As early at 1997, when I was first elected, I supported a Ten Minute Rule Bill which proposed providing free television licences to those over 75. I am very disappointed to hear that the BBC have decided to no longer fund TV licences for over 75s from 2020. The BBC is a fundamental social part of this country; it is important for people of all ages, but particularly for older people, who value television as a way to stay connected with the world. It is vital that the BBC understands the effect that their decision will have and take its broader social responsibilities seriously.
In the Digital Economy Act 2017, the BBC was given the responsibility of funding over 75 TV licences in exchange for the ability to increase licence fees in line with inflation. The government agreed a phased transition to help the BBC with its financial planning to ensure that the licences would be covered. At the time the BBC director-general noted that, “The Government’s decision here to put the cost of the over-75s on us has been more than matched by the deal coming back for the BBC” however, following a consultation the BBC has decided to go back on this deal.
The Government recognised the importance of the licence fee when we agreed a funding settlement and even noted free licences in our 2017 party manifesto. Sadly, the delivery of any manifesto requires the co-operation and assistance of others, in this case the BBC. The government made clear that there was an expectation free licences would continue before the decision was taken; and have since made clear the great disappointment following the BBCs decision. What the government must do now is engage further with the BBC to discuss what further action it can and should take.
I am pleased that the BBC has agreed with the government to postpone their licence fee changes for the over 75s in light of COVID-19.
The BBC is a fundamental social part of this country; it is important for people of all ages, but particularly for older people, who value television as a way to stay connected with the world. It is right that the BBC have recognised the exceptional circumstances posed by the Coronavirus and the need for the whole country to pull together in the national effort.
Windrush: Lessons Learned Report
The Windrush Lessons Learned Review is an independent review and therefore, the date on which the Home Office receive the final report is a matter for the Independent Reviewer. The final report has yet to be submitted to Ministers.
It is vital that the Government allow Wendy Williams the time and space to produce her report without political interference. When it is available, the Home Office is committed to publishing it as soon as practically possible and will take its findings and any recommendations very seriously.
Huawei: 5G Network
The government are aware of the public concern surrounding the decision to use Huawei however, would like to make clear that they have not taken these decisions lightly. The Government has underlined its commitment to making the UK a world leader in gigabit capable networks like 5G and full fibre, and have taken the decisions necessary to safeguard the UK’s national security interests.
The security of the UK’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance. A comprehensive review of the telecoms supply chain has taken place to ensure the security and resilience of 5G and fibre in the UK. The Review, published in July, set out the Government’s priorities for the future of telecommunications and proposed the introduction of a new, strengthened security framework for telecoms.
Huawei is banned from sensitive and critical parts of the network and the government have set a strict 35% cap on market share, which they will keep under review with an intention to cut this as market diversification takes place. Excluding Huawei completely from the UK’s network at this stage would lead to significant delays and extra cost to the consumer.
The UK’s world-leading cyber security experts are satisfied that with the governments approach and tough regulatory regime, any risk can be safely managed.
In terms of the trade implications, the UK has one of the world’s largest and most dynamic economies, and we welcome open trade and inward investment in our digital sectors. At the same time, the UK’s economy can only prosper when we, and our international partners, are assured that our critical national infrastructure remains safe and secure.
The government have announced one of the toughest regimes for telecoms security in the world. This should reassure the US and other partners that we are clear about the security risks we face.
IR35 Tax changes
The Government announced a review of changes to off-payroll (IR35) working rules on 7 January 2020 to determine if any further steps can be taken to ensure the smooth and successful implementation of the reform due to come into force in April 2020. The review will also consider whether any additional support for businesses is needed to ensure that the self-employed, who are not in scope of the rules, are not affected. The review will conclude in mid-February 2020.
It is important to remember that the off-payroll working rules do not affect the self-employed; part of the review will consider whether this is clearly understood by businesses in their implementation of the reforms. In parallel to the review, HMRC will be stepping up their efforts to support individuals and businesses in preparing for these changes and raising awareness of the reform.
