesterday on the early termination of the Magnox contracts.https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-03-27/debates/512EE4E4-4588-4C84-841E-D5400C292E47/MagnoxEarlyContractTerminations

I was pleased to have an opportunity in this to ask Greg Clark to recognise the fantastic job being done by the workforce at Bradwell in decommissioning the old power station as well as to raise with him again the concerns about the effect on pension entitlements of the cap on exit payments.

 

A number of constituents have contacted me about Britain's woodlands. I agree with you that our woods and forests are an invaluable national asset and I am proud of the Government's record of action to preserve and extend British woodland. Over 11 million trees were planted in the last Parliament and the Government has pledged to plant a further 11 million in this one. England's woodland cover is now expanding at a rate that has not been seen since the fourteenth century. I especially welcomed the Woodland Capital Grants programme which provided funding to encourage farmers, land managers and foresters to create new woodland, while protecting existing woodland and restoring tree health.

From 2016 these grants have been incorporated into the Countryside Stewardship scheme, which supports improvements to woodland over a period of years, as well as a range of capital items, including woodland infrastructure. With regard to planning, The National Planning Policy Framework states that planning permission should be refused for development that would result in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and aged or veteran trees. This can only be overridden if the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss.

A number of constituents have contacted me about proposed changes to National Insurance and Director’s dividends. It is the case that some people are exploiting the status of self-employed in order to reduce their tax liability and it is right that this be addressed.

However, those who are genuinely self-employed deserve encouragement and their tax liability should recognise that they are not eligible for a number of benefits such as sick pay.  I welcome the fact that the Government is keeping to its manifesto promises while considering further how to achieve necessary structural reform.

A number of constituents have contacted me about the above issue. I understand what an important issue this is for many people in the constituency. This is an incredibly delicate area of law and, regardless of the views of individual MPs, one which is treated with the utmost rigour.  It will not be changed by a Ten Minute Rule Bill. The approach to abortion in the UK is set out in the Abortion Act 1967 and this remains unchanged.  Abortion legislation can only be changed by Parliament. 

It is accepted Parliamentary practice that proposals for changes in the law on abortion come from backbench members and that decisions are made on the basis of free votes.  The Department of Health issued guidance for doctors on how to comply with the Act in 2014. This makes clear that abortion on the grounds of gender alone is unlawful and further sets out how the law is interpreted by the Department of Health.   

Full details can be found online here:f="http://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-doctors-on-compliance-with-the-abortion-act">www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-doctors-on-compliance-with-the-abortion-actThe Abortion Act sets out that two doctors must certify that in their opinion, which must be formed in good faith, a request for an abortion meets at least one and the same ground set out in the Act.  I am encouraged that the Department of Health has taken the view that registered medical practitioners should be able to show how they have considered the particular facts and circumstances of a case when forming their opinion.

 

A number of constituents have been in touch with me about the auctioning of spectrum. This is a complicated issue and the outcome of previous auctions has sought to balance the aim of maximising coverage with the need to increase competition.

Ofcom recently launched a consultation on the upcoming spectrum auction. The auction consists of 2.3 GHz spectrum, which is already useable for better 4G services and 3.4 GHz spectrum which is unlikely to be useable for at least two to three years, but could help unlock a new wave of future services. Ofcom agrees that there is a competition concern around the 2.3 GHz spectrum available and it has therefore imposed a cap on bidding. The cap prevents any one company holding more than 45 per cent of spectrum that can be used immediately after the auction.

It also argues that by the time 3.4 GHz spectrum is usable, other bands will become available and there is therefore no immediate necessity for action on competition grounds in respect of this spectrum. Ofcom has been clear that its intervention has been minimal as it does not want to distort the auction by giving the smaller operators a price break through the weakening of competition. Furthermore, there are concerns it would provide a perverse incentive for smaller operators to under-bid in this and future auctions if they always expected intervention in their favour on grounds of lacking spectrum.

I will watch the progress of the auction but generally I welcome Ofcom’s focus on ensuring effective competition in the mobile market and on getting the spectrum into use as quickly as possible.

A number of constituents have been in touch with me regarding abortion and the Abortion (Decriminalisation) Bill.

I understand what an important issue this is for many people in the constituency.

