National Issues

I fully supported the Leveson Inquiry and agree that, following the appalling revelations of phone hacking, it is extremely important that we establish a mechanism for independent self-regulation, which delivers proper redress for victims of press intrusion. At the 2015 general election I stood on a manifesto that committed to fully implement Leveson’s recommendations.

The first part of Leveson’s report was published in 2012. It recommended a system of independent self-regulation, guaranteed by law.  A Royal Charter was then agreed in October 2013 by all parties and approved by Parliament, to formally establish the new independent press watchdog that Leveson recommended. However, several newspapers rejected the Royal Charter and set up their own regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which launched in September 2014. IPSO has stated it has no intention of seeking recognition under the Royal Charter and recently announced its own pilot arbitration scheme.

The government announced a new consultation on implementing section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act (CCA) 2013 which, as you know, deals with the award of costs and would enact the changes recommended by Leveson and on Leveson II. As you will see I challenged the Minister on her failure to implement it now. You can see that on Hansard.

I believe the Government must get on with commencing section 40 of the CCA 2013. I also believe the Government should facilitate Part 2 of the Leveson inquiry – which remains outstanding – and is intended to look at the conduct within News International and other newspapers, and examine how the police investigated allegations of illegality.

I am concerned the Government has failed to implement the effective form of independent press regulation that Leveson recommended and which the Government signed up to as part of the cross-party agreement during the last Parliament. I believe the Government must keep its promise to the victims of phone hacking. Anything else would be another betrayal of the victims of press abuses and their families.

I will continue to press the Government to deliver on its clear promises by fully implementing the cross-party agreement on Leveson’s recommendations.

Helen challenges Minister on her failure to implement section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act (CCA) 2013

I fully supported the Leveson Inquiry and agree that, following the appalling revelations of phone hacking, it is extremely important that we establish a mechanism for independent self-regulation, which delivers...

Constituents have contacted me recently about the Istanbul Convention. I am very concerned that violence against women and girls (VAWG) remains a hugely significant problem across the UK, with up to 3 million women experiencing violence each year.

The Istanbul Convention is a historic international treaty that requires states to take comprehensive action, set out minimum standards and create legally binding measures to tackle and prevent violence against women and girls. Crucially, the Convention gives all survivors of domestic abuse the right to access the specialist support services which they need to live in safety and rebuild their lives.

On average, two women a week are killed in England and Wales by a current or former partner, but the Government is overseeing the closure of many domestic violence shelters for women, removing the last line of hope and safety for victims of violence and abuse. Since 2010, 17% of specialist refuges in England have closed down. On one typical day, Women’s Aid said that 155 women and 103 children were turned away from refuges because there was not enough space. I do not believe that women should continue to bear the brunt of Government cuts at the expense of their safety and well-being. That is why I believe the Government should honour its commitment and ratify the Istanbul Convention.

In March 2016, the Government published its Ending Violence against Women and Girls Strategy for 2016-2020. While I welcome the steps outlined in the strategy, I want to see the commitments made to vulnerable women and girls followed through, so that they do not just remain as warm words. Ratifying the Istanbul Convention would demonstrate a clear commitment to this goal.

I believe we need to do more to address VAWG at home as well as abroad. At the general election I stood on a manifesto which included commitments to introduce a Violence against Women and Girls Bill, appoint a commissioner to set minimum standards in tackling domestic and sexual violence and to provide more stable funding for women’s refuges and Rape Crisis Centres.

The Government must take urgent action to tackle domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. I can assure you that I will continue to pressure the Government to set a date to ratify the Istanbul Convention without further delay.

Helen presses the Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention without delay

Constituents have contacted me recently about the Istanbul Convention. I am very concerned that violence against women and girls (VAWG) remains a hugely significant problem across the UK, with up...

I sympathise profoundly with anyone who has been affected by breast cancer and I appreciate that organisations such as Breast Cancer Now work extremely hard to help support people living with breast cancer, and their families, to raise awareness of the connected issues.