The Government is committed to supporting self-employed professionals and consultants. From April 2019, the UK will have increased its Personal Allowance by over 90% in less than a decade. The self-employed have also been given access to the full rate of the new State Pension, worth over £2,000 a year more to a self-employed individual than under the previous system.
I have spoken to the Chancellor about this previously and will continue to liaise with constituents effected by these changes.
The Prime Minister and the government have given the go-ahead for HS2 to proceed. I have always been opposed to the HS2 proposals. It is a very expensive scheme and I believe that that money could be better spent on other projects. In spite of its name, High Speed, it will not cut journeys by much time and is now about capacity. I recognise the need for the latter, but again believe it can be better provided. The cost-benefit business case ratio is quite poor. The building of it will adversely affect the environment and nature. It will only benefit very few of my constituents and certainly not many in the South West more generally. As well as all this, the project will not be completed for very many years, by which time transport patterns, systems, behaviors and technology may well all have changed. However, given that its going to proceed, I will be watching closely to try to ensure that its environmental and cost impacts are kept to a minimum.
Post Office Cash Withdraws For Barclays Customers
Earlier this month, Barclays’ announced that they were changing their participation in the Post Office Banking Framework, which meant that from 8th of January 2020, customers would no longer be able to withdraw cash from the Post Offices. Since our correspondence, there has been an update from Barclays’ regarding this decision.
Rachel Reeves the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee met with Barclays’ on the 23rd October 2019 calling for the bank to rethink their stance. The BEIS Committee described the original decision as a ‘highly retrograde step’ which would hurt vulnerable customers.
On the 24th October 2019 Barclays’ announced that they have reversed their decision. In a press release Barclays’ stated “We have listened very carefully to points that have been made to us by Ministers in the Government, by MPs, and by interested charities and consumer advocate. Ultimately we have been persuaded to rethink our proposals by the argument that our full participation in the Post Office Banking Framework is crucial at this point to the viability of the Post Office network” (www.home.barclays/news/press-releases/2019/10/barclays-and-the-post-off…). As a result, customers will be able to continue to withdraw cash from Post Office branches beyond the 8th of January 2020.
Introduction of Voter ID
The introduction of voter identification was one of many policies announced in the recent Queen’s speech. The government are putting in place voter identification to protect the integrity of our democracy and elections, tackling electoral fraud through the introduction of voter ID and banning postal vote harvesting.
Although I understand the concerns surrounding this policy, it is important to remember that Local Authorities will provide free ID to voters who need it, ensuring that everyone eligible has the opportunity to vote. Labour introduced Voter ID in Northern Ireland in 2003 and experience demonstrates that the requirement does not negatively impact turnout or participation.
Very sad to hear that Thomas Cook has gone into liquidation.
I received a letter today from Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps, who has assured MPs that that the Government is prepared to support those affected. The Government and UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have run similar operations in the past and will be working hard to minimise disruption for passengers and assist Thomas Cook’s staff this includes providing repatriation flights free of charge.
All Thomas Cook flights have now been cancelled and the CAA and UK Government are working together to get passengers home as close as possible to their planned date. Some disruption and delay is inevitable but the Government ask for understanding and assure those effected that they are working to ensure the safe return of customers.
People should still complete their holidays and, in most circumstances, will not be flown home ahead of their scheduled return date. If you have any further questions, please visit thomascook.caa.co.uk for help and guidance.
Campaign: Reduce child citizenship fees
The Home Office constantly strives to achieve the right balance between ensuring that individuals are able to obtain status in the UK and access appropriate services, without adding burden to the taxpayer.
It is important to note that applying for British nationality is not mandatory and many individuals who have settlement/ indefinite leave to remain (ILR) status choose not to apply. This is because, in addition to lawful permanent residence in the UK, a person with indefinite leave to remain has full access to the UK labour market, education and healthcare.
The Home Office keeps its fees for immigration and nationality under regular review and changes to individual charges need to be made with a view to maintaining the overall purpose of the fees and charging legislation.
