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2015 Archive

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EU Nature Directives Review
21 December 2015
Please click here to read a response from Rory Stewart, Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, concerning the EU Nature Directives Review.

Welfare Reform and Work Bill
17 December 2015
Please click here to read a response from Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, concerning the Welfare Reform and Work Bill and its impact on people with Parkinson's Disease.

Prepay Rip Off
17 December 2015
Today I pledged my support to Dawn Butler’s campaign to end the ‘PrePay Rip Off’ scandal. Millions of the poorest and most vulnerable families are forced to use prepayment meters to heat their homes and cook food. But the poorest Londoners are paying the highest fuel bills as prepayment tariffs cost £226 a year more than the cheapest direct debit deals.
The ‘PrePay Rip Off’ is getting worse, not better, under David Cameron and George Osborne. The number of people forced to use prepayment meters has risen from 5.3million to over 6 million between 2010 to 2013 and could rise by a staggering 56 per cent by 2019.
Dawn Butler’s campaign to end the ‘Prepay Rip Off’ urges the government and energy companies to take five simple steps and:
1. Cut the cost of prepayment meters in line with the cheapest direct debit fuel tariffs saving consumers £226 a year
2. End debt collection by energy companies during the winter (as Scottish Energy have done)
3. Ensure homes with pensioners, disabled people and children don't have prepayment meters fitted
4. Stop installation of prepayment meters during the winter
5. Prioritise prepayment customers in the smart meter UK rollout
If you would like to support the end of the ‘Prepay Rip Off’, you can sign the petition here.

Climate Change
15 December 2015
Please click here to read the response from Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, concerning climate change.

TTIP
11 December 2015
On Thursday 10th December, I attended the Backbench Business Debate on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the proposed EU-US trade deal.
A number of constituents have contacted me to raise concerns on TTIP, arguing that it could include insufficient exemptions for the NHS and other public services; that it could lead to serious legal challenges; and that the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) could result in transferring power away from people. These are all reasons why pushing for more transparency and accountability is vital. We also need to recognise potential benefits that a deal on trade could provide for Britain’s workers and industries. Britain is a trading nation and balanced trade deals have a positive impact on jobs and growth. It is therefore crucial then that any benefits which an EU-US trade deal delivers filters down to employees, small businesses and consumers, that the deal is open and accountable, and that it does not dilute current labour, consumer, environmental and food safety standards. Trade deals also provide unique opportunities to properly regulate global trade. This means we need careful and reflective thinking because in a rapidly changing global economy we are increasingly trading with countries, for example China, whose labour laws do not match our high standards. A balanced TTIP, one that promotes, rather than weakens social, labour and environmental standards, regulating a quarter of all global trade, could provide a welcome departure from a race to the bottom.
The proposals should receive proper scrutiny at both a UK and EU level and that any final deal must have transparency and accountability at its heart. I was disappointed that the Coalition Government paid such little attention to these concerns and I believe it is important the current Government ensure they are covered in the negotiating process.
I fought the General Election on a Labour manifesto that recognised the potential benefits of TTIP, but emphasised that any final agreement needs to ensure that the NHS is protected, promotes decent jobs and avoids a race to the bottom. Labour MEPs have also made the case in the European Parliament to exclude public services - including our NHS - from TTIP negotiations and to ensure workers' rights, environmental standards and food safety standards are protected. A number of worries similar to our own have been raised by other EU member states and these will need to be reflected to secure agreement and therefore will have to be taken on board by the European Commission. I hope that the Government now listen and respond to these concerns.
I can assure you that I will follow this issue very closely and press the Government to ensure that TTIP delivers the jobs, growth and fairer deal for consumers we all want to see.
You can view a transcript of the debate here.

Bee Killing Pesticides
11 December 2015
A number of constituents have contacted me about the use of Neonicotinoids on crops and its impact on bees.
I was able to attend the recent Westminster Hall debate on this issue and I will continue to monitor the matter closely.
You can view a transcript of the debate by clicking here.

Proposal for a Shakespeare theatre in Knowsley
8 December 2015
Today I was successful in securing a Westminster Hall debate on a proposal for a Shakespeare theatre in Knowsley.
You can read my speech and a full transcript of the debate here.

Sunday Trading
7 December 2015
Please click here to read the response from Anna Soubry, Minister of State at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, concerning Sunday trading hours.

UK air strikes in Syria
4 December 2015
On Wednesday evening, I voted for the government’s motion authorising UK air strikes in Syria.
I did not arrive at the decision to do so lightly and gave a great deal of thought both to the consequences and the challenges implicit in arriving at that conclusion.
I did consider carefully all opinions expressed to me in emails or in person and did signal my thinking to our Constituency Labour Party last week. It is of course, important that we all respect each other’s opinions but to disagree with somebody is not the same thing as disrespecting them.
The Labour front-bench speech at the end of the debate by Hilary Benn, in my view, summarised the case for supporting the government motion with clarity and fluency.
My own reasons for supporting the government motion are based on a number of important factors.
First, UN Security Council Resolution 2249 is clear and specific. If we are serious about collective security, then I strongly believe that we have to accept the obligations that go with that principle, otherwise the UN is little more than a talking shop.
Secondly, I do sincerely believe that the so-called caliphate (Daesh) does represent a challenge that cannot be ignored lightly. The sheer barbarity of their actions in ungoverned spaces in both Iraq and Syria challenges our democratic and humanitarian principles. Its continued existence also acts as an attraction for young radical Muslims in the UK and elsewhere in the world. As a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I am aware of a number of plots to carry out Paris-style atrocities in the UK which originated in the so-called caliphate. Thankfully, those plots were prevented but it is possible that one will eventually succeed. Degrading ISIL’s capability in Syria, far from making us less safe, potentially will make such an attack less likely. Thirdly, UK forces are already carrying out air strikes on areas in Iraq which ISIL are currently occupying. From their point of view, the border between Iraq and Syria simply does not exist; they consider it all to be part of the so-called caliphate. Logically, it makes no sense to us to differentiate between Iraq and Syria.
Finally, as Hilary Benn eloquently put it, Labour’s tradition is internationalist. To be truly internationalist means being willing to stand up to evil wherever it exists and I find it impossible to avoid concluding that the ideology of ISIL is anything other than evil: any argument to the contrary fails to acknowledge the random brutality it promotes and practises.
Of course, this is not a simple matter and, as I previously have acknowledged, there is no absolute certainty about how a legitimate transitional government will be put together and how the different groups competing for power, other than ISIL, will be reconciled. I do, however, think that there is a good prospect that the Vienna talks will progress towards a power-sharing solution. My own direct experience in Northern Ireland, as a Minister involved in the Peace Process, has taught me that the human impulse for peace and reconciliation will eventually overcome sectarian division and conflict.
It has rightly been said that strategic air attacks alone will not eradicate the so-called caliphate and it will require military action on the ground. I do, however, have doubts about the use of Western troops on the ground as it is far better that those with a direct regional involvement take action on the ground. Although it will be a complicated matter to co-ordinate air strikes and action on the ground, I am, as a result of the briefing I have had, persuaded that there are sufficient non-Islamist forces available and willing to take strategic and tactical direction to overcome that challenge.

Syria
2 December 2015
There will shortly be a vote in Parliament as to whether or not we agree to air strikes in Syria.
In principle, I do not have a firm objection to taking such action. My support would, however, be subject to being convinced as to the political strategy for the political reconstruction following any such action. I did seek further clarification on this from the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on Thursday 26 November 2015. As yet, I am not fully convinced by his response but still have an open mind.
My in-principle support is based on my assessment of ISIL’s interest and capacity to continue their activities in Syria and Iraq and, as a consequence, further destabilise the Middle East and North Africa. It is also based on my assessment of their intentions towards other countries and our own. As we saw so tragically in Paris, ISIL’s activities are not confined to the so-called caliphate which is currently, although not exclusively, understood to be in Syria, Iraq and the Levant. Some have argued that, by intervening in Syria, we would effectively be contributing to the radicalisation of further young Muslims towards violent extremism. This view, however, fails to take into account the fact that the ‘caliphate’ is one of the most powerful inspirations for people open to violent extremist narratives. They see it as the embodiment of Salafist violent extremism. Any cursory reading of the motives of those involved or sympathetic to the ‘caliphate’ in their own words would bear this out.
One thing we have painfully learnt over the last twenty years or so is that ungoverned spaces provide an ideal safe haven for extremist violence, both in terms of the ungoverned space itself and as a base for terrorist activities elsewhere. That is why I am still looking for further assurance that the UN and those involved in talks about what will happen next, do have a political strategy that is coherent, practical and sustainable. Of course no guarantees can be given but that issue still needs to be explored further. I will listen carefully to all views before making my final decision.

BBC Charter Review
27 November 2015
Please click here to read the response from John Whittingdale, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, about BBC funding and the Charter Review.

Science and Technology Funding: Treasury response
27 November 2015
Please click here to read the response from Greg Hands, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, about science funding.

Homelessness: Treasury response
27 November 2015
Please click here to read the response from Greg Hands, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, about homelessness and rough sleeping.

Fire and Rescue Services: Treasury response
27 November 2015
Please click here to read the response from Greg Hands, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, about reductions to fire and rescue services.