I know Breast Cancer Now has raised concerns that there is confusion between health bodies over who should pay for bisphosphonates, and have called for clear guidance. In response to questions in Parliament the Government has stated that Clinical Commissioning Groups are responsible for commissioning these drugs based upon clinical judgement. I know the Government has recently received a number of representations, including Parliamentary Questions, and I will follow this continued scrutiny with interest.

As you may be aware, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is the non-departmental body which provides national guidance and advice to improve health and social care. NICE guidelines currently recommend that treatment with bisphosphonates should be provided to patients according to set criteria, however it is currently updating its guidance for early and locally advanced breast cancer while taking into account the latest available evidence. NICE expect to consult on the draft guidance between January and March 2018, with publication expected in July 2018. I will follow the consultation and the outcome of the draft guidance closely.

At the last General Election I stood on a manifesto that included commitments to improve early cancer diagnosis, to speed up waiting times for cancer test results and to create a new Cancer Treatments Fund so that patients would have access to the latest drugs, surgery and radiotherapy.

I believe that although huge progress has been made on improving cancer services in the past decade, we still lag behind other countries, and there is worrying evidence that the progress we have been making on cancer care has stalled, or potentially even gone backwards. No breast cancer patient should end up lost in our vast health system, unable to find the treatment to which they are entitled.

Helen calls for access to Bisphosphonates for breast cancer patients

I sympathise profoundly with anyone who has been affected by breast cancer and I appreciate that organisations such as Breast Cancer Now work extremely hard to help support people living...

When Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation sought complete ownership of BSkyB five years ago the House of Commons united behind a motion calling for the bid to be withdrawn in the public interest. The concerns were not only about the serious wrongdoing being uncovered in the phone hacking scandal but about the concentration of media power and ownership in fewer hands.

As soon as possible after Sky announced it had received an approach from 21st Century Fox, the Labour Party asked an Urgent Question in the House of Commons, forcing the Government to make a statement. The Government was rightly pressed to refer the bid to Ofcom. The Government must be prepared to stand up to powerful interests and ensure that this proposed deal is properly and independently scrutinised.

The Government has stated that any transaction will be looked at on its merits, on a case-by-case basis. I understand the frustration caused by the lack of a decision to date. The Government promised on 12 December to keep the House of Commons updated and I hope it will express its view to Parliament before Christmas.

Moreover, the Government should not cancel the vital second part of the Leveson Inquiry, which would look at questions around unlawful or improper conduct within the Murdoch empire, at exactly the moment when Rupert Murdoch is attempting once again to strengthen his hold over the UK media.

I will continue to follow the proposed takeover closely. 

Sky takeover highlights the necessity for the second part of the Leveson Inquiry

When Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation sought complete ownership of BSkyB five years ago the House of Commons united behind a motion calling for the bid to be withdrawn in the...

Several constituents have signed the 38 degrees petition highlighting concern about Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs)  and I do agree with the signatories that these machines can ruin lives. Action is long overdue on this.

In towns and cities across Britain, traditional bookies are being turned into mini-casinos and I share your concern about the impact that high-speed gaming machines - on which people can bet up to £100 every 20 seconds – are having on our high streets and town centres.

Evidence suggests that Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) are highly addictive and that their high-speed nature makes them particularly addictive to problem gamblers. I was very disappointed that, in July 2015, the Government rejected proposals from over 90 local councils to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 to £2.

I am aware that the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals APPG has also called for the maximum stake to be cut from £100 to £2, on a precautionary basis until sufficient evidence is presented that the high stakes on these machines do not cause harm. I want to see the maximum stake reduced from £100 to £2 and I believe the Government should act on this.

I welcome the current review of Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures, which applies to England, Scotland and Wales. This shows that the Government has finally woken up to the fact that it has not done enough to curtail the proliferation of FOBTs.

The review is looking at the maximum stakes and prizes for gaming machines and also at whether the right measures are in place to protect the young and vulnerable from gambling advertising. The call for evidence closed on 4 December and I will follow the outcome closely and any proposals that the Government brings forward.

I believe that we need real action to tackle the scourge of FOBTs and to protect users of these highly addictive gambling machines.