This is an incredibly delicate area of law and, regardless of the views of individual MPs, one which is treated with the utmost rigour. The approach to abortion in the UK is set out in the Abortion Act 1967 and this remains unchanged.  Abortion legislation can only be changed by Parliament.  It is accepted Parliamentary practice that proposals for changes in the law on abortion come from backbench members and that decisions are made on the basis of free votes. 

The Department of Health issued guidance for doctors on how to comply with the Act in 2014. This makes clear that abortion on the grounds of gender alone is unlawful and further sets out how the law is interpreted by the Department of Health.   Full details can be found online here: href="http://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-doctors-on-compliance-with-the-abortion-act">www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-doctors-on-compliance-with-the-abortion-act The Abortion Act sets out that two doctors must certify that in their opinion, which must be formed in good faith, a request for an abortion meets at least one and the same ground set out in the Act. 

I am encouraged that the Department of Health has taken the view that registered medical practitioners should be able to show how they have considered the particular facts and circumstances of a case when forming their opinion. 

A number of constituents have been in touch with me regarding adult social care.

I believe that it is important to ensure that as people get older, they are able to receive the dignified care they deserve. I support the Government's commitment to making sure this is a country that works for everyone and that the most vulnerable in society can access the support they need.

I know that the Government recognises the current pressures facing local areas. That is why the Government is giving local authorities additional funding and flexibility so that they will have access to an additional £3.5 billion by 2020, providing a real terms increase in funding by the end of this Parliament.  On 15 December, the Government announced greater flexibility over the use of the council tax social care precept, so that local authorities can choose to raise extra money.

Savings from the New Homes Bonus, totalling £240 million, will be retained by councils for social care. Taken together, this means almost an additional £900 million will be made available over the next two years. Money alone will not fix the problem and the Government is clear that far-reaching reform is needed to encourage high standards across the whole country. Some councils are already providing high quality social care within their existing budgets, showing that reform can be achieved and half of all delayed discharges from hospital to home arise in just 24 local authorities. The Communities Secretary, Health Secretary and others across Government will work to ensure that long-term we have a sustainable system of social care for everyone that needs it.

A number of constituents have been in touch with me regarding child migrants and the so-called Dubs amendment.

The scheme has not closed, as reported by some. The Government was obliged by the Immigration Act to put a specific number on how many children we would take based on a consultation with local authorities about their capacity. This is the number that has been published and the UK Government will now be working in Greece, Italy and France to transfer further children under the amendment.  The Government has made it clear that behind these numbers are children and it’s vital that we get the balance right between enabling eligible children to come to the UK as quickly as possible and ensuring local authorities have capacity to host them and provide them with the support and care they will need.

The Government has also always been clear that we do not want to incentivise perilous journeys to Europe, particularly by the most vulnerable children.  That is why children must have arrived in Europe before 20 March 2016 to be eligible under section 67 of the Immigration Act. In the last year, we have granted asylum or another form of leave to over 8,000 children and of the over 4,400 individuals resettled through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme so far, around half are children.

This week the Government announced that in accordance with section 67 of the Immigration Act (the so-called Dubs amendment) we will transfer 350 children to meet the intention and spirit behind the amendment.  This number includes over 200 children already transferred under section 67 from France, and will include a further 150 over the coming months. I am told that the Government consulted extensively with local authorities over several months to reach this number.  Where local authorities have extra capacity to take children then then they should offer to participate in the National Transfer Scheme.

We are facing around 3,000 unaccompanied asylum seeking children arriving in Britain each year and only a small number of councils are taking a disproportionate share of the burden in caring for these children.  You may wish to contact your Councillors and encourage them to press for more to be done locally, or perhaps offer to take in a child migrant yourself.  The more people who can help, the greater the number we can bring in.

A number of constituents have been sending me campaign postcards stating their wish to see trade benefit the world’s poorest.
 
Following our decision to leave the EU, the UK now has the ability to shape its own trade policy. There will be many opportunities and responsibilities that come with this. We must now capitalise on harnessing new export opportunities, attracting inward investment and building UK dynamism by making the UK the best place in the world to do business.
 
I agree with you that, alongside the great opportunities increased trade brings to this country, we must ensure that developing nations share in these benefits. I have always believed that free trade is one of the most powerful tools we have to help those in the greatest need around the world. Research shows that trade is one of the best liberators of global poverty, as seen in China and India. I know that the Government and International Trade Secretary intend for the UK to be a global advocate for free trade, and through this improve the outlook for the poorest nations.