CCTV in slaughterhouses
23 November 2015
Last week, I attended an event to show my support for Animal Aid’s campaign for mandatory CCTV inside UK slaughterhouses. The campaign – which has widespread political and public support – was launched by Animal Aid, after five-years of investigating animal welfare breaches inside British slaughterhouses. The national organisation has placed fly-on-the-wall cameras inside ten slaughterhouses and found nine were breaking animal welfare laws. The footage revealed: slaughterhouse workers kicking, punching and beating animals in the head and face; picking them up by ears, legs and fleeces and throwing them; burning them with cigarettes; using the electrical stunning tongs to inflict painful electric shocks on the animals; and hacking away at the throats of fully conscious sheep. Failure to stun animals properly was also common and a serious breach of the law. I have signed EDM 153 which calls for mandatory CCTV to monitor working practices inside UK slaughterhouses.

Syria
23 November 2015
ISIL/Daesh poses a threat both regionally in its main area of military operations and internationally through terrorism. Labour agrees that we must act to end the threat from ISIL/Daesh to the region and internationally and that it is a vital national interest to defeat ISIL/Daesh. The tragic events in Paris have emphasized just how important this is to us all. Labour has consistently called on the government to strain every sinew to secure international agreement on a plan to end the Syrian civil war – which has created the chaos, fear and violence in which ISIL/Daesh has thrived and has led to a large number of refugees seeking shelter in Europe – and to develop a plan to end the threat from ISIL/Daesh.
Labour has also called on the Government to take more refugees from Syria, and communities up and down the country are preparing to welcome them after the horrors that they have fled from. Labour has been critical of the Government’s narrow focus on possible UK involvement in air strikes in previous months and has called for a more comprehensive plan to end the civil war in Syria and to defeat ISIL/Daesh. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee was also critical in this regard of the Government’s approach in its recent report. It is clear that aerial bombing by itself cannot defeat ISIL/Daesh in Syria. It is different in Iraq where there is an integrated ground/ air campaign involving a number of countries – this integrated approach is how Kurdish peshmerga forces retook Sinjar last week with US air support.
I believe Britain should push for a UN Chapter VII Security Council Resolution which could cover both a peace process for Syria and action to end the threat from ISIL/Daesh. Such a resolution may be vetoed, though the extensive Russian involvement in military action against ISIL has changed the picture. In the event of a veto MPs would need to look at the position again. But the Labour Party has the clear view that it is essential the Government should work to bring the issue before the Security Council. At the second round of talks in Vienna (14th-15th November), the outline of a Syrian peace plan emerged in which President Assad and certain opposition groups would start formal talks on 1st Jan about the formation of a transitional government prior to national elections. This would include a ceasefire, possibly with United Nations peacekeepers as an observer force. One major issue to be resolved is which opposition groups should take part. These groups would not include ISIL/Daesh or Jabhat al-Nusra with which there can clearly be no negotiation.
Getting a Syrian peace process going will help in the fight against ISIL/Daesh because ISIL/Daesh thrives in the vacuum of governance and the chaos, fear and violence created by the Syrian civil war. It is important to note that over 90% of all civilian deaths in Syria – over 200,000 - are attributable to forces controlled or loyal to President Assad and half the population has fled their homes as a result of a civil war for which the ultimate blame lies wholly with Assad. On British military involvement, the UK is already taking action in Iraq and contributing to action in Syria through intelligence, surveillance and refuelling using RAF drones and planes. If the government now has a proposal to bring forward relating to airstrikes against ISIL/Daesh in Syria then – as we have consistently said, and our position has not changed – we will consider it against the tests we have set. We need to be clear about what difference any extension of military action would make to our objective of defeating ISIL/Daesh, the nature of any intervention, its objectives and the legal basis.
Any potential action must command the support of other nations in the region, including Iraq and the coalition already taking action in Syria. And, crucially, it must be part of a wider and more comprehensive strategy to end the threat they pose and the Government must seek a Security Council resolution for it.

'Care Around the Clock'
20 November 2015
I am supporting Together for Short Lives’ ‘Care Around the Clock’ campaign, which calls for children with life-limiting conditions – and their families – to have access to a range of children’s palliative care services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, when and where they need it.
Sadly, many children are unable to access the 24/7 palliative care they need because it is not commissioned in their area - or because there are not enough professionals with the skills, knowledge or experience needed to provide it.
You can find out more about the campaign by clicking here or using #carearoundtheclock.

Merseyside Police Cuts
20 November 2015
Merseyside’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Jane Kennedy, has joined forces with Merseyside Police Federation to launch a petition to end cuts to Merseyside Police.
Merseyside Police are being forced to consider cutting PCSO jobs, disband the mounted section and the basic command unit structure which has served Merseyside well for over forty years. The extent of the cuts means that every team within Merseyside Police is facing cuts. This includes the teams of officers and staff who investigate sex offences, hate crimes and the Matrix teams who combat serious and organised crime.
You can view and sign the petition asking the government to end cuts to Merseyside Police by clicking here before November 25th.

Carers Rights Day
19 November 2015
One in eight people in Knowsley is a carer.
Carers Rights Day, taking place on Friday 20th November 2015, is a national awareness campaign designed to ensure carers get the advice and information that need so they can access the help and support they are entitled to. Having the right information at the right time can make a huge difference when you are looking after someone. Every year, more than 2 million people take on a new caring role. Yet many struggle to navigate the maze of services and entitlements, and miss out on financial and practical support as a result. And it’s not just people who are new to caring – even those who have been caring for years sometimes aren’t aware of all their entitlements. As a result, many carers can find themselves facing financial hardship, health problems, emotional stress and relationship breakdown.
Carers UK have produced the new 2015/16 Carers Rights Guide, which is a booklet that outlines carers’ essential rights and signposts them to financial and practical help. You can download a copy by clicking here.
Carers UK’s also run a free Advice Line, which provides expert advice on financial and practical matters related to caring: 0808 808 7777 (Open Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm) or advice@carersuk.org.
You can also find more information about the local carer services in Knowsley by clicking here.

Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
18 November 2015
Please click here for a response from Tobias Ellwood MP, Minister with responsibility for UK relations with the Middle East, regarding violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Palliative Care
16 November 2015
I am supporting Marie Curie’s campaign to ensure everyone has the right to palliative care when they need it.
Even with all the care and support the NHS and its partners provide across the UK, 110,000 people each year who need palliative care miss out on it because their needs are not recognised and they are not referred onto the right services. This means that one in four people are not receiving the care and support they need at the end of their life.
I have signed Marie Curie’s pledge card, pledging to work with constituents to ensure that any who have a terminal illness know what services and benefits they are entitled to; work with my local NHS to improve access to and quality of palliative care in my constituency; and champion the concerns of people with a terminal illness to ensure fairer access to higher quality services throughout this parliament.
You can find out more about this campaign by visiting www.mariecurie.org.uk/change.

Taking Control Campaign
11 November 2015
I am backing Diabetes UK’s ‘Taking Control’ campaign, that calls for education for all people with diabetes to be commissioned everywhere, along with a proper local system that explains to people with diabetes the benefits they will gain from attending an education course and ensures that courses are well run.
At the moment, for individuals newly diagnosed with diabetes, less than 1 per cent of people with Type 1 and just 3.8 per cent with Type 2 are recorded as receiving a diabetes education course. Access to high-quality diabetes education is essential for people with diabetes as they have to manage their condition themselves on a daily basis, and may only see their healthcare professionals a few times a year.
Diabetes UK warn that the poor delivery of diabetes education is fuelling devastating health complications for people with the condition and huge costs to the NHS. This is because failure to manage diabetes effectively can lead to life-threatening complications such as blindness, stroke and amputations. These complications cause personal devastation and are also extremely costly. The NHS spends nearly £10 billion annually on diabetes, 80 per cent of which is spent on treating potentially avoidable complications.
To find out more about going on an education course, speak to your GP or healthcare professional. To find out more about the Taking Control campaign and how you can take action, please click here.

Fuel Poverty
9 November 2015
Please click here for the response from Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for the Department of Energy & Climate Change, regarding fuel poverty.

Universal Infant Free School Meals
9 November 2015
Please click here for the response from Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, regarding free school meals.

Off-Patent Drugs Bill
9 November 2015
I was in attendance for the Second Reading of the Off-patent Drugs Bill 2015-16 in the House of Commons on Friday 6th November. The Bill had cross-party support, and would have given people with long term conditions access to the vital treatments they need. Unfortunately, Alistair Burt, a Tory health minister chose to ‘talk-out’ the Bill so that the Commons did not have the chance to vote on it.

Investigatory Powers Bill
3 November 2015
I am a member of the Intelligence & Security Committee of Parliament and we have been asked to carry out some pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill. That being the case, it would be unwise to give any assurances before the Committee has had an opportunity to carry out the exercise with which we have been charged. However, the Committee has issued a statement as follows:
“The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament published a comprehensive Report in March which set out the full range of the Agencies’ capabilities, some of which were acknowledged for the first time. We made 54 recommendations and conclusions in that Report, aimed at increasing privacy protections, improving transparency and bringing clarity to what the Committee described as a confusing, overly complex and unnecessarily secret legal framework. We will be considering the extent to which the Government has taken those recommendations on board in the draft Investigatory Powers Bill which was published today. While there will be a formal legislative scrutiny committee considering the draft Bill, the Intelligence and Security Committee will focus on those aspects most relevant to the Security and Intelligence Agencies. The draft Bill is an important new piece of legislation and it is essential that the Government gets it right.”
The Committee’s Report, Privacy and Security: A modern and transparent legal framework (March 2015) can be viewed here. Hopefully, this will provide some idea of my approach to this issue, although it was completed before the current proposed legislation.
Another Inquiry was carried out by David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, and his report, A Question of Trust, which was published in June 2015 may also be of interest.
On the wider issue of privacy and communications data, constituents should be aware, and may be concerned to know, that their own communications provider is already able to exploit customers’ data for commercial benefit. Please be assured that this is an issue I take very seriously and have looked at, and continue to look at, in great depth.

