Civil Partnerships for Same Sex Couples

In response to the campaign on civil partnerships for same sex couples, David said:

"The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 had a specific focus on extending marriage to same-sex couples who could not previously marry. The Act did, however, stipulate that there should be a review of civil partnerships in England and Wales.

The Government carried out a full public consultation on the future and operation of civil partnership in 2014, receiving almost 11,500 responses, during which a range of views were expressed. The majority of respondents were against broadening civil partnerships to include opposite sex couples. In 2016 the decision not to extend civil partnerships to opposite sex couples was subject to judicial review that found the current system does not discriminate against heterosexual couples. The case has recently also been heard in the Court of Appeal and we are awaiting the outcome.

Some people have expressed concern that the continued availability of civil partnerships for only same sex couples could result in inequality and unfairness for opposite sex couples.  On the other hand, many feel that now marriage is available for all couples the need for civil partnerships falls away. There is, of course, the option for all those in a civil partnership to convert it into a marriage, however I recognise that not all couples in civil partnerships wish to do this. I believe it is sensible for the Government to get a sense of the impact of extending marriage to same sex couples, before deciding on the way forward for civil partnerships."

Abortion in Northern Ireland

In response to the campaign on abortion in Northern Ireland, David said:

"I recognise that this is a very delicate and sensitive issue. Abortion access is the topic of contentious and emotive debate. For this reason all MPs are free to vote with their conscience on abortion matters, rather in line with their parties, and I support this convention wholeheartedly. The Government wishes to see safe abortion services provided within the law to women who need them.

The provision of abortions is a devolved issue. Devolved NHS authorities are responsible for providing healthcare to those resident in their regions.

However, following a recent Supreme Court judgement, which outlined the law surrounding the provision of abortions to Northern Irish women in England, the Government has announced that payment for abortions for Northern Irish women in the NHS will be met by the Government Equalities Office with additional funding.

This development does not alter the fact that the provision of abortion in Northern Ireland is a devolved issue, and the responsibility of politicians in Northern Ireland. The funding of NHS abortion services for Northern Irish women by the Government Equalities Office ensures these women safe access to legal abortions in England, without compromising the devolution of NHS services in the UK.

In response to the case of the mother being prosecuted under the 1861 Offences against the Person Act in Northern Ireland, a judge in Belfast has granted permission for a judicial review to be heard over the prosecution of the mother, as he believed that the case raised issues of considerable public importance and public debate. This will now be held in the autumn."

More information about the campaign can be found here.

Abortion on Demand

In response to the campaign on abortion on demand, David said:

"I understand what an important issue abortion is for many people in the constituency. This is an incredibly delicate area of law and, regardless of the views of individual MPs, one which is treated with the utmost rigour.

The approach to abortion in the UK is set out in the Abortion Act 1967 and this remains unchanged.  Abortion legislation can only be changed by Parliament.  It is accepted Parliamentary practice that proposals for changes in the law on abortion come from backbench members and that decisions are made on the basis of free votes.  Whenever this issue has come before Parliament I have consistently voted for stricter laws on abortion.  

I am aware that an update to the procedures that detail the conditions that independent sector abortion clinics must adhere to was published in 2014, to take into account a number of regulatory changes and to bring the requirements in line with current policies and guidance.

The Department of Health issued guidance for doctors on how to comply with the Act in 2014. This makes clear that abortion on the grounds of gender alone is unlawful and further sets out how the law is interpreted by the Department of Health.   Full details can be found online here:

www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-doctors-on-compliance-with-the-abortion-act

The Abortion Act sets out that two doctors must certify that in their opinion, which must be formed in good faith, a request for an abortion meets at least one and the same ground set out in the Act.  The Department of Health has taken the view that registered medical practitioners should be able to show how they have considered the particular facts and circumstances of a case when forming their opinion."

DUP Confidence and Supply Agreement

In response to the campaign on the DUP confidence and supply agreement, David said:

"At this crucial time, the Prime Minister formed a Government in the national interest. With the most seats and most votes, only the Conservative Party has the ability and legitimacy to do that. The Conservative Party have had a strong relationship over many years with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and have finalised a confidence and supply deal. I know there are a number concerns with this approach that I want to address directly.

We are committed to re-establishing inclusive, devolved government in Northern Ireland. The approach and objectives as set out in the Conservative Party Northern Ireland manifesto remain unchanged, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland continues to work to restore a Northern Ireland Executive as soon as possible.

