The Government’s Starter Homes Initiative

January 8, 2015

I was interested to hear that the Prime Minister has recently launched a consultation on a scheme called the Starter Homes Initiative. This follows the other Government’s moves such as the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee and equity loan schemes to help first time buyers get their foot on the housing ladder. The consultation proposals include the introduction of a new national Starter Homes exception site planning policy so that builders can build starter homes on unused or previously unviable brownfield sites. These homes will only be available for first time buyers and are to be sold at a minimum 20% discount below open market value. I understand those that want to can register their interest for the scheme can do so here, email at: or by post by writing to Andrew Short, Department for Communities and Local Government, Third Floor, Fry Building, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF.

I welcome this scheme because it is not only another way the Government is trying to help first time buyers, it will also ensure the attractive redevelopment of pieces of land which have been previously disregarded. With rising house prices many struggle to buy their first house but if they can take advantage of this scheme, they will surely benefit.

Good news about David Cameron’s announcements today at the #WeProtectChildrenOnline Summit

December 11, 2014

I am pleased to hear that David Cameron is going to announce the introduction of a further package of measures today designed to tackle online child abuse. In his speech which he is delivering to the #WeProtectChildrenOnline summit he will announce the creation of a joint National Crime Agency and Government Communications Headquarters specialist unit which will look at the most serious cases of online child exploitation.

Increasingly paedophiles have been found to be using the “dark web” where is more difficult for investigators to penetrate and they have also become more sophisticated about covering their tracks online. This new unit using ground-breaking technology will be able to uncover even the most devious perpetrators of these horrific online crimes against children.

I understand the major internet search engines (Microsoft, Google and Yahoo) and social media sites (Facebook and Twitter) have committed to using hashing technology which identifies the hash values (digital fingerprints) of images and videos depicting child abuse and using this will block their distribution so that they cannot be shared online. Likewise Microsoft, Google and Mozilla are to investigate the possibility of introducing browser level blocking restrictions so that people will not be able to search and view known child abuse material online.

These are all very positive developments and I am extremely glad that the Prime Minister is taking online child abuse so seriously. The online exploitation of children is despicable and we must do all that we can to ensure it is stamped out as far as possible.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls

December 2, 2014

We have recently observed International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls, and, as it is such an important issue, I am writing a blog post to explain the situation and what the Government is doing to remedy it.

Last year, 76 women were killed by partners or ex-partners. This is the lowest number since this data was recorded but it is still, of course, 76 too many. We know that the Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates that 1.2 million women were victims of domestic abuse last year and that over 300,000 were victims of sexual assault.

Domestically, the Government has provided funding of £40m over the next few years to provide a critical bedrock of support to victims, including an increase in rape support centres with funding for 86 rape centres across England and Wales.

Working with schools and addressing issues early on is absolutely vital. The Government has made provision of good quality teaching materials to schools to help to promote healthy relationships. Only by preventing violence and abuse in the first place can we hope to make sustainable changes over the long term. Ministers are also driving a culture change in the police response by ensuring the recommendations from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s review into domestic abuse are acted upon and applied to all areas of violence against women and girls to promote a culture of victim belief.

As for legislation, since 2010, the Government has criminalised forced marriage, introduced new stalking laws, and rolled out Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme across the country, and is currently criminalising revenge pornography. They have also committed up to £25 million to scale up DFID’s work on child, early, and forced marriage in 12 priority countries, working closely with UNICEF.

The Government is also strengthening the law on female genital mutilation (FGM) in the ways I campaigned for as a Minister. In addition, the Department for International Development’s flagship programme to support the African movement to end FGM, with total funding of up to £35 million over five years, aims to see a of 30% in at least 10 countries in five years, with an ambition towards ending FGM in a generation. These are issues that I myself have recently raised with the Women and Equalities Minister in a Written Parliamentary Question which can be found here.

The Government is clear that their priority – the people to whom they are absolutely committed – is the victims and survivors of violence and abuse.

Whether victims of child abuse and exploitation, adult survivors of abuse, victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, stalking, FGM, or forced marriage, they are determined to drive a culture change to support victims and survivors and to equip frontline services with the tools they need to tackle these crimes.