Homelessness Prevention Grant
3 November 2015
Please click here for a response from Marcus Jones, Minister for Local Government, regarding the Homelessness Prevention Grant.

Trade Union Bill
3 November 2015
The Trade Union Bill is the most significant, sustained and partisan attack on the trade union members in a generation; it is draconian and counter-productive. Despite opposition by Labour and the Scottish National party to the bill, it passed its second reading on Monday 14 September by 317 votes to 284. Please be assured that, alongside Labour colleagues, I will continue to oppose this Bill at later stages.
You may be interested to read the House of Commons library briefing note on this Bill. You can follow the progress of the Bill here

National Citizen Service
3 November 2015
I recently met Hannah McLellan, a pupil at St Julie’s High School in Liverpool, who, after taking part in National Citizen Service (NCS), was selected as one of just 100 young people across the country, from the 80,000 that took part, to become a national ambassador for NCS.
Established in 2011, NCS is a three week programme that brings together 16 & 17 year olds from a range of backgrounds to face outdoor challenges, learn skills for life and work, extend their social networks and make their mark on their community – spending 30 hours delivering a volunteer project of their choice..
NCS ambassadors are selected not only for their ability and enthusiasm, but for demonstrating development during the programme and overcoming personal challenges or supporting others to do the same.
NCS provides programmes for 16 and 17 year olds across England and Northern Ireland during the summer holidays and February and October half terms. The programme costs no more than £50, and is free for some. Extra support is provided to those with additional needs. To find out more click here.

Pay of civil servants
2 November 2015
Please click here for the response from Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), regarding pay of civil servants in the DWP.

'Every Child a Lifesaver'
29 October 2015
I recently attended an ‘Every Child a Lifesaver’ First Aid skills event in Parliament.
The ‘Every Child a Lifesaver’ campaign is backed by The British Heart Foundation, British Red Cross and St John Ambulance, and aims to get first aid taught in all state funded secondary schools in England.
Currently, just seven per cent of people in the UK are trained in first aid and it is disturbing that around 150,000 people die needlessly each year in situations where first aid could have made a difference.
There is a Compulsory Emergency First Aid Education Bill currently progressing through parliament and you can view its progress by clicking here.
You can find out more about the Every Child a Lifesaver campaign by clicking here here.

No Patient Left Behind
29 October 2015
I recently attended the ‘No Patient Left Behind’ event in Parliament, pledging my support to improve Hepatitis C diagnosis, treatment and care for patients in the South Asian community.
The Hepatitis C prevalence rate amongst South Asians is over five times higher than in the general adult population of England, and the genotype 3 strand, one of the more aggressive and difficult to treat forms of the virus, is most prevalent amongst this community. Despite the higher prevalence, Hepatitis C diagnosis and treatment rates remain low amongst South Asians due to a number of barriers including cultural stigmas. Therefore, it is important that NHS services for Hepatitis C are designed with South Asian patients in mind to ensure that no patient is left behind.
You can find out more about the challenge of tacking Hepatitis C amongst the South East Asian community by clicking here.

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month
29 October 2015
I recently attended an event at the House of Commons, organised by Pancreatic Cancer UK, to help spread the word about Pancreatic Cancer ahead of pancreatic cancer awareness month in November.
There were nearly 8,800 new cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed across the UK in 2013, 1071 of whom live in the North West. Tragically, only four per cent of patients live for five years or more after diagnosis. Pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of all cancer deaths in the UK and currently has the lowest survival rate of all the 21 common cancers. One person dies every hour of the disease, and it is predicted that by 2030 pancreatic cancer will overtake breast cancer as the fourth most common cancer killer.
I know there are many people within my constituency who have been touched by pancreatic cancer and we need to do more to improve awareness of the disease, its signs and symptoms, and do more to radically improve the shockingly low survival rates. That’s why I’m supporting the charity and its Purple Lights for Hope campaign as part of pancreatic cancer awareness month this November.
You can find out more about Pancreatic Cancer and Pancreatic Awareness Month by clicking here.

Fracking
28 October 2015
A number of constituents have contacted me regarding concerns over the government’s proposed weakening of fracking regulations. I am strongly opposed to this and will vote against it when these regulations come to the floor of the house. Earlier this year Labour secured a series of amendments to the Infrastructure Bill that put in place a series of environmental safeguards which had to be met before shale gas drilling could go ahead. This included a ban of fracking in areas where drinking water is collected and protecting sensitive areas such as our national parks or important wildlife sites.
However just weeks after agreeing to these amendments the government did a complete U-turn in the Lords sneaking through a weakened version of Labour’s protections. In the Commons we tried to reinstate our more stringent safeguards. However the Tories used parliamentary procedures to ensure that the debate overran so MPs were denied the opportunity to reverse those changes.
Yesterday (Tuesday 27th October) the government once again attempted to push through these weakened fracking regulations through a parliamentary backdoor. Many people have legitimate and understandable concerns over fracking so it is only right and proper that parliament has the time and ability to properly scrutinise these regulations.
If these weakened fracking regulations are passed, shale gas drilling will be allowed in in drinking water protection zones, important wildlife sites, as well as under the ground below protected areas such as national parks, areas of outstanding national beauty and world heritage sites.
Labour believe Britain must pursue a socially-just energy policy that considers the impact on the environment and climate change, as well the need for a secure, affordable energy. The Government must listen to people’s worries and not railroad through changes to the legislation which may have damaging and long lasting effects on our natural environment.
We are clear that environmental safeguards cannot be cherry picked. All of the safeguards that Labour pushed for during the Infrastructure Bill must be in place before we can be confident that shale gas extraction should proceed.
Please be assured that I will continue to oppose any measures by this government to weaken these vital environmental safeguards, now and in the future.

Employment and Support Allowance
28 October 2015
Please click here for the response from Priti Patel MP, Minister for Employment, regarding welfare reform and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Bliss Baby Report 2015
22 October 2015
I recently attended the launch of the Bliss baby report 2015: hanging in the balance, which shows that there is a severe shortage of neonatal nurses and doctors, meaning units are not meeting national standards on safe staffing levels for premature and sick babies.
Bliss is calling for urgent action from the government, the NHS and health education bodies to address these problems and ensure neonatal units have the resources they need to meet national standards for quality and safety.
These findings are very concerning and highlight that more must be done to ensure that the estimated 151 vulnerable babies born premature or sick every year to parents in Knowsley have the best possible chance in life.
You can find out more about the report by clicking here.

Off-Patent Drugs Bill
20 October 2015
Nick Thomas-Symonds has presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to seek licences for off-patent drugs in new indications; to require the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to conduct technology appraisals for off-patent drugs in new indications; and for connected purposes.
I have noted the dated of the 2nd Reading in my diary and will be in attendance. Once the bill documents are published, I would want to listen carefully to the debate and consider any views put to me by constituents, like yourself, before deciding how to vote. You can follow the progress of this Bill here.

Tax Credits (updated)
19 October 2015
The cuts to tax credits in the summer Budget amount to a ‘work penalty’ and will hit families on middle and lower incomes. The Tories have broken their promise to be on the side of working families, cutting the tax credits they rely on - around three million working families will be on average £1,300 worse off next year as a result.
Data supplied by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) shows that more than 2.7m working families will have their family incomes fall, with some losing as much as £3,000 a year next April if the cuts are implemented as planned. Labour has launched a campaign to stop the tax credits cuts - you can join our campaign here.
Labour has secured an Opposition Day debate in Parliament tomorrow. Please be assured that, alongside colleagues, I will continue to raise my objections to these pernicious tax credits cuts.

Taxation of Dividends
16 October 2015
Please click here for a response from David Gauke MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, concerning the taxation of dividends.

Live Animal Exports
16 October 2015
Please click here for a response from George Eustice MP, Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, concerning the export of live animals.

Secondary Breast Cancer Care
15 October 2015
I recently met with Breast Cancer Care in Parliament to pledge support for people living with incurable secondary breast cancer by calling for data collection to improve the care available.
Currently data for primary breast cancer is recorded, yet no accurate figures exist around the number of people diagnosed or living with incurable secondary breast cancer. Breast Cancer Care believes the poorer care people with the incurable disease often receive is due to these missing numbers making it near impossible to plan the vital services needed.
It is wrong that we don’t have accurate data on those living with the incurable disease and this must be made a priority.
You can find out more about Breast Cancer Care’s campaign by clicking here.

Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) Scheme
7 October 2015
Please click here for the response from Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, regarding the FIT scheme.

Guide Dogs for the Blind
2 Ocotber 2015
I am supporting the Guide Dogs for the Blind 'Streets Ahead' campaign, encouraging MP's to support Simon Hoare's Pavement Parking Bill which would give local authorities the power to prohibit pavement parking while enabling them to permit pavement parking where it is needed.
There are nearly two million people in the UK who are living with sight loss, and by 2050 there could be nearly four million. So it is more important than ever that our streets are safe for people who are blind or partially sighted.
You can find our more about the campaign by clicking here.

UN Climate Talks - Paris
30 September 2015
Please click here for the response from Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, regarding the climate change talks taking place in December.

Reconstruction of Gaza
29 September 2015
Please click here for a response from Tobias Ellwood, Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for the Middle East, regarding UK support for the reconstruction of Gaza.