I have received a number of letters from teachers and headteachers on the subject of school funding.

I note their concerns about maintaining current high standards of secondary school Education Essex. I was very pleased to learn that over 93% of children in Essex attend good or outstanding rated primary school. I understand that you feel that this may not be able to be maintained or improved as a result of the new National Funding Formula, due to be introduced from 2018 to 2019.

As you may know, the Government has announced plans to end the historical postcode lottery in school funding which is intended to ensure every child is funded fairly and according to their specific needs. In order to fix this disparity, the Government has published its fair funding proposals, to ensure that children with similar characteristics and similar needs attract similar levels of funding - regardless of where their families happen to live.

I note that many believe that the proposals are more transparent and are concerned that the proposal will cause a reduction in per-pupil spending costs of 8% and will be left for the schools to fund. I can appreciate that you were initially supportive of the proposed but feel that the new National Funding Formula does not quite address school funding needs. I understand that many feel that spending should be driven by what is best for the students and you feel that the financial outlook is bleak. However, the Government has pledged to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. The proposals will allow schools and local authorities to manage the transition to fairer funding while making the best use of their resources and managing cost pressures, ensuring every pound is used effectively to drive up standards and have maximum impact for the young people they serve.

 

A number of constituents have been in touch on the subject of Ivory Trade.

I too am seriously concerned about the effect of illegal poaching and ivory trafficking on the long-term prospects for the survival of the elephant. Just how seriously the Government takes this issue was demonstrated when it hosted and led the London Conference on Wildlife Trafficking.

Over 40 countries adopted the London Declaration in an effort to save iconic species, including elephants, from being poached to the brink of extinction. The Buckingham Palace Declaration followed up on this work with a range of commitments to help the private sector tackle this illegal trade, and the UK has also made available £9.8 million for various projects through the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund.

The UK does not permit trade in raw ivory tusks of any age, and is pressing for this approach to be taken internationally. The Government has also announced plans to ban sales of modern-day ivory, which will put the UK's rules on ivory sales among the toughest in the world.  The government will consult on plans for the ban early next year, seeking views from conservationists, traders and other relevant parties to ensure clear rules and guidance for those operating within the law, while cracking down on illegal sales.

In addition to the issues in Africa, Ministers also recognise the growing threats to the Asian elephant from the illegal trade in live animals, fed by demand from the tourist and entertainment industries. The UK has been working through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to increase protections, and in 2014 secured agreement for elephant range states to put in place measures to prevent this illegal trade.

A number of constituents have written to me regarding polices implemented by Donald Trump during his first two weeks as President.

I do not agree with the recent actions taken by Donald Trump as President of the United States.  However, we have invited many international leaders to the UK who have a far worse record on human rights and used the opportunity to speak to them, encouraging change.  Refusing to engage or debate would lead to the USA taking an even greater isolationist stance.

The USA is a close ally of the United Kingdom. We work together across many areas of mutual interest and we have historically enjoyed a special relationship between our two nations.  The Prime Minister has issued an invitation for a state visit for President Trump to the United Kingdom and that invitation rightly stands.   

I would expect these issues to be raised during any visit.

A number of constituents have been in touch with me about the recent judgement by the Supreme Court on Article 50.

As you may be aware, I campaigned for Britain to Leave the EU in the referendum. The Supreme Court reached a judgement which the Government disagrees with.  It will not, however affect our determination to enact the clear will of the British People that we leave the European Union.

I expect all MPs, whichever view they took in the referendum campaign to support the Bill which will permit the Government to move forward. I am greatly encouraged that almost all my Conservative colleagues have made clear that they will do this as have a number of Labour MPs.

I remain strongly of the view that this country will prosper as an independent state outside the EU. I do not underestimate the complexity of negotiating our withdrawal and reaching new arrangements with the EU. It was for this reason that I stood for election to the new Select Committee on Exiting the European Union and am pleased now to be a member. However, I strongly welcome the Prime Minister’s declaration that the decision is taken and that Britain will leave the EU.

A number of constituents have been in touch with me about various concerns relating to the NHS.