A look at the NHS

November 12, 2014

You cannot have a strong NHS without a strong economy, and you cannot have a strong economy without a strong NHS.

Ed Miliband says that he is the man to save the NHS, but there is simply no evidence in favour of this. What the evidence does show is that the Conservatives in Government have rescued the economy, protected NHS funding, and improved patient care.

The Government realises the central role that the Service plays in our national life, and so made a promise to protect its budget. The Coalition examined the NHS carefully and was able to make savings, but reinvested all those savings back into the NHS, improving the quality of care that patients receive. This has been very successful. Just last year, for example, NHS spending went up by £2.7 billion in real terms, and there has been a 4.4% real terms increase in funding during this Parliament. The most important thing to realise is this: the promise that Labour is making about the NHS going into the next election is less than what the Government has actually delivered during its time in office. This is a remarkable achievement, and one of which I am very proud.

Also, the Government has put local doctors in charge of commissioning, and, because of this, the use of the private sector in the service has slowed significantly. The Shadow Health Secretary talks a lot about integrating health and social care systems, but, in 13 years in power, Labour did nothing about it. The Government has. In April, the Better Care Fund starts, and will see local authority areas coordinate care with the NHS for the first time ever. Labour’s NHS mismanagement and target-based culture allowed the disasters at Mid Staffs to take place. Labour haven’t apologised, but we Conservatives are putting things right.

At the next election, we will promise again to protect and increase the NHS budget, but we are also promising to improve GP access for millions by introducing seven-days-a-week appointments nationwide by 2020; to provide a named GP for everyone, reserving Labour’s terrible decision to scrap family doctors; and to make the UK the best country in the world for the elderly.

Labour’s position is very different:

  • Their hollow funding pledge began to unravel immediately, with the Shadow Chancellor admitting that not a penny of their £2.5 billion promise would materialise in their first year, leading the Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies to describe their mansion tax proposals as ‘guesswork’.
  • Their plans to re-introduce GP access targets based on clinical grounds has been criticised by the Royal College of GPs as ‘ill thought-out’. It will stand in the way of patients getting the appointments they need.
  • In Wales, where Labour do control the NHS through the Welsh Assembly, the budget has been cut by 8%, A&E targets have not been met in any year since 2008, and the Royal College of Surgeons say that patients are dying on waiting-lists.

Labour seriously damaged the economy and the NHS. We Conservatives are rescuing both.

Positive uptake of Employment Allowance within the Constituency

November 7, 2014

I was pleased to hear that as many as 1,600 employers in the constituency have taken up Employment Allowance since its introduction in April this year. Employment Allowance is intended to bring down the amount of National Insurance (NI) contributions an employer is required to make. To be eligible you need to be a business or charity (or community amateur sports club) that pays employers’ Class 1 NI. Government estimates indicate that as many as 500,000 small businesses and charities will not have to pay any NI contributions this financial year and for those that do, in real terms this could amount to a reduction of their NI bill by up to £2,000 in each tax year.

It is great news that there has been such a positive uptake of this tax credit by employers. Across the country 856,000 employers have taken advantage of the scheme, which forms part of the Government’s economic plan to support businesses and job creation. For those that wish to find out more about Employment Allowance, they can do so clicking here.

What the Government is doing to help Women in the workplace and at home

October 31, 2014

The Government has been making a concerted effort to help women into employment and address pay related gender inequality and my parliamentary colleague Caroline Dinenage wrote to me recently providing an update about this.

Since 2010 there has been an increase of 711,000 more women in work. This means that as many as 20% of women now run small and medium sized enterprises. Undoubtedly they will have been encouraged by the Government’s introduction of single tier pensions so that 650,000 women will get an extra £400 a year from 2016 and shared parental leave which is being brought in in 2015. Likewise, from autumn 2015, almost 2m families should be able to benefit from the new tax-free childcare scheme which the Government is launching and is worth up to £2,000 per child. I understand that the gender pay gap for full time employees for under the 40’s has been removed and the Government is continuing to work on the gender gap for those over 40. I think it is very important that women are supported back into work and I back the Government’s thinking on extending the right to request flexible working for all.