Sustainable Development Summit 2015
22 September 2015
The United Nations Sustainable Development Summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda will be held from 25 to 27 September 2015 in New York and convened as a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly. The Labour Party are committed to helping to eradicate extreme poverty, tackle growing economic inequality and place human rights at the heart of development.
In a speech in January, Mary Creagh said:
“Fifteen years ago, a Labour Government led global efforts to tackle extreme poverty, which led to the millennium development goals. These goals have produced fantastic results. Every day, 17,000 fewer children die. Nine out of 10 children in developing regions now attend primary school and we have halved the number of children who die before their fifth birthday. In 2002, just 700,000 people received treatment for HIV. The last Labour Government helped to found the global fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria. Today, 13 million people access life-saving HIV treatment. We cancelled debt, increased aid and outlawed cluster bombs, and when my right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the UK became the first country in the world to put into a law a target to reduce carbon emissions. Other countries, such as Finland, Denmark and Brazil, have followed that lead. But, today, more than 1 billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day, so the new sustainable development goals must go faster to eliminate extreme poverty and, vitally, tackle growing economic inequality.”
With the political will of both developed and developing nations; it is possible to end world hunger. The Sustainable Development Summit provides a forum for nation-states to express that will and commitment, and I hope that they take the opportunity to do so.

Free School Meals
21 September 2015
Section 106 of the Children and Families Act 2014 makes provision for free school meals to be provided for all pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2. This came into effect in September 2014 and is applicable for maintained schools, academies and free schools. It was reported in the press that, as part of the November Spending Review, George Osborne is considering scrapping the scheme.
Lucy Powell MP, shadow Education Secretary, commenting on reports the government is going to drop free school meals for infants, said:
"Schools have, at their own cost, installed new kitchens to deliver this scheme. Yet before it can be properly evaluated for its impact on pupils’ performance at school, they are shutting the door. The Tories never liked this scheme - we all know that - but schools have gone to a huge amount of trouble and effort to deliver it. This will be a slap in the face for them and for the hard-pressed families it supports. This decision also underlines how little the government is protecting the education budget which is vital for the future success of our children and our country. This comes at a time the government is cutting tax credits for working families. This decision will see over three million families lose an average of £1,000 a year and directly increase levels of poverty in Britain. There is a very real risk that scrapping free school meals combined with tax credit cuts could see millions of children going hungry as a result of this decision."
I have written to George Osborne to express my concerns and I will ensure that his response is posted on my website.

Tax Credits
16 September 2015
The Tax Credits (Income Thresholds and Determination of Rates) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 were debated yesterday in the House of Commons.These changes will affect almost all in-work recipients of tax credits and the average impact across all affected families can be roughly estimated at around £1,300 in 2016-17. Despite voting against this proposal last night, alongside Labour colleagues, the Conservatives won a vote to cut tax credits by 35 votes. If you would like to find out more about tax credits changes from April 2016, click here.

Make Your Mark Campaign
16 September 2015
I recently attended the launch of the UK Youth Parliament's ‘Make Your Mark’ campaign.
The campaign encourages 11-18 year olds to vote on what issues the Youth Parliament should debate when it meets on Friday 13th November. The ballot will close on Friday 9th October.
You can find out more information by clicking here.

Proposals to cut support for ill and disabled people
15 September 2015
Please click here to read the reponse from Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, regarding proposals to cut support for people placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment and Support Allowance from April 2017, down to the rate paid to people on Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA).
I share constituents' concerns on this issue and don't believe that reducing financial support and increasing conditionality is appropriate for vulnerable people. Please be assured that I will continue to raise this issue when the opportunities arise.

Trade in illegal timber
15 September 2015
Please click here for the response from Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State for the Department for Food & Rural Affairs, regarding the illegal trade in timber.

Abortion in Northern Ireland
15 September 2015
Please click here for a response from Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to campaign emails about abortion in Northern Ireland.

Breast Cancer Now's 'wear it pink' campaign
14 September 2015
wear it pink, the UK’s biggest pink fundraiser, calls on supporters across the country to ditch the day-to-day colours and pull on some pink to raise money for Breast Cancer Now’s life-saving breast cancer research.
I joined fellow parliamentarians in wearing it pink in Westminster last week to encourage people across the UK to get involved. Now in its 14th year, wear it pink raises over £2 million each year for world-class research into breast cancer, and this year it is back and bigger, brighter and bolder than ever before. Anyone can take part, whether in school, at work or at home. All you have to do is wear something pink and donate whatever you can.
I have expressed my support for women with breast cancer by becoming a parliamentary ambassador for Breast Cancer Now, joining 190 MPs across the country in urging fellow politicians and constituents that immediate action must be taken to stop the disease taking lives. Right now breast cancer is at a tipping point. Every year in the UK around 50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and sadly nearly 12,000 women still lose their lives to the disease. This is why we all must come together to support Breast Cancer Now’s cutting-edge research, and, in wear it pink, there is a fun and simple way for everyone to get involved.
As a Breast Cancer Ambassador, I am particularly passionate about standing up for the women and families affected by the disease in Knowsley] and I am very proud to take part in wear it pink. I hope everyone in the local community will join me in wearing it pink on Friday 23 October and show their support for Breast Cancer Now.

Trade Union Bill
8 September 2015
The Trade Union Bill is intended to make provision about industrial action, trade unions, employers' associations and the functions of the Certification Officer.
Responding to the publication of the government’s Trade Union Bill, Chuka Umunna MP, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary, said:
“This Bill is the latest in a long line of attempts by the Government to stifle reasonable democratic scrutiny, protest and challenge – put simply, this is another Gagging Bill. This Bill does nothing to tackle the pressing national challenge our public services, businesses and industries alike are facing; that of addressing Britain’s productivity gap and skills shortages. Instead the Bill tries to drive a false wedge between government, industry, employees and the public by restricting rights – and at worst criminalising – ordinary working people, from midwives to factory workers to challenge low-pay or health and safety concerns. All those who care about our democratic rights and an economy where business, employees and government work together for the mutual benefit should expose this Bill for what it is – a divisive piece of legislation which puts to bed any notion that the Government is taking a one nation approach. After muzzling charities and restricting access to justice this is the latest attempt to silence critics of this Government and its policies.”

Stephen Doughty is Shadow Minister for Trade and Industry wrote an article for Labour List in July about the Trade Union Bill which you may be interested to read. A date has not yet been scheduled for the Second Reading of this Bill. You can read the Bill documents and track the progress of the Bill here. Please be assured that, alongside Labour colleagues, I will continue to monitor the progress of this Bill and raise concerns when the opportunities arise.

Refugee crisis in Europe
3 September 2015
Many constituents have contacted me about the refugee crisis in Europe as a result of instability in the Middle East and North Africa. I wholeheartedly agree that this is an appalling humanitarian tragedy and that our own government and the wider EU should come up with a way of dealing with this issue with greater urgency and sensitivity in the immediate future, and as and when the opportunity arises, in the House of Commons. I do think Yvette Cooper’s suggested way forward for the UK is a good starting point. You may also be interested to read a letter that Harriet Harman has written to David Cameron today.
Beyond that, the wider international community needs to agree on a meaningful and effective way of dealing with the underlying causes of this crisis, particularly in Syria and Libya, otherwise more lives will be needlessly lost, as the reasons for people taking very dangerous means of migrating will remain unaddressed. I would not wish to give the impression that all of this can be easily achieved. The barriers to doing so, not least in terms of our own government’s response, are formidable.

Arms trade with Israel - Ministerial response
3 September 2015
Please click here for the response from Tobias Ellwood, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to campaign emails about an arms embargo on Israel.

BBC Charter renewal
2 September 2015
The BBC Charter review will focus on governance, changing viewing habits and licence fee funding. In July 2015, during a speech in the House of Commons, Chris Bryant, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said:
“The BBC is our cultural NHS. It is a beacon of accuracy and impartiality around the world. It is not just part of the national furniture; it is our greatest cultural institution. It is a miracle of constitutional engineering: independent of Government, yet funded by the public. It is the cornerstone of our creative industries, earning respect and money for Britain and British values.”
You can read the full transcript of his speech in Hansard here.
I recognise the importance of the BBC and remain committed to ensuring it remains value for money. The Government is currently consulting on the review of the BBC's Royal Charter until 8th October. You can find out more here.

UPDATED New evidence on impacts of G7's New Alliance
24 August 2015
A number of constituents have contacted me to raise concerns about the G7's New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.
I wrote to the Secretary of State for International Development, Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, about this issue.
You can read her response here.

Penalties for taxi drivers who break the law
24 August 2015
A number of constituents have contacted me about sentencing guidelines for magistrates when considering cases of taxi drivers who refuse to allow guide dogs in their vehices.
I took this issue up with the Secretary of State and you can read the response by the Department for Transport here.

Mayfair Tax Loophole
21 August 2015
Recently, a number of constituents contacted me about the 'Mayfair Tax Loophole', which enables private equity bosses to avoid paying around £700m of tax every year.
I raised this issue with the the Chancellor of the Exchequer last month, and I have received a response which you can view by clicking here.
In addition, the Government have launched a consultation which aims to determine the criteria for determining when rewards arising to investment fund managers are to be taxed as income. You can find out more about the consultation by clicking here.

Welfare Reforms
13 August 2015
Recently, a number of constituents contacted me about cuts to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds.
I raised this issue with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and received a response which you can view by clicking here.