It is the case that the NHS nationally has been under sustained pressure with the number of people aged over 80 rising by 340,000, and life expectancy rising by 12 months in the last six years alone. As a result, the NHS is facing an unprecedented demand. However, I know that the Government is determined to protect the service through an extremely challenging period and ensure its future sustainability.

This winter, the NHS has made more extensive preparations than ever before and there are now 11,400 more doctors and 11,200 more hospital nurses in the NHS since 2010. To support the NHS, investment of £350 million was included in local Clinical Commissioning Group budgets in 2016/17 for resilience planning, and £50 million was made available for national initiatives. The NHS also assured the winter plans of every trust, launched the largest ever flu vaccination programme and bolstered support outside A&Es, with 12,000 additional GP sessions offered over the Christmas period.

As a consequence of this preparation and, most importantly, the hard work of frontline staff, the system overall is coping and even performing slightly better than last year. Earlier in December, it treated a record number of patients within four hours and we are seeing 2,500 more patients within the four hour standard every single day compared with 2010.Locally, I am very conscious that the NHS have faced particular challenges. This is in part due to historic under-funding

This has led to the drawing up of the Sustainability and Transformation Plan under the Mid and South Essex Success regime on which there is currently a consultation. You will find details of this here:www.successregimeessex.co.uk  Last week, I had a meeting with the NHS Director of Commissioning for the East of England and representatives of the CCG to discuss the problems caused by the shortage of GPs which has led some local practices to close their lists to new patients.

I am encouraged that action is being taken through the provision of resilience funding to practices and potential recruitment of GPs from other European countries. Good progress is also being made on a new Health Hub in Maldon to replace St Peter’s Hospital and a health centre in Heybridge.

A number of constituents have been in touch with me about how I would vote if the Supreme Court deem that Members of Parliament must decide whether Article 50 should be triggered.

As you may be aware, I campaigned for Britain to Leave the EU in the referendum. If a vote on triggering Article 50 is necessary then I would expect all MPs, whichever view they took in the referendum campaign to support this. I am greatly encouraged that almost all my Conservative colleagues have made clear that they will do this as have a number of Labour MPs.

I remain strongly of the view that this country will prosper as an independent state outside the EU.I do not underestimate the complexity of negotiating our withdrawal and reaching new arrangements with the EU. It was for this reason that I stood for election to the new Select Committee on Exiting the European Union and am pleased now to be a member.

However, I strongly welcome the Prime Minister’s declaration that the decision is taken and that Britain will leave the EU. I can confirm that in the event of a vote in Parliament to authorise the Government to invoke Article 50, I will support this unconditionally.

A number of constituents have been in touch with me about various concerns relating to the bid by 21st Century Fox to acquire the remaining shareholding in Sky.

As you will be aware, when the previous bid was made by News Corp, the matter was referred to Ofcom who gave clearance for the bid to proceed on condition that measures be taken to protect the independence of Sky News. Since that time the media market has changed dramatically.

The Pay TV market has seen new entrants such as Netflix, Amazon and BT resulting in a significant increase in competition. In news provision, the share of newspapers has declined further as a result of decreasing circulation and the most powerful providers are now the online companies like Google and Facebook.

Given this, I would be very surprised if Ofcom were to recommend that against the bid proceeding and see no reason for them to do so. However, I do agree that Ofcom should have the chance to assess whether there are any plurality concerns and expect that the Secretary of State will refer the matter to them.

A number of constituents have been in touch with me regarding assisted dying and I would like to clarify where both the Government and I stand on this issue.

I fully accept that suicide, assisting or encouraging suicide, assisted dying and euthanasia are all subjects on which it is entirely possible for people to hold widely different but defensible opinions. This is why the substance of the law in this area is not a matter of party politics but of conscience. Should the law in this area ever be altered, it is neither a matter for government to decide nor a matter for the judiciary, but ultimately a matter for Parliament.

I accept that there are imperfections and problems with the current law, but I think that these can be dealt with sensitively and sensibly without having a new law that actually brings in euthanasia. I fear that if we were to introduce such a law, terminally ill people may feel pressurised into ending their lives if they feel they have become a burden on loved ones. I do not believe we should place anyone in this position and believe that any such change in the law may have a profound impact on the relationship of terminally ill patients with their doctors. I take this view because I believe that there is a very fine, but at the same time very important line to be drawn between allowing nature to take its course under some appalling circumstances and, on the other hand, permitting doctors or others (however well-intentioned) to accelerate death.