Abortion and same-sex marriage Northern Ireland
The question of abortion and same sex marriage are devolved matters, as are so many others, to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Unfortunately, the institutions in Northern Ireland have been suspended for over two years. This situation, for many reasons, is not satisfactory. However, I do believe that such decisions should be made by people in Northern Ireland, so I think the correct way forward is to work towards restoring the institutions, which the government is doing. Some people have (wrongly) argued that Brexit puts the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, the peace process and devolution at risk. It does nothing of the kind. But cherry picking the bits of the law in Northern Ireland that we want to change, with no reference to the people in Northern Ireland or the local politicians which they have elected, might just do that, so I voted against taking such steps. I therefore believe it is wrong - and dangerous - to drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement in this way.
This legislation received a second reading in the House of Commons without objection, so there were no votes. I spoke to the Minister about the proposals. Basically, while continuing to promote marriage, the government is concerned that the current laws require fault to be found with one party or the other in order to divorce before five years of separation have passed and that this causes further distress. The government also feels that, in order to escape marriages, some people do exaggerate the claims they make against their spouses, which causes further distress. The changes being proposed do not make marriage easier as such and do not affect the right of each party to ensure that the appropriate ongoing arrangements are put in place for them.
The Government took all necessary legal steps conducting the recent European parliamentary elections, including compliance with the EU Council directive 93/109/EC. This requires all member states to send the details of any EU citizens’ declarations to the state they are a citizen of, sufficiently in advance of polling day. The UC1 form ensures that an EU citizen does not vote twice in the same European parliamentary election. A similar provision applies to UK citizens living in other EU member states. UC1 forms are not unusual, the same process was used during the 2009 and 2014 elections.
It was clear that UK would fulfil its legal obligation, as a member of the European Union, to hold the elections if necessary. On the 3rd May the Electoral Commission published advice about the upcoming election which included guidance on registering to vote and a copy of the UC1 form. On Tuesday 7th May the government confirmed that the UK would take part in the elections. There was no restriction on submitting a UC1 application before the UK’s participation was confirmed. Many EU citizens who are resident in this country successfully made arrangements to vote in this election and turnout was higher than previous European parliamentary elections.
Going forward, the government will carefully consider the points raised by the Electoral Commission look at whether any changes are required. However, there is no intention to take part in the 2024 election following the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Standing Up Against Torture
I oppose the use of torture and am proud of our history of offering asylum to those in need. In March 2018 the government laid draft statutory guidance before parliament to implement a new definition of torture for the purposes of immigration. The government considers all asylum claims in a sensitive manner on an individual, objective and impartial basis ensuring that all cases are managed effectively throughout the asylum process to avoid unnecessary delay.
Beer Tax and Pubs
I have long campaigned for fairer taxes for pubs and made representations to the Chancellor for cuts in Beer Duty. I am a regular patron of pubs myself and will continue to do all I can to help them.
Several measures have been introduced across Government to support pubs, including a freeze on beer duty announced at Budget 2018. This means that the price of a typical pint of beer in 2019 is 2p lower than it would have been had duty increased with inflation and 14p lower than it otherwise would have been since ending the beer duty escalator in 2013.
Many small pubs are benefitting from the business rates retail discount announced at Budget 2018, which cuts bills for eligible businesses by one third from April 2019 for two years. It is available to eligible businesses with a rateable value below £51,000.
Additionally, some 2,000 pubs have been listed as Assets of Community Value (ACVs), meaning that if they are put up for sale, the community can have up to six months to bid to buy them. Planning regulations which came into effect in May 2017 removed permitted development rights from all pubs, meaning that planning permission must now be obtained prior to change of use or demolition.
I believe that pubs are vital parts of our communities, especially though not exclusively in rural areas, and I have always taken an interest in their survival and wellbeing. As well as campaigning for lower taxes, I have also taken a deep interest in the free-of-tie arrangements which pubs owned by the larger pub companies (pubcos) can now obtain.