UK Youth Parliament's Make Your Mark ballot 2015
11 August 2015
Last Autumn term over 875,000 secondary school pupils took part in a national ballot, Make your Mark. This ballot decides what Members of the UK Youth Parliament (MYPs) should debate and vote on to be their campaign for the year ahead. MYPs have previously debated in the House of Commons Chamber in mid November. This year’s online ballot will go live from Wednesday 12th August 2015 at 1pm. Follow all the action on twitter via #MakeYourMark
Be the first to find out what the 10 issues that made the ballot, by signing up to Make your Mark's Thunderclap.

Cycling and walking investment strategy
5 August 2015
A number of constituents contacted me about the implementation of a cycling and walking investment strategy. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport about this issue and you can find his response here.

Cancer Research UK
22 July 2015
I recently attended a Cancer Research UK event in Parliament, where we discussed how MPs can help keep cancer at the top of the new parliament’s agenda.
One in two people are set to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and UK cancer survival rates are still lagging behind other countries with too many cancers being diagnosed at an advanced stage.
Survival rates in the UK have doubled in the last 40 years, but there is still much more to do.
For more information please visit cruk.org.

Destination Cure Report
22 July 2015
On 15th July I attended the parliamentary launch of the Anthony Nolan Trust’s Destination Cure Report.
This report highlights the steps that the Government needs to take in the next five years to help find a cure for blood cancers. You can find out more about Anthony Nolan's vision and download a copy of the report here.

#2020 vision for credit unions
21 July 2015
I am supporting a campaign from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Credit Unions in support of a #2020 vision for credit unions aiming to increase credit union membership to 2 million by 2020. Credit union membership today stands at 1.2 million meaning that credit unions would need to grow by two thirds to achieve the target.

In pursuit of this the All-Party Group, supported by the Association of British Credit Unions Limited (ABCUL), is asking the Government to press ahead with commitments made in the last Parliament:
• review credit union legislation to remove barriers to growth
• ensure credit union regulation remains proportionate
• support investment in sustainable business models for credit unions
• encourage employers to provide credit union services via payroll deduction
• support greater skilled volunteering in credit unions

Credit unions are deposit-taking savings and loans institutions which provide a source of affordable credit and safe savings as well as, in an increasing number of cases, banking services, insurance products with one or two providing mortgages. They provide services to those who would otherwise find difficulty in accessing finance and offer choice and competition in the wider market.
The credit union for Knowsley is Knowsley Mutual Credit Union. You can contact them via:
T: 0151 545 3380
A: 11 Market Square, Kirkby, L32 8RG
E: knowsleymutualcu@yahoo.co.uk
W: www.knowsleycu.co.uk
T: @KnowsleyMutual

I’m supporting the #2020 vision for credit unions because credit unions provide a vital service to communities up and down the country. They help people who find themselves in financial difficulty through providing affordable loans and a protected place to save and they are also helping to make banking more competitive in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis. Here in Knowsley, Knowsley Mutual Credit Union is a real lifeline for people who are struggling to make ends meet and find themselves in debt as well as providing a competitive range of loans for a whole range of purposes, including setting up in business, buying a new car or getting away for the summer. They also play an invaluable role in encouraging people to save for a rainy day or towards retirement.

Changes to the Hunting Act - plans to relax the fox-hunting ban
10 July 2015
This week the government published proposals to amend the statutory instrument, entitled Hunting Act 2004 (Exempt Hunting) (Amendment) Order. This amendment would allow foxes to be hunted by packs of dogs in England and Wales.
MPs will be given a free vote during a 90 minute debate on Wednesday 15th July.
I am opposed to repealing the Hunting Act and will vote accordingly.

Assisted Dying Bill (No.2)
7 July 2015
I do not have a firm position on this issue and I can see merit on both sides of the argument. Once the bill documents are published, I would want to listen carefully to the debate and consider any views put to me by constituents before deciding how to vote. I have noted the date of the 2nd reading in my diary (Friday 11th September 2015). To follow the progress of this bill, click here.

Bees and Neonicotinoids
6 July 2015
I recently wrote to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on behalf of a number of constituents, to raise my concerns over plans to temporarily lift a ban on bee-harming pesticides.
I have since received a response from the Secretary of State, which you can view by clicking here.

Child Tax Credits
2 July 2015
A number of constituents about contacted me about government proposals to cut Child Tax Credits (CTC).
David Cameron and George Osborne have still not announced exactly what cuts to tax credits they are proposing. But it’s clear that low paid working families in Knowsley are in the firing line. The Tories concealed their proposals from public view throughout the election campaign.
It has been reported that the Government are considering a proposal outlined in the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ (IFS) Green Budget 2015 to cut the childcare element of Child Tax Credit back to its 2003/04 level, saving £5.1bn per year. The IFS has said cutting £5bn from tax credits would mean some 3.7 working families losing £1,400 a year on average, and will push a further 300,000 children in to relative poverty.
72% of Tax Credit recipients in the North West are in work. New figures show that there are 9,900 families with children claiming tax credits in Knowsley - 5,700 of these are working families with children.
Labour wants to see a higher wage economy where people are less reliant on tax credits to make ends meet. Our 2015 manifesto included plans to tackle low pay by raising the minimum wage to at least £8 an hour by 2019 and incentivising more businesses to pay a living wage by introducing Make Work Pay contracts, which would offer tax rebates to firms paying their staff a living wage.
I have written to the Chancellor to raise my concerns ahead of the Budget on 8th July. Please be assured that this is an issue that I will continue to raise in parliament when the opportunities arise.

Repeal of the Hunting Act
26 June 2015
A number of constituents have contacted me about Tory proposals to repeal the 2004 Hunting Act.
The Government has a record of failure where animal rights are concerned, notable examples include the badger cull, inaction about slaughterhouse cruelty and the failure to ban circuses from using wild animals.
I am opposed to repealing the Hunting Act and will continue to monitor the situation.

UNICEF's End Violence Against Children campaign - Ministerial response
23 June 2015
A number of constituents have contacted me about UNICEF's End Violence Against Children campaign. I wrote to the Secretary of State for International Development about this issue. You can read the response from her Department here.

Thingwall Hall Swimming Pool
23 June 2015
The Brothers of Charity have issued the following statement regarding the future of Thingwall Hall Swimming Pool:

‘We confirm that the Thingwall Hall Swimming Pool will be closed for public use from the 15th June, until further notice. This is due to health and safety concerns in regard to the Thingwall Hall Swimming Pool building itself. Due to the legal process surrounding the closure of the swimming pool we have been unable to comment further, we understand and empathise with the community and are considering options for the Thingwall Hall Swimming Pool’s future.’

In response to this announcement, below is a statement from Stephen Twigg (MP for West Derby) and I:

‘A positive discussion was held with representatives from the Brothers of Charity recently over the future of Thingwall Hall Swimming Pool. We do fully understand that this decision, which we hope will be short term, has come about entirely because of health and safety concerns in regard to the building itself. As the two MP’s representing the area, we, together with local councillors, have strongly committed ourselves to working with the Brothers of Charity to identify potential funding and support to bring the building up to the necessary standard, because we are all too well aware that this a well-used local facility. If we can achieve that then there is a good prospect of the pool re-opening.’

Help Keep Bees Safe From Harmful Pesticides
22 June 2015
I am supporting Friends of the Earth campaign, 'Help keep bees safe from harmful pesticides’, which opposes plans to temporarily lift a ban on bee-harming pesticides.

Government ministers are looking at requests to let a dangerous pesticide, known as neonicotinoids, back into UK soil this autumn, despite clear evidence of how much damage they do to our bees.

The ban was voted for by European governments in 2013 after numerous scientific studies found that certain pesticides were particularly harmful to bees. Since then even more studies have supported the need for this ban.

Recent figures show that bees contribute £651 million to the UK economy each year - up 51% since 2007. For instance 85% of the UK’s apple crops and 45% of our strawberry crop relies on bees to grow. Therefore, it is essential the government keep this ban in place.

Anthony Nolan 'Destination: Cure' campaign
17 June 2015
A number of constituents have contacted me asking me to support Anthony Nolan's 'Destination: Cure' campaign.
Destination: Cure is a new policy report highlighting what must be done to ensure that the destination for every person with blood cancer is a cure. You can read a copy of the full report here.
I fully support this campaing and have written to the Secretary of State for Health asking him to take urgent action on this issue.

Guide Dogs
17 June 2015
Last week I attended the Guide Dogs’ event at the Houses of Parliament in support of their campaign. The Guide Dogs charity wants people living with sight loss to feel confident and independent when they are out and about, and believes that vehicles parked on pavements put people living with sight loss in danger.
The event in parlia ent highlighted the problems faced daily by guide dog owners who are being forced to walk into the road to avoid cars blocking their path. Pavement parking is already an offence in London, but the rules in the rest of the country are complex and patchy, leaving drivers uncertain of where they can and cannot park. Guide Dogs is calling for the introduction of comprehensive laws across the UK, which will outlaw pavement parking, but allow local councils to grant an exemption in areas where pavement parking is unavoidable.
For more information about the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, click here.

Carers Week
16 June 2015
Last week was national Carers Week 2015. There are 6.5 million people in the UK who care for a partner, relative or friend, of which 12,843 carers are in Knowsley.

Without the right help and support, caring can have a devastating impact – carers can quickly become isolated, with their physical and emotional health, work and finances all hit hard. The six charities driving Carers Week 2015 are calling on individuals, organisations and services throughout the country to take action to improve the lives of carers by building ‘carer-friendly communities’ that consider and support their needs. The call comes after research for Carers Week revealed that the variation in the support and recognition carers experience from services across the country is putting the health of many carers, and their ability to support the people they care for, at risk.