Helen shares her constituents' concerns over Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

Several constituents have signed the 38 degrees petition highlighting concern about Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs)  and I do agree with the signatories that these machines can ruin lives. Action...

The persecution of Christians and, indeed, any religious group is entirely unacceptable and I agree that all people should be able to practice and profess their religious faith free from persecution. However, the 2016 World Watch List reminded us that in certain parts of the world religious freedom is still ruthlessly oppressed.

I was shocked to learn from the most recent report produced by Open Doors that the persecution of Christians increased over the previous year, with over 7,000 Christians believed to have been killed for directly faith-related reasons. I believe human rights should be at the heart of our foreign policy. However, an important report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this year highlighted concerns about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) prioritisation of human rights.

The Government must use Britain's influence to stand up for the rights and freedoms that all human beings are entitled to, including religious freedom. Religious organisations play an important and crucial role in highlighting terrible violations of these rights around the world.

You can read the Open Doors report, 2016 Freedom of Religion and the Persecution of Christians.

Helen supports Open Door Campaign against Persecution of Christians abroad

The persecution of Christians and, indeed, any religious group is entirely unacceptable and I agree that all people should be able to practice and profess their religious faith free from...

I believe it is vital that everyone is able to use buses and other forms of public transport and therefore Audio-Visual (AV) announcements are very important for those with visual or hearing impairments

I have therefore consistently supported calls for all buses to have AV communication systems to advise passengers of the next stop, any delays and any diversions from the published timetable and I know that several bus operators who have installed AV systems have found them to be good value for money, while disabled bus users have made it clear these systems help make their journeys easier.

The Government recently confirmed that it would amend the Bus Services Bill, so that operators will be required to provide accessible information, using both audible and visible media, on board local bus services across Great Britain. I welcome this considerable concession, which follows pressure from the Opposition in the House of Lords.

The Government initially favoured a voluntary approach but now proposes, in the Bus Services Bill, to amend the Equality Act 2010 to provide the regulation-making powers required to develop an accessible information requirement. The Government has said that it will bring forward regulations as soon as it is able to do so. I believe that the Government should now clarify when it expects bus operators to comply with the new regulations.

I am pleased that the Equality Act 2010 will be amended to deliver the AV programme that organisations such as Guide Dogs have been seeking. I believe this could make a vital difference to the lives of almost two million people with sight loss, as well as many elderly people who rely on public transport for their independence.

I can assure you that I will support this when the Bus Services Bill is debated in the House of Commons in the New Year. I will also make the case, more widely, for local communities to have the power to make bus operators provide the services that local people need.

Helen backs Talking Buses

I believe it is vital that everyone is able to use buses and other forms of public transport and therefore Audio-Visual (AV) announcements are very important for those with visual...

An issue which encouraged many constituents to email me over the Christmas period was the Make the Air Fair campaign.

Access to high-quality mobile phone services is essential. As well as helping people to interact it is also key for the economy and public services. I would like to see mobile connectivity improve and I agree that the mobile market should be fair and competitive.

Customer choice and reliable coverage should be available everywhere in the UK. Indeed, the National Infrastructure Commission has said there are "too many digital deserts" across the country, and ranked Britain 54th in the world for 4G coverage.

During the last Parliament, the Coalition Government failed to improve mobile connectivity and while I welcome some measures within the current Government’s Digital Economy Bill, I am concerned that it will not do enough.  

As you know, Ofcom is currently consulting on the release of the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands of the mobile spectrum. These proposals are well known to me, and I have spoken in Parliament about the potential issues auctioning these frequencies may cause for people who use hearing aids and devices. You can watch my speech here or read it on Hansard. I am aware that several organisations, including ‘Make the Air Fair’ are calling for a cap of 30% spectrum ownership for any one network operator. 

This band of spectrum is one of our most significant public assets. How it is auctioned and regulated are issues of critical importance to the economy.

I am concerned that the Government has failed to foster a competitive communications market. More competition means better service, more investment and lower prices; and Ofcom should be supported to make sure that happens.

