This is a highly emotive issue, with strongly held views on both sides of the debate. In the past, I have voted against the introduction of assisted dying.
Even keeping in mind the difficult memories I have of two people close to me in their final days could not lead me to support the bill, distressing though they were. I believe that human life is precious and that the sanctity of life has to be all important. There are, of course, very sad and difficult cases to consider, but being guided by extreme cases can lead to bad law.
Heavy-handed legislation on what is a delicate issue would make matters worse, and would place some people – for example, those who feel they are becoming a burden – in very vulnerable positions, and I don’t believe that this would be fair to them, or to members of their families who might take opposing views.
It is an issue I have carefully considered and, on balance, I believe the introduction of assisted dying would be wrong.
The Government is currently undertaking a post-implementation review of the impact of the legal aid changes made under Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), and remains committed to publishing the findings by the end of this year. This comprehensive, evidence-based review will be used as an opportunity to inform the governments wider consideration on the future of legal support for those engaged in the justice system.
The Government is also investing over £1bn to modernise the justice system, introducing 21st Century technology, online services and digital working, while making sure justice remains accessible.
A number of constituents have raised the issue of Universal Credit. The Autumn Budget announced a £4.5 billion cash boost to Universal Credit, a powerful injection of support to ensure vulnerable families are supported in the transition to Universal Credit, and helping millions keep more of what they earn.
A particular issue which has been raised with me is work allowances. An extra £1.7 billion a year will be put into work allowances, which is the amount someone can earn before their benefit payment begins to reduce. The government is increasing the work allowances on Universal Credit by £1,000 a year which will assist 2.4 million families. The aim of Universal Credit has been to ensure that work pays and this should contribute towards ensuring this is the case.
“Demand the end to rip-off loans”
The government recognises the impact payday lenders can have on individuals accumulating unmanageable levels of debt. The Government introduced a cap on payday lending interest rates and has taken steps to facilitate new entrants to the lending market. My office attended the launch of the Final Notice campaign in Parliament to hear more about the outstanding issues in this area.
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.
Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals
According to the advice the government has received, FoBTs are the fifth (not the first) most dangerous forms of gambling in terms of addiction and problem gambling. The decision has been taken to reduce the maximum stakes on these machines to £2. This change has the potential to lead to thousands of job losses and shop closures on the High Street, as well as having a serious, adverse impact on horseracing, which is very important to the Tewkesbury area. Because of this, the government is proposing introducing the measure in October 2019 in order to give the betting industry time to change its business model and horseracing the time to try to make similar adjustments, which actually represents a bringing forward of the date, because the original proposal was to introduce the changes in April 2020. The impact on the High Street and jobs, as well as horseracing, will still be significant, but these extra few months might provide a glimmer of hope to the people involved.
Offensive Weapons Bill: Shopkeepers
I recognise that shop workers can be confronted with aggression when asking for identification on age restricted sales and that this can cause a great deal of distress.The government has stated the following in relation to the amendment on attacks on shopkeepers.
We have no current plans to introduce a specific offence relating to attacks on shopkeepers who refuse to sell a corrosive substance or sharp weapon. Violence is unacceptable wherever it takes place, and violence or abuse against retail staff should not be tolerated in any circumstances. There are number of existing serious offences which are already available to deal with attacks or threats to shopkeepers, and it is open to the courts to take account of any aggravating factors when passing sentence.
The Secretary of State has written to MPs to provide an update on the pensions dashboard, making clear that the Government backs industry to deliver a pensions dashboard. An industry-led dashboard, facilitated by Government, will harness the best of industry innovation, and Government will protect pensions savers by legislating where necessary. The Government has delivered a pensions revolution through automatic enrolment and increased pensions freedoms and will continue to build on these successes to empower people to save for retirement.
I campaigned for a cut in beer duty ahead of budget and support pubs as they provide important sources of employment and promote community engagement. As you may be aware, beer and cider duty has been frozen for the next year which will keep the cost of beer down for patrons of the Great British Pub. Duty on spirits is also set to be frozen which has an estimated saving of 2p on a pint of beer, 1p on a pint of cider, and 30p on a bottle of Scotch or gin compared to the inflation assumption in the OBR forecast. Currently the usual RPI increase will still apply to wine.