Carers make a hugely valuable contribution to society and they need support to carry on the work they do. That is why I am supporting this initiative to encourage services in my community to think about the needs of carers and reach out to carers across Knowsley and help ensure they don’t miss out on support.

Seal culling in UK waters
4 June 2015
A number of constituents have contacted me about the seal culling in UK waters.
There are a number of online petitions calling for action to stop the fishing industry from killing seals in UK waters. One petition has over 174,000 signatories.
Seals are a protected species under EU law but there are exemptions in place for fishermen to cull seals in order to protect fish or their equipment. In Scotland farmers and waterways managers need a licence to cull seals. The fishing industry say the seal culls are essential to stop the animals from destroying fish stocks off the coast of Scotland and northern England.
I am hopeful that a balance can be struck between the difficulties faced by the UK fishing industry and the preservation of seal stocks.
I will bear constituents’ concerns in mind, if and when this issue is debated in parliament.

Canine fatalities on roads
28 April 2015
Last month I attended a Debate of the Backbench Business Committee, which considered an e-petition relating to the handling of canine fatalities on the strategic road network.
I have since received a letter from the Rt Hon John Hayes, Minister of State at the Department for Transport, in which he sets out two commitments:
• The Highways Agency immediately make the necessary arrangements to ensure it is mandatory for all their new contracts to collect and identify cats and dogs killed on our strategic road network and contact their owners, where possible
• The Highways Agency will review how to retrofit the above to their existing contracts.
You can view a copy of the minister’s letter by clicking here.

Royal College of Nursing 'Nursing Counts' manifesto
16 April 2015
I have signed the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) ‘Nursing Counts’ manifesto which calls on the next Government to address the following priorities:
1. Improve patient care: we're calling for safe staffing levels, access to training and environments where staff concerns are listened to.
2. Value nursing: we're calling for fair pay for nursing staff, an end to downbanding and for a focus on the future of nursing.
3. Invest in health and care: we're calling for no more cuts to nursing, increased community resources and workforce planning around patient need.

Below are some of Labour’s NHS Care and Social Care policy commitments:
NHS Care
• Recruit 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs paid for by a tax on properties worth £2 million or more.
• Guarantee a GP appointment within 48 hours – and on the same day for those who need it
• Repeal the Tories’ Health and Social Care Act
• Integrate health and social care services into a system of “whole-person care”
• Give mental health the priority it deserves with a new right to access talking therapies enshrined in the NHS Constitution
• Guarantee that patients will wait no longer than one week for vital cancer tests and results by 2020
• Ensure that when changes are proposed to local hospital services patients and the public have a seat round the table from the very start, helping design and decide on plans for change

Social Care
• Integrate physical health, mental health and social care services so we can give people a personal care plan and single point of contact for those with the greatest needs
• Train, recruit and pay new staff through a ‘Time to Care’ fund, including 5,000 new homecare workers in the NHS to support people to stay in their home
• Create greater rights to care at home
• Work with local authorities and care providers to end time limited 15-minute visits
• Tackle the exploitation of care workers, so that travel between appointments is not an excuse for paying below the minimum wage and ban exploitative zero hour contracts

NHS free at the point of use
9 April 2015
The Tory’s extreme spending cuts will put the NHS at risk; the NHS as we know it won’t survive five more years of the Tories.
Labour is committed to investing in 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs for the NHS. We will join up services from home to hospital, guaranteeing GP appointments within 48 hours and cancer tests within one week.
Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary said:
“Labour will never introduce charges for any NHS service. It must remain free at the point of use, and only our fully funded plan to put in an extra £2.5bn each year – over and above the Tories – gives the NHS the money it needs.”
I give my firm assurances that there are no circumstances in which I would support charges for basic services.

Live Below the Line challenge
2 April 2015
I am participating in this year’s Live Below the Line challenge.
Live Below the Line is a fundraising campaign to raise awareness and vital funds for the1.2 billion people living below the extreme poverty line of less than £1 a day. You could fundraise by living on just £1 a day for all food and drink for 5 days, and help Progressio fight against extreme global poverty.
To find out more about the Live Below the Line challenge or make a donation, please click here.

Shale Gas
2 April 2015
As well as making sure that energy is affordable, we need to ensure that we have a secure energy supply for the future, from a diverse range of sources. Labour will create an Energy Security Board to plan for and oversee our long-term energy needs.
In the foreseeable future, it is likely that gas will continue to be the dominant fuel used by householders to heat their homes. As a result of this, shale gas may have a role to play in displacing some of the gas that we already import; but this cannot come at the expense of robust environmental protections or climate change commitments.
Labour will ensure a robust environmental and regulatory regime for the extraction of shale gas before it can take place. This will include measures designed specifically to tackle the climate change impact of shale gas, and forcing shale gas companies to protect sources of drinking water. Under Labour fracking will not take place in National Parks.

Finance Bill & Tax Avoidance
27 March 2015
Tax dodging by multinational corporations has been estimated to cost the UK £12 billion every year, and the world’s poorest countries an estimated £105 billion. Labour is committed to pursuing a new global system in which multinational companies are forced to publish key corporate information, including revenues and profits, for each country in which they operate. If an international agreement cannot be found, multinationals would be forced to publish such information in the UK alone. A Labour government would also work to reform ‘transfer pricing’ legislation, which would prevent companies from moving money to other parts of their business in tax havens. In addition, Labour would make it a legal requirement for multinationals operating in the UK to disclose details of any tax avoidance schemes they are using globally.

Ed Miliband spoke at a Google event in 2013, and said: ‘I can't be the only person here who feels disappointed that such a great company as Google, with such great founding principles, will be reduced to arguing that when it employs thousands of people in Britain, makes billions of pounds of revenue in Britain, it's fair that it should pay just a fraction of 1 per cent of that in tax’. You can watch a recording of the speech by visiting the following link.

I have raised concerns previously about tax dodging with the Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Chris Leslie MP. Labour has already announced a number of measures to tackle tax avoidance, including:
- Ensuring stronger independent scrutiny of the tax system, including reliefs, and the government’s efforts to tackle tax avoidance - Forcing the UK’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to produce publicly available registries of beneficial ownership
- Making country-by-country reporting information publicly available
- Ensuring developing countries are properly engaged in the drawing up of global tax rules

In the meantime, the Labour Party are currently in the process of finalising policies for the 2015 General Election manifesto. If you would like to keep up-to-date with Labour’s policy consultations, you can do so by accessing Labour’s Your Britain website. There are a number of policy consultations currently in progress, and you can share your ideas and recommendations directly via the website.
You can read the transcript of the debate that took place on the Finance Bill here.

Badger Cull
23 March 2015
Labour will end the ineffective and inhumane badger culls.
Badger culls are supposed to reduce Bovine TB but experts say the Tories’ culls will make the problem worse. Following repeated failures to meet deadlines and targets, the Tories are effectively pursing an unscientific mass cull with no rigorous monitoring or evaluation. Labour will end this and develop a better plan to eradicate Bovine TB.

The Future of the NHS
23 March 2015
Last week, the Tories confirmed plans for extreme spending cuts in the three years after the election - which will put our NHS at risk.

The Tories' approach is to let private companies cherry-pick the most profitable NHS services, regardless of patient need, and spend more money on ecnomic regulators and competition lawyers.

Labour will ensure that the NHS puts patients before profits. Labour is committed to protecting and strengthening the NHS and has pledged, if there is a Labour government in 2015, that we would repeal the Health and Social Care Act. Labour has also pledged to:
- Recruit 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs paid for by a tax on properties worth £2million or more;
- Guarantee a GP appointment within 48 hours - and on the same day for those who need it;
- Integrate health and social care services into a system of "whole-person care" which will bring together three separate services of care into a single service coordinating all of a person's needs - physical, mental and social, with preventing illness and promoting good health at its heart;
- Give mental health the priority it deserves with a new right to access talking therapies enshrined in the NHS Constitution;
- Guarantee that patients will wait no longer than one week for vital cancer tests and results by 2020; and
- Ensure that when changes are proposed to local hospital services, patients and the public have a seat round the table from the very start, helping design and decide on plans for change.

In January 2015, Andy Burnham, Labour's Shadow Health Secretary, outlined Labour's 10-year plan for health. You can read his speech here.
Last week's Budget said nothing about the NHS. Labour has a better plan, to invest in and improve the NHS so that it has time to care for you and your family.

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
13 March 2015
A number of constituents have asked me to complete IFAW's animal survey. You can see my answers below:
If you were re/elected, would improving the welfare of animals be one of your top priorities? Yes
Do you think that the UK should continue to lead international efforts to combat the illegal trade in endangered wildlife and wildlife products? Yes
Do you support an end to commercial whaling? Yes
Do you think the Hunting Act should remain in place? Yes
Would you be likely to support initiatives to better protect native wildlife species? Yes
For more information on the work of IFAW, click here.

Flood Free Homes
4 March 2015
Flooding has long been recognised as the greatest natural threat the UK faces. Environment Agency data shows that around 2 million homes in England and Wales are at risk of flooding from rivers and the sea.
I am supporting the Flood Free Homes campaign, which calls for effective management of our land and water to prevent homes and local business suffering from destructive floods in the future. Flood Free Homes is campaigning for £1 billion per year to be spent by 2025 managing flood risk in order to keep pace with climate change; a zero tolerance of inappropriate new developments in areas at risk of flooding; and a cross party consensus on ambitious long term solutions that manage all types of flood risk.
The need for to address the UK’s rising flood threat has never been more important. Last winter’s floods highlighted the trauma and devastation flooding brings, and no action is not an option.
You can find out more about the Flood Free Homes campaign by clicking here.