We should not tread over this line by allowing doctors or others deliberately to accelerate death. However, doctors should be allowed administer pain relief to prevent suffering even if the consequence is death. As I understand it, this is permissible in law and is the practice of many doctors now. 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.

A number of constituents have been in touch with me about the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the situation in Yemen.

I share the growing concern about the humanitarian situation in Yemen and I am assured that the Government is continuing its efforts to address the urgent humanitarian needs. The UK is one of the largest donors to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and more than doubled its support over the last year to £85 million for 2015/16. UK aid has so far helped more than 1.3 million Yemenis.

The UK has been consistently clear with all sides to the conflict about the importance of compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law. The Government is clear that a political solution remains the best way to bring long-term stability to Yemen.

The UK operates one of the most rigorous and transparent export control regimes. All UK arms exports are scrutinised in detail through established processes and against the EU and national consolidated criteria. This process takes account of all relevant information at the time of the application. A licence will not be issued, for any country, if to do so would be inconsistent with any provision of the UK Licensing Criteria. 

The UK Government is satisfied that extant licences for Saudi Arabia are compliant with the UK's export licensing criteria. The key test for the UK's continued arms exports to Saudi Arabia in relation to international humanitarian law (IHL) is whether there is a clear risk that those weapons might be used in a serious violation of IHL. I am assured that the situation is kept under careful and continual review. 

 

The Government is committed to tackling tax avoidance and evasion at all levels to ensure everyone pays the right tax at the right time. Avoidance (and evasion) damages the effectiveness of the tax system and imposes additional costs on all taxpayers

This loophole is part of the capital gains system and was agreed by the last Labour Government. It allowed private equity firms to treat their profits as capital gains when there is capital at risk. I welcome this move which will ensure that fund managers cannot use tax planning to avoid paying the appropriate amount of capital gains tax on "carried interest". It is correct for the Government to treat carried interest as a capital gain, and not income, as it reflects the underlying long term performance of a fund's investments.

The Government has taken action to increase tax on private equity by raising the rate of capital gains tax from 18 per cent to 28 per cent. This tax increase also means that hedge fund managers no longer pay less tax than their cleaners - a situation the last Labour Government did nothing about in 13 years in office. Beyond this, the Government has taken other actions to tackle aggressive tax avoidance and tax evasion of both large companies and individuals. It has led the world on changing international tax rules and is implementing those changes in Britain.

I agree with those who argue that the tax system needs to be fair. The Government will therefore continue to address imbalances in the system where some individuals and businesses benefit disproportionately from certain rules - and will also continue to tackle avoidance, evasion, non-compliance and tax planning. They have gone further on tackling tax avoidance and evasion than any previous Government, closing more of the loopholes it inherited.

Building on this, the Government will introduce a new criminal offence that removes the need to prove intent for the most serious cases of failing to declare offshore income and gains and will will increase civil penalties for deliberate offshore tax evasion. New penalties were recently announced to enhance the General Anti-Abuse Rule, with action taken on disguised remuneration schemes and stamp duty avoidance.

Alongside the measures above targeting individuals who avoid tax, the Government is cracking down on all forms of tax evasion and avoidance, and aggressive tax planning and non-compliance. There should be a level playing field for the majority who pay their tax, and everyone should make their contribution. I am pleased that during the last Parliament, HMRC secured £100 billion in additional tax revenue..

I know that there is some concern locally about plastic microbeads.

I understand and share your concerns about the impact these ingredients can have on the marine environment and fish. That is why I am pleased to tell you that, following work with the industry to achieve a voluntary phase-out, the Government has announced plans to ban them from cosmetic products completely.

Later this year a consultation will be launched on proposals to ban the sale and manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products containing harmful microbeads, aiming to change legislation next year. It will also gather evidence on the environmental impacts of microbeads found elsewhere, such as in household and industrial cleaning products, and consider what more can be done in future to tackle other plastics, such as microfibers, that also enter the marine environment.

Clearly there is an international dimension to this issue so I am pleased to say that the UK, along with several of our neighbours, is party to an international organisation known as the Oslo and Paris Convention for the Protection of the North East Atlantic. In 2014 its members agreed a regional action plan to address marine litter, one of its most important objectives. The plan includes international action on microplastics.