Governing in the national interest means delivering a successful Brexit that works for the whole country. It means building on our economic record of more jobs, cutting the deficit and investing more in public services like the NHS. It means tackling the social issues we face in the country: issues like mental health, housing, and proper technical education for young people.

Matters of conscience like abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage are decided by free votes in parliament with no official Conservative Party position. MPs and Peers vote according to their own ethical and religious beliefs."

More information about the campaign can be found here.

Precarious Contracts

In response to the campaign on precarious contracts, David said:

"While atypical work arrangements play a valuable role in today's labour market, the Government realises the issues that come with new ways of working.

That is why Matthew Taylor was asked to undertake his independent review of modern employment practices, which considered job security among a range of issues. The review highlights the recent success of British business in creating jobs, enhancing earning power and improving life chances across the UK. Employment rates are at the highest since records began, unemployment and economic inactivity are at record lows and minimum wage rates have never been higher. 

I understand the Government will now study the report's contents carefully, as well as the public consideration of Mr Taylor's recommendations that will follow, to help inform the development of the Industrial Strategy later in the year. Through the Industrial Strategy, the Government will make sure wherever people are in the country, there are more skilled, well-paid jobs to increase productivity and earning power, benefiting both workers and business.

It is good that we have record numbers of people in work thanks to our flexible labour market. That said, the Government recognises that people also deserve to be treated fairly by their employers whatever work they are carrying out and will take action if necessary."

More information about the campaign can be found here.

Game Bird Cruelty

In response to the campaign on the welfare of pheasants and partridges bred for shooting, David said:

"I appreciate your concerns on this issue. Both I and the Government are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare.
 
Under existing laws and regulations all animals, including farmed poultry, must be looked after in ways that meet their welfare needs. Guidance is maintained on the steps stock-keepers need to take to avoid risking prosecution.
 
This includes an explicit reference to the Farm Animal Welfare Council's 'five freedoms', which state that animals must be kept free from hunger and thirst, from discomfort, from pain, injury or disease, from fear or distress and to express normal behaviour. Regulations on housing vary depending on how the birds are being raised, but in all cases it must allow essential biological needs to be fulfilled.
 
Furthermore, under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 gamebirds must not be caused any unnecessary suffering. Under this Act, a Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes was drawn up based on research carried out by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, advised by a working group that included animal welfare organisations such as the RSPCA. It can be found at www.gov.uk by searching on the term 'Gamebirds'.
 
These rules are enforced by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), which carries out routine welfare inspections and investigates complaints; prosecutions can be initiated where necessary."

More information about the campaign can be found here.
 

Proposed Takeover of Sky

In response to the campaign on the proposed takeover of Sky by 21st Century Fox, David said:

"As you are probably aware, Sky has received an approach from 21st Century Fox to acquire the 61 per cent share of Sky that it does not yet already own.

Under the powers set out in the Enterprise Act 2002, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has a quasi-judicial role that allows her to intervene on the basis of specified media public interest considerations. These considerations refer to the need for there to be a sufficient plurality of media ownership, for the availability of a wide range of high-quality broadcasting and for those with control of media enterprises to have a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards objectives.

On 16 March 2017, the Secretary of State issued a European Intervention Notice on the grounds of media plurality and commitment to broadcasting standards. This decision was made after hearing representations from Sky, 21st Century Fox and many other third parties.

This decision triggered action by Ofcom to assess and report on the public interest grounds specified and for the Competition and Markets Authority to report on jurisdiction. They each had 40 working days to prepare and provide these reports.

On 29 June, the Secretary of State released her initial decisions on whether to refer the merger to a full phase two investigation. More details of these can be found on the below webpage:

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/skyfox-merger

The Secretary of State then accepted suggestions on her initial decisions until 14 July and will now consider the evidence received before coming to a final decision.

The question of whether someone is fit and proper to hold a broadcasting licence is a different consideration to those outlined in the Enterprise Act 2002, and one that quite rightly sits with Ofcom. Ofcom had previously announced that it would conduct its fit and proper assessment at the same time it would consider any public interest test, meaning following the intervention decision, Ofcom will conduct its assessment within the 40 working days it has to report on the specified public interests."

More information about the campaign can be found here.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Kamal Foroughi

In response to the campaign on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Kamal Foroughi David said:

"Ministers and officials continue to make representations on all consular cases involving British nationals in Iran, including Mr Foroughi’s and Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s, at all levels with the Iranian Government.

On 17 February the Foreign Secretary discussed Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case with the Iranian Foreign Minister. However, the fact that Iran does not recognise dual nationality makes progress difficult. Most recently, the new Minister for the Middle East raised Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case in a telephone call with the Iranian Foreign Minister on 21 June.