Kirkby Crown Post Office
4 March 2015
Post Office Ltd are proposing to move Kirkby Crown Post Office from its current premises in Simonswood House to 2 St Chad’s Parade, L32 8RD (formerly occupied by Textiles Direct).

Post Office Ltd are currently undertaking a six week public consultation on the proposals, giving customers an opportunity to put forward their views on the suitability of the new location. You can share your views on the proposals by completing an online questionnaire, which you can access by clicking here and entering the code: 00742099.

Posters and leaflets will be displayed in the current branch, letting customers know about the changes and providing details of the customer forum which is due to be held in the coming weeks. You can also find out more about the changes and consultation by clicking here.

Read On, Get On
4 March 2015
Research conducted by Save the Children shows that 1 in 5 of all children leave primary school unable to read well, rising to 2 in 5 for children from low income families. The ‘Read On, Get On’ campaign, supported by Save the Children, is working towards ensuring that all children are able to read well by the age of 11 by the year 2025. One way of achieving this is to spend just ten minutes a day reading with young children, helping them fall in love with books and reading. Children who don't enjoy reading are ten times more likely to fall behind by the time they are 11.
You can find out more information about volunteering to help children improve their reading by clicking here. You can also find out more about the ‘Read On, Get On’ campaign by clicking here.

Harvey's Law (update)
4 March 2015
Area Management Memo (AM 67/05) was introduced in November 2005, and states that all highway depots would carry microchip scanners and provide refrigeration facilities. In the event that a pet was killed on the highways it was their responsibility to scan a domestic pet for a chip and check for other details to try to identify the pet, and contact the owners of that pet. In 2010, the Highways Agency (HA) took the decision to withdraw the routine scanning of domestic pets retrieved from the highways so that their owner could be identified and notified.
You may be aware that a debate on ‘Harvey’s Law’ took place in Westminster Hall yesterday - you can read a transcript of the debate that took place here. During this debate, the Transport Minister, John Hayes, said he would ask the Highways Agency to review the phasing out of the HA policy.
Transport minister John Hayes told MPs:
"I have asked the Highways Agency to ensure that indeed they do collect and identify every animal that is killed and contact the owners by whatever practicable means. I have told the Highways Agency that is what I expect. It will be a requirement and that is what will happen”.
Labour has said that if the Highways Agency refuses to act, we would look to introduce new legislation – Harvey’s Law – and make it compulsory to scan and log dog deaths on the roads.
Commenting on Harvey’s Law, Michael Dugher MP, the Shadow Transport Secretary, said:
“Scanning and logging dogs who have sadly been killed on our motorways is a simple procedure for the Highways Agency to undertake, but it makes such a big difference to people. It brings real peace of mind to dog owners. Ministers have clearly failed to manage the Highways Agency. Britain is a nation of dog lovers and ensuring the Highways Agency continues to implement these procedures will save untold heartache. Labour will act to ensure that ID checks are always done so that families can be informed if their dog is found dead.”

TTIP
3 March 2015
A number of constituents have contacted me about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free-trade agreement that is currently being negotiated between the USA and the EU. The Labour Party supports trade agreements which can bring significant benefits through boosting trade and growth, securing and creating jobs, and bringing down costs and extending choice for consumers.

We do however have four main areas of concerns:
- Public services: we share the concerns about the impact that TTIP could have on public services encouraging commercialisation, particularly in the NHS. Labour believes that the NHS and all public services need to be more, not less, integrated. That is why we believe that the NHS should be exempt from the agreement. Other countries have sought to exempt areas from the agreement but this Government has not done this. Labour will continue to press for exemption.
- Investor State Dispute Resolution (ISDS): this is a dispute mechanism, commonly used in trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties. It allows investors to take proceedings against a government that is party to that trade agreement. If the government is found to be in breach of the obligations, the investor can receive redress. There is a major concern that the ISDS provisions could hinder our plans to reverse the privatisation of the NHS as it could result in those companies seeking compensation for loss of potential earnings. We believe that it is a right of governments to be able to legislate in the public interest and this should be protected effectively in any dispute resolution mechanisms. The European Commission has instigated several changes which have improved the transparency of the agreement which Labour welcomes. However, it is right that the European Commission has decided to temporarily suspend negotiations on ISDS until the final stages of the negotiations. Labour will be urging the Government to use this opportunity to call for far greater transparency around an exclusion for legislation in the public interest, like the NHS.
- Standards: the benefits of any treaty must filter down to employees and consumers. Treaties can cement and even increase labour, consumer, environmental and safety standards. Concerns have been raised that TTIP could reduce standards, although the principle behind the treaty is to keep or raise standards rather than reduce them. Labour will only support an agreement that avoids a race to the bottom and promotes decent jobs and growth and would safeguard standards.
- Non-inclusion of the US States: A significant stumbling block has been raised that the US states are not covered by the agreement and therefore procurement will not opened up. This mean we could be at a disadvantage as our markets are opened up but not to the same extent in the US. This is important because significant procurement spend in the US is at the State level.
A number of worries similar to our own have been raised by member states. These would need to be reflected to secure agreement and will need to be taken on board by the European Commission.
The European Commission published its analysis of the almost 150,000 replies to its online consultation on investment protection and investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in January. It can be read here. You can find out more about TTIP on the European Commission website.


Home Heat Helpline
27 February 2015
As the cold weather continues to affect various parts of the country, many people will be concerned about staying warm and paying their energy bills.
Anyone who has concerns can contact the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99. The Home Heat Helpline is a free and offers an impartial and confidential service, providing advice on rebates, grants for insulation and new boilers, and tips on saving energy. Around one in ten households across the country could benefit, but many people don’t realise what support is available.
There are also some other simple steps people can take to help reduce their energy usage. For example:
• A third of the cost of heating a home is lost through the walls, so insulating them is the best way to save energy in the home. Installing cavity wall insulation can save up to £160 per year on bills.
• Laying the loft with 10 inches/25 centimetres of insulation can save a quarter of a home’s heating costs.
• Replacing just one old light bulb with an energy saving recommended one can reduce lighting costs by up to £78 over the lifetime of the bulb. Plus they last up to 12 times longer than the ordinary light bulbs.
• Turning the thermostat down by 1˚C could cut bills by up to 10 per cent.
You can find out more information about the Home Heat Helpline by clicking here.

Equitable Life Payment Scheme
25 February 2015
The Equitable Life Payment Scheme was set up by the government to make payments to Equitable Life policyholders who suffered financial losses as a result of government maladministration which occurred in the regulation of Equitable Life.
As of the 31st January 2015, the Equitable Life Payment Scheme has issued payments surpassing £1 billion to 896,367 policyholders.
Anyone who thinks they may be eligible for a payment can contact the scheme on 0300 0200 150. The scheme is able to verify the identity of most policyholders by telephone, which means any payment due can usually be received within two weeks.
You can find out more information about the Equitable Life Payment Scheme by clicking here.

Tax Dodging
17 February 2015
Tax dodging by multinational corporations alone has been estimated to cost the UK £12 billion every year, and the world’s poorest countries an estimated £105 billion.
Last week, Labour set out the measures it will take to tackle tax avoidance in the first months of a Labour Government, which includes using our first Finance Bill to close loopholes that cost the exchequer billions of pounds a year; increasing transparency; and toughening up penalties.
The government have failed to deliver on tackling tax avoidance in the last five years, and have failed to close the loopholes Labour has highlighted. The choice at this election is between the Conservative’s failing plan and Labour’s plan that offers a better future for working families.

Fairtrade Fortnight
13 February 2015
I am supporting Fairtrade Fortnight (23rd February - 8th March), which calls on people to purchase Fairtrade products as a way of changing lives.
Fairtrade products are produced by small-scale farmer organisations or plantations that meet Fairtrade social, economic and environmental standards. The standards include protection of workers’ rights and the environment, payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and an additional Fairtrade Premium to invest in business or community projects.
Tackling poverty isn’t just about giving aid and Government assistance, it is about increasing trade opportunities and ensuring that producers are paid a fair price for their work. Fairtrade Fortnight reminds us all that by making a few small changes to our shopping habits, we can make a real difference to producers in the developing world.
You can find out more about Fairtrade Fortnight by clicking here.

Time to Talk
6 February 2015
I recently attended a Labour Campaign for Mental Health event, to celebrate Time to Talk Day.
Time to Talk is a campaign led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, which aims to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination by encouraging people to talk about their experiences. One in four people will be affected by a mental health illness every year, yet nearly nine out of ten people who suffer from mental health problems say they face stigma and discrimination as a result.
You can find out more about Time to Talk’s campaign, and pledge your support to end mental health stigma, by clicking here.

Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat
3 February 2015
This year, one in four constituents will experience a mental health problem and countless more will be affected through friends, family, work colleagues and other people in their lives.
I am supporting Mind’s campaign to improve mental health crisis care, which encourages leaders of key services to sign the Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat and deliver on their promises. The concordat is an agreement that sets national standards for the care of people suffering with a mental health crisis, and aims to ensure excellent crisis care is available everywhere.
You can find out more about the concordat by clicking here, and more about the work Mind do by clicking here.