Licensing conditions for the spectrum auction must be ambitious and tough. These auctions should benefit everyone through better coverage and contribute to our digital economy, rather than simply raising revenue or providing benefit to the mobile network operators.

I will follow the outcome of Ofcom’s consultation closely and can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to improve communications infrastructure and mobile network coverage in all areas of the UK.

Make the Air Fair campaign

An issue which encouraged many constituents to email me over the Christmas period was the Make the Air Fair campaign. Access to high-quality mobile phone services is essential. As well...

A campaign that my Labour colleagues and I are fighting for is the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign.

I agree that the Coalition Government’s decision to accelerate the rise in women’s state pension age had a devastating impact on many women who were born in the 1950s, some of whom are now facing real hardship as a result. They did not have enough notice of the changes to plan for their new circumstances and the impact has been made worse by the Government’s failure to communicate the changes.

I have been extremely disappointed that the Government has not acted on the injustices placed upon WASPI women and believe it should look again at what more can be done to help.

Proposals to put an end to the hardship should be brought forward to help us move to a fair solution, and in the meantime, support should be given to the most vulnerable. I support the idea that Pension Credit should be extended to those who were due to retire before the Coalition Government’s pension age increase. This would alleviate the worst of the impacts for the most vulnerable women, and restore some of the dignity that many of them feel has been taken away. It would provide support worth up to £155 per week to half a million of the most vulnerable WASPI women. 

Our pensions system should ensure dignity in retirement, and properly reflect the contribution to our society that older people have made, and continue to make. I am committed to protecting the triple-lock and pensioner benefits, such as the TV license, bus passes and the winter fuel allowance.

I will continue to press the Government to deliver on its promise to look at transitional arrangements and measures to help the women who have been disadvantaged. 

You can join the WASPI campaigning by visiting their website or Facebook page..

Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign

A campaign that my Labour colleagues and I are fighting for is the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign. I agree that the Coalition Government’s decision to accelerate the...

Animal welfare issues always feature strongly in my email inbox. Most recently I have received many emails calling for a ban on imports of animal fur.

I know animal welfare charities have long campaigned against the fur trade and I believe the humane treatment of all animals should be a benchmark for any civilised society.

Fur farming in the EU mainly involves minks and foxes. In the wild, these animals are predominately solitary and occupy large expanses of land (for example, male minks occupy around 2,500 acres of wetland territory). Those involved in the fur trade, though, are kept in small wire cages and studies have demonstrated that animals kept in this manner exhibit stereotypical symptoms of distress. In 2001, the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (SCAHAW) investigated this matter and recommended improvements in regulatory requirements for mink and fox cages.

I welcomed the ban on fur farming in the UK and the 2006 Animal Welfare Act which put into law the most fundamental piece of animal welfare legislation for nearly a century. This Act set legal minimum standards for animal welfare and tougher penalties for cruelty against animals. It also introduced a new duty of care on people to ensure the needs of any animal for which they are responsible, and made it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.

I would like to see animal welfare standards improve overseas as well as in the UK. National governments have a duty to work together to fight animal cruelty across the world and I therefore hope that we can continue to work with our neighbours across Europe to continue to raise welfare standards. For example, Denmark – the world’s largest mink fur producer – is currently in the process of phasing out fur farming, and the Netherlands has recently banned the farming of foxes and chinchillas, so it seems clear to me that other countries find the practice abhorrent too.

The Government has said that current arrangements for our environment will remain in place until we leave the EU. But I am concerned many environmental protections are at risk. Despite repeated questioning by Opposition MPs, the Government has failed to set out the effects on the UK of leaving the EU – not least which environmental protections and regulations it will, or will not, retain. I believe the Government needs to set out its strategy for the future and whether it remains committed to the current, hard-won, animal welfare and environmental protections and what more they will do to show leadership in this area.

Helen supports a ban on on imports of animal fur

Animal welfare issues always feature strongly in my email inbox. Most recently I have received many emails calling for a ban on imports of animal fur. I know animal welfare...

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