Campaign: Talking Buses
I have received a number of emails from constituents raising the issue of ensuring buses are accessible to those with hearing or sight impairments. This is a very important issue and directly impacts the independence of those with disabilities. The Government has outlined the following:
The Bus Services Act 2017 includes powers for the Secretary of State to make Regulations requiring bus operators to provide audible and visible information on local bus services in Great Britain.
The Government understands the importance of accessible on-board information in helping bus passengers to travel with confidence, and in Summer 2018 published a public consultation on proposals to require its provision on local bus services throughout Great Britain. This follows the Government’s commitment, set out in the Inclusive Transport Strategy, to invest £2 million towards ensuring that audio visual equipment is installed on buses.
The Government is currently analysing responses to the consultation and expect to announce our next steps regarding the making of Regulations and publication of guidance later in the year.
I am very supportive of steps being taken to ensure buses are accessible for all and will follow this issue closely.
Campaign: Employment and Support Allowance "Misleading Letters"
I have received emails relating to Department for Working and Pension letters being sent to GPs regarding sick notes. The Minister has advised the following:
A revised version of the ESA65B letter was introduced in August 2017 following engagement with key clinical stakeholders through the Department’s ‘GP Forum.’ The wording was amended to make the letter simpler and clearer, to emphasise the benefits of work for disabled people and those with health conditions, and to ask GPs to encourage their patients in their efforts to find, or return to, some form of work.
When these changes were made, some wording was removed which set out the circumstances in which GPs could continue to provide fit notes (subject to their clinical discretion). The intention was never to dissuade GPs from issuing fit notes for ESA appeal purposes.
The DWP is committed to ensuring that its communications products are clear, understandable and fit for purpose, and we are alive to the concerns raised regarding the wording of the ESA65B letter. Following the extensive stakeholder interest, officials in the Department are working to put in place a revised version of this letter as soon as practicable and we expect this to take place in the summer. We will take account of the comments and concerns that have been raised as we revise this letter to ensure absolute clarity. As part of this we are again consulting the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners on the proposed revisions.
Until we can revise the letter, and by way of mitigation, we have worked closely with the BMA to issue a communication in their newsletter to GPs reminding them of all the circumstances in which fit notes may continue to be issued for those found fit for work.
Therefore, the Government is aware of the concerns surrounding this letter and are taking steps to clarify their communications.
I am supporting the expansion of Heathrow Airport and am pleased that the government is progressing this. Heathrow is a well-positioned, world-leading hub airport which brings a great deal of benefit to the whole of the United Kingdom.
UK airports handle over 260 million passengers - up 20 per cent in the last five years. Heathrow is already the UK’s biggest airport for passengers and freight and a new runway would enable Heathrow to nearly double its freight capability, offering businesses across the country the chance to increase exports. Heathrow has been at capacity for over a decade, meaning that new connections to the rest of the world – and to the rest of the UK – have been constrained, negatively impacting UK competitiveness as European hub airport competitors in Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt continue to increase their global networks.
I recognise that constituents have expressed concerns in relation to the environmental impact of this expansion in terms of noise and air pollution. The government has secured a world class package of mitigation, worth up to £2.6 billion which covers insulation, compensation and respite from noise. This will comprehensively combat the impacts on local communities. The promoter has pledged that expansion will not lead to more airport-related traffic on the roads and committed to a target of at least 55 per cent of passengers using public transport to access the airport by 2040.
In terms of protecting the environment, it isn’t a matter of whether we fly or not, because if we don’t expand Heathrow, other airports will take up that capacity, and they may not all be in the UK. For example, Dublin is expanding its airport, and Paris and Amsterdam have benefited from delays under previous governments in expanding Heathrow. We are already introducing cleaner planes, and that is the way to protect the environment.
Regional airports are important, but they appear to be in favour of expanding Heathrow as well, because of its hub airport status and the benefits that brings to them. And expanding Heathrow doesn’t prevent, for example, Birmingham or Bristol from expanding.