Infrastructure Bill – Shale Gas (Update)
27 January 2015
Last year, the government published a consultation on changes to trespass regulations and confirmed their intention to legislate in the forthcoming Infrastructure Bill. You may be interested to read the consultation outcome and Government response ‘Underground Drilling Access' here
The changes in trespass regulations will mean that while shale gas companies will still need the permission of landowners for surface access and still require local planning consent, underpinned by environmental impact assessments, they will not need permission for underground access at depths of 300m or more. The issue of underground access rights is separate from the environmental and safety framework. Only by fully addressing legitimate environmental and safety concerns about fracking with robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement will people have confidence that the exploration and possible extraction of shale gas is a safe and reliable source that can contribute to the UK’s energy mix.
Yesterday, the Government accepted Labour’s amendment to the Infrastructure Bill to introduce new protections before fracking can go ahead. Labour’s amendment will prevent any shale gas development unless thirteen necessary conditions are established:

a) unless an environmental impact assessment has been carried out;
b) unless independent inspections are carried out of the integrity of wells used;
c) unless monitoring has been undertaken on the site over the previous 12 month period;
d) unless site-by-site measurement, monitoring and public disclosure of existing and future fugitive emissions is carried out;
e) in land which is located within the boundary of a groundwater source protection zone;
f) within or under protected areas;
g) in deep-level land at depths of less than 1,000 metres;
h) unless planning authorities have considered the cumulative impact of hydraulic fracturing activities in the local area;
i) unless a provision is made for community benefit schemes to be provided by companies engaged in the extraction of gas and oil rock;
j) unless residents in the affected area are notified on an individual basis;
k) unless substances used are subject to approval by the Environment Agency;
l) unless land is left in a condition required by the planning authority, and
m) unless water companies are consulted by the planning authority.

In addition, the Government agreed to an outright ban on fracking in national parks, sites of special interest and areas of natural beauty. You can read a full transcript of yesterday’s debate in Hansard here.
In practical terms, I think the safeguards in Labour’s amendment are sufficiently stringent that it would be very difficult for any fracking operation to go ahead without first having put in protections that cover all of people’s concerns and being able to demonstrate that there is public support for such a proposal.
I believe shale gas extraction should only go ahead in the context of robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement, and in a way which is consistent with decarbonising our electricity supply by 2030.
I will continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened. Please continue to check my website for updates on this Bill and other policy issues.

Individual Electoral Registration (IER)
27 January 2015
Anyone who wishes to vote in the General Election on 7 May this year, must be registered by 20 April, and can now do this quickly and easily using a new online system.
Individual Electoral Registration (IER) has been introduced nationally to help tackle electoral fraud and enable online registration, which will make it easier and more convenient for you to register to vote. Each person now needs to register to vote individually, rather than as a household. You can register to vote online here.
To find out more about Individual Electoral Registration, visit Knowsley Council’s website’s Frequently Asked Questions here.

Infrastructure Bill – Shale Gas
26 January 2015
Today, Labour will force a vote today to prevent shale gas developments in the UK unless loopholes in the environmental regulation are closed. There are outstanding concerns about management of drinking water, the integrity of the wells and protection for areas such as national parks. For these reasons, Labour will vote to prevent shale gas developments.
Labour have always said that shale gas cannot happen unless we have a system of robust regulation and comprehensive inspection. But despite clear flaws in the regulatory framework for shale gas, the Government has chosen to ignore genuine and legitimate environmental concerns.
Labour has submitted an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill that will prevent any shale gas development unless thirteen necessary conditions are established. Our amendment proposes that until these regulations are in place, no fracking should be allowed to happen. You can read the full list of amendment papers relating to the Infrastructure Bill here.

'Advice for the Future' Campaign
21 January 2015
I have recently signed a pledge in support of the Citizens Advice campaign ‘Advice for the Future’.
The campaign aims to promote the Citizens Advice service and ensure that the excellent work they do continues.
For 75 years the Citizens Advice service has provided free and confidential advice to the public and, at a time when so many people are feeling the effects of welfare reform and rising energy bills, this service is more important than ever.
You can find out more about the campaign by clicking here, and can sign a pledge in support of the campaign by clicking here.

Myalgic Encephalopathy (ME)
20 January 2015
It is estimated that around 250,000 people in the UK are affected by Myalgic Encephalopathy (ME), which is also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS); Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS); and Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS).
The illness effects people of all ages and, although the cause is unknown, the onset is often linked to a viral infection. Symptoms of ME include severe and debilitating fatigue, painful muscles and joints, disordered sleep, poor memory and concentration, and gastric disturbances.
ME can have a major impact on the lives of those suffering from the illness, with social and family life becoming restricted and some people becoming housebound or bedbound for months or years. For younger people, schooling can be severely disrupted whilst employment can become impossible for the working population.
There is currently no accepted cure or universally effective treatment. Those treatments which have helped reduce particular symptoms in some people have proved ineffective or counterproductive in others. An early diagnosis, together with adequate rest during the acute phase and during any relapse, appears to bring the most significant improvement.
The ME Association can offer help and support to those affected by the illness. You can find out more information by visiting their website here.

Fairer funding for Sixth Form Colleges
16 January 2015
Sixth Form Colleges are required to pay VAT on their purchases. By contrast, schools and academies can reclaim these costs - in the case of maintained schools, through the local authority VAT refund scheme, and in the case of academies, via section 33b of the VAT Act 1994. This leaves the average Sixth Form College with £335,000 less to spend on the education of students each year, around 4% of average turnover.
It is worth noting that whilst Sixth Form Colleges used to have their VAT costs taken into account as part of their up-front funding allocation, this changed with the introduction of the new 16-19 funding formula. This resulted in all 16-19 providers (including school and academy sixth forms, free schools and Sixth Form Colleges) being funded in the same way, using the same methodology. Schools, academies and free schools continue to benefit from a mechanism to recover their VAT costs, while Sixth Form Colleges do not.
As the Sixth Form Colleges Association has previously highlighted, the VAT refund scheme was extended to Academies to ensure that they were not at a financial disadvantage when leaving the local authority. If this principle is extended, Sixth Form Colleges should not be put at a financial disadvantage because of their VAT treatment either.
The introduction of a VAT refund scheme for Sixth Form Colleges would help equalise funding arrangements across the different further education providers and go some way in ensuring that no students are disadvantaged because of where they choose to study.
I recently signed a Sixth Form College Association (SFCA) petition, calling on the government to refund sixth form colleges VAT costs. If you wish to support the SFCA’s ‘Drop the Learning Tax’ campaign and sign their petition you can do so by clicking here.

Tesco
15 January 2015
Tesco’s decision to close its headquarters and 43 stores and to shelve the opening of 49 other stores, including the one planned for Kirkby, is deeply disappointing.
Following the announcement, I was able to talk to Steve Rigby of Tesco in more detail about their future intentions as regards the land and property they still own in the town centre. Knowsley Council had similar discussions.
During the discussion with Tesco, I made it clear that their obligations to the town, regardless of the company’s financial situation, should not be abandoned, particularly so given that the Council and community have been long engaged with them about the town’s regeneration.
I did secure three commitments from Tesco. First, they undertook that work already underway in the town centre – excluding the new store – would be completed. Secondly, they would work closely with Knowsley Council to secure alternative developers for the existing town centre and to continue the regeneration of the area. Thirdly, they gave an assurance that they would not stand in the way of another major supermarket chain developing the proposed site in Kirkby.
The letter from Mr Dave Lewis, the Chief Executive of Tesco, informing me of Tesco’s intention not to proceed can be found here, together with my response here, and Tesco's subsequent response here.
Further information can be obtained on Knowsley Council’s website here.
I know that Knowsley Council is currently working hard to attract an alternative developer for the site and I will work closely with both local Councillors and Council officers to do everything in our power to secure an alternative developer for Kirkby Town Centre.

Infrastructure Bill
14 January 2015
Last year, the government published a consultation on changes to trespass regulations and confirmed their intention to legislate in the forthcoming Infrastructure Bill. You may be interested to read the consultation outcome and Government response ‘Underground Drilling Access' here.
The changes in trespass regulations will mean that while shale gas companies will still need the permission of landowners for surface access and still require local planning consent, underpinned by environmental impact assessments, they will not need permission for underground access at depths of 300m or more. The issue of underground access rights is separate from the environmental and safety framework. Only by fully addressing legitimate environmental and safety concerns about fracking with robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement will people have confidence that the exploration and possible extraction of shale gas is a safe and reliable source that can contribute to the UK’s energy mix.
I believe shale gas extraction should only go ahead in the context of robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement, and in a way which is consistent with decarbonising our electricity supply by 2030. I will continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened.
In 2012 Labour set out six tough environmental conditions which should be in place prior to any shale gas extraction taking place in the UK. While the government accepted four of the six conditions in December 2012, we still believe that the regulatory framework is not sufficiently robust. It is clear that the level of methane in groundwater should be assessed prior to any drilling. Methane can occur naturally in groundwater, so it is important that robust baseline information exists to monitors activity against. Further, all monitoring activity should take place over a twelve month period, to allow sufficient time to gather all of the evidence required to make an informed decision on whether to proceed with exploration. Labour will continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened in these areas and for assurances that the responsibility for clean-up costs and liability for any untoward consequences rests fairly and squarely with the industry, not with taxpayers or homeowners. Many other concerns remain, particularly regarding the effectiveness of the monitoring process and the capacity of the relevant bodies to undertake that monitoring and enforce the regulations, which must be addressed.
The Infrastructure Bill is currently in the Committee Stage. You can follow the progress of this Bill here.


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