I understand that manufacturers are exploring natural alternatives to plastic microbeads, including nut shells, salt and sugar. These have the same exfoliating properties but do not threaten the environment, so the products containing them should perform just as well.

 

A number of constituents have contacted me about the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and how it applies to transgender people.  They are concerned that the Act can be misinterpreted and wrongfully target trans people as sexual predators if they do not make full disclosure about their background when initiating a relationship.

I am not a lawyer but, having read the Act, I have to say, I do not agree that its wording criminalises transgender people in this way. However, I can understand why there is a perception of ambiguity. The decision of a transgender individual to disclose their birth gender to others is a deeply personal and sensitive one. In the event that gender history is a relevant consideration for prosecutors, this will be only one of a number of factors a prosecutor will consider. Each case is considered on its facts and merits and will only be prosecuted if it meets both stages of the Full Code Test as set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors. It is important to note that in cases where gender history is a consideration for prosecutors, this does not mean that a prosecution will necessarily follow. 

Where a transgender person has received a Gender Recognition Certificate, their legal gender will therefore match their self-defined gender identity and, following the European Court of Human Rights judgement (Goodwin v UK 6 (2002) 35 E.H.R.R 18) their right to keep private their gender history is legally established.

The UK has been a world leader for transgender rights, and I welcome the progress that we have already made. However, more must be done to help transgender people with the unique and often difficult challenges that they face. I look forward to a new action plan for transgender equality that is currently being developed, in addition to reviews across a range of Government services to see how they can better serve transgender people. We have come a long way in terms of lesbian, gay and bisexual equality. I now want to see the same for transgender people. I hope the Government will continue to work closely with transgender people to create a society where everyone is free to be themselves. 

I know that there is some concern about changes to Housing Benefit and the equivalent in Universal Credit from April 2018. 

The changes to Housing Benefit announced in the 2015 Autumn Statement involve aligning the rules for claimants in the social sector with those for claimants renting privately. Over the last five years, average social rent rises have been double those for private sector accommodation. I do not think it is fair for social landlords to consistently raise rents knowing the taxpayer will pick up the bill, while those renting privately have limits on the amount of rent they can claim for. 

It is the case thought that the Government recognises the importance of ensuring those who are providing supported accommodation to some of the most vulnerable members of our society receive appropriate protections. Government departments will be working closely together and listening carefully to the concerns raised, to make sure that the right protections are in place.

The Government has commissioned an extensive review into supported housing to get an accurate picture of the sector's needs, and will report back in due course. This will help to determine how best to make sure the appropriate protections are in place, and the Government is keen to ensure workable and sustainable solutions for the supported housing sector are worked out. The details on this policy are still being considered. Reductions will not apply until April 2018 and the change will only apply to new or renewed tenancies from April 2016; the then-Chancellor confirmed in the 2016 Budget that for supported accommodation this will be delayed until April 2017 to allow time for the review to be considered. 

On the specific issue of domestic violence refuges, the Government is working to ensure the sector is able to maintain and improve the essential services it provides.The Government committed £40 million in the last Autumn Statement to services for victims of domestic abuse, which is a tripling of the funding compared to the previous four years. The Government also published a renewed Violence Against Women and Girls strategy in March this year, and in conducting the supported housing review, Ministers will of course consider the specific issues which refuges face.

The debate helped clarify the claim that dog breeders only need a licence if they have a bitch producing five or more litters per year. The Department for the Environment discovered that when the relevant Act came into force under the last Government, the Home Office sent a circular indicating this; however, it is now writing to councils to stress that anyone in the business of breeding dogs must be licenced.

The issue of selling puppies and kittens in pet shops was considered in detail. Only about 70 pet shops do this, and they are already licensed and regulated. Local authorities have the power to restrict which animals a pet shop can sell. Recent Government action shows that much can be achieved without new legislation. I share concerns about unregulated sales over the internet, so am pleased that the Government has acted to create a voluntary code which has resulted in 100,000 adverts being removed since the start of 2014. I was also glad to learn that new guidance on the model conditions for pet vending stress the need for interaction with people.

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 will mean that from December it will not be possible to transport a puppy into this country unless it is at least 15 weeks old.