I share your concern for Mr Foroughi. It is vitally important that we continue to uphold the human rights of all the citizens in Iran with our international partners.

I hope that this goes some way to reassure you how seriously both I and my ministerial colleagues take this matter."

More information about the campaign can be found here.

 

Queen's Speech

In response to a campaign on the Queen's speech David said:

"The Queen’s Speech is about recognising and grasping the opportunities that lie ahead for the United Kingdom as we leave the EU. It is important to deliver the result of last year’s referendum and to make a success of Brexit. The British Parliament will therefore hold a two-year legislative session to ensure there is enough time for Members to fully consider the laws required to make Britain ready for Brexit.

This includes the Great Repeal Bill which, by converting existing EU law into UK statute, will enable the smoothest possible transition at the point of leaving.

The Prime Minister has been clear that we are leaving the European Union. In the recent general election, over 80 per cent of all votes cast were for parties that have accepted we have to respect the decision of the Referendum last June.

I am pleased that beyond Brexit there will be a number of measures to build a stronger economy so we can improve people’s living standards and fund the public services, such as our NHS and schools, on which we all depend.

The strong programme that Ministers have put together will tackle social inequality in this country and promote our economic prosperity. There will be a broad range of domestic initiatives including legislation on improving mental health, dealing with domestic violence and abuse, tackling extremism, supporting electric vehicles, commercial space flight, and strengthening the Union."

A full transcript of the Queen's speech can be found here.

Grenfell tower block fire

David has recently received a number of emails regarding the Grenfell tower block fire and thought you might be interested in seeing his response. 

"It is impossible to comprehend what everybody affected by the fire has been going through. The response of people who have provided help, compassion and support has once again shown the fantastic spirit of London and the best of Britain. I also pay tribute to the emergency services, who put their lives in danger to save others.

I completely understand the shock, concern, anger and frustration that exists as a result of this. The Prime Minister has ordered a full, judge-led public inquiry, which will give people the answers they deserve. The Prime Minister gave a statement to the House of Commons and you can read her full statement here: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-commons-statement-on-grenfell-tower-22-june-2017

The Grenfell Tower Recovery task force was set up in the aftermath of the tragedy to ensure a coordinated response. It is chaired by the Prime Minister and includes representation from a number of government departments. The government is working with the local authority to ensure that people who lost their homes in the disaster are rehoused in the local area at the earliest opportunity (within 3 weeks at the latest). The government is also working with local authorities, housing associations, fire and rescue services, and fire safety experts to ensure that all similar buildings are checked and that residents are assured of this.

A new £5 million Grenfell Tower Residents’ Discretionary Fund has also been made immediately available to help those who had to flee their homes. Every household whose home has been destroyed will receive a guaranteed £5,500 minimum down payment from the fund. This money could be used to cover loss of possessions, funerals and emergency supplies. I understand that the fund will be kept under review and will increase if necessary."

Battersea Animal Home

In response to Battersea Animal Homes campaign for stricter sentencing for offences of animal cruelty David said:

"We have a robust legal framework to tackle this vicious behaviour in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.

The law, and the penalties for breaking it, were reviewed by the Parliamentary Select Committee for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2012. At that time the Committee did not recommend increasing the maximum sentencing available to the courts. However, I am happy to say that the previous cap in the fine charges of animal abuse can attract has been removed, and I can also tell you that the Ministry of Justice is now looking at whether there is a case for increasing the penalties further.

The courts must decide what the penalty should be for each individual case, taking into account its circumstances and the guidelines laid down by the Sentencing Council. There has recently been a public consultation into sentencing guidelines for these crimes, which resulted in the Council confirming the removal of the cap on the financial element of the penalty, and clarifying a range of relevant factors that would indicate a more serious offence."

More information about the campaign can be found here.

Ancient Woodland

In response to a campaign on the protection of Ancient Woodland David said:

"Ancient woodland is a precious habitat, and I note that the National Planning Policy Framework already contains protections. It states that planning permission should be refused for development that would result in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and aged or veteran trees elsewhere. This can only be overridden if the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss.

The recent Housing White Paper went further, announcing a proposal to clarify planning policy on ancient woodland and aged or veteran trees, upgrading their protection to the same level as the green belt. The Government will consider everyone’s views and develop this further.

Ministers want to protect and enhance our woodland habitats. Over 11 million trees were planted in the last Parliament and there is a pledge to plant a further 11 million in this one. England’s woodland cover is now expanding at a rate that has not been seen since the fourteenth century."

More information about the campaign can be found here.