I am very glad to hear that work has been done to ensure that women can expect to feel protected at home too. The introduction of Clare’s Law means that women are now able to check if their partners have a violent history. Violence Protection Orders which were brought in back in March allow domestic violence victims immediate protection from a perpetrator following a domestic violence incident and this ties in with the Government’s work on the “This is Abuse” campaign which is aimed at stopping teenagers between the ages of 13 to 18 from becoming either a victim or perpetrator of an abusive relationship. The Government’s pledge to reduce Female Genital Mutilation by 30% in 10 countries by 2018 is a further example of the efforts being made to ensure women are being looked after and respected. Back in June I attended the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict which did a huge amount to raise awareness about this issue and focused on the preservation of women’s rights.

I think the Government has been making great strides in ensuring women are better looked after whether it be at home or at work. Whilst there is always more that can be done in terms of readdressing gender pay inequality for over 40s in the work place or curbing genital mutilation and sexual violence against women, the Government is certainly heading in the right direction. I look forward to seeing how its work further progresses.

Theatre Tax Relief

October 2, 2014

I was pleased to hear that the Government’s Theatre Tax Relief has now come into effect as of 1 September. This measure was announced by the Chancellor in his 2013 Autumn Statement and is designed to provide support for theatres in the form of an additional corporation tax deduction or a payable tax credit. This would be worth up to 25% of qualifying expenditure for touring productions and 20% for all other productions. I am a great supporter of the performing arts within the constituency and I am pleased that the Government has taken steps to support them. For those that wish to find out more information about this tax relief, they can do so by clicking here.

The Government’s new Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) system

September 19, 2014

I was very pleased to read recently about the positive impact that the Government’s special educational needs (SEN) reforms are already having on families. An independent report which has been commissioned following the implementation of a pilot pathfinder programme of the measures (run across 31 councils) suggests that these reforms are already significantly assisting those families who have children suffering from SENs.

The Government’s new SEND package includes a number of reforms to the existing system. Importantly, one of these is the replacement of SEND statements and learning disability assessments with a new birth to 25 education, health and care plan –setting out in one place all the support families will receive. I imagine it could be confusing about the support available to families trying to look after a child who has an educational disability, but the provision of one care plan should help simplify this. Another of the reforms is for the requirement for better co-operation between councils and health services so that the provision of services are jointly commissioned; this should help with a more joined up approach and ensuring a care plan is properly implemented. Personal budgets are also to be offered to parents and young people with education and health and care plans. This way families can be in control over the support and have more of a say about the decisions affecting their child’s future.

The reforms are already being received favourably. This bodes well when the Government’s SEND reforms are rolled out across the rest of the country imminently. Those interested in finding out more can do so by clicking here.

Good news about the Government’s expansion of free childcare

September 11, 2014

I was very pleased to hear about the Government’s expansion of free childcare which will mean that 40% of the country’s most disadvantaged two year olds will now also benefit from the 15 hours of free early education already on offer. In real terms this extends the number of two year olds who will be benefit from 116,000 to 260,000 children across the country. Locally within Hertfordshire there are 4,000 children who will be able to take advantage of this expansion in childcare.

It is very good that even more provision is being made by the Government to help disadvantaged families, including those in North East Hertfordshire. I hope that this means that those with a less privileged background within the constituency will be able to start primary school better equipped than they would have otherwise done. To see whether their child is eligible, constituents should check

Update on Air Passenger Duty

June 5, 2014

I am sure many of my constituents were pleased to hear about the changes to Air Passenger Duty which were unveiled during the Budget. Recently Nicky Morgan MP Financial Secretary to the Treasury wrote to me providing more details.

From 1 April 2015 there will be an abolition of duty bands C and D; any country over 2,000 miles from London will fall into the same B rate banding as the USA and for those travellers flying to band A destinations within the UK and Europe, the economy flight duty rate is set to remain at £13.

I am glad that the Treasury is simplifying our previous system of Air Passenger Duty. I am know that many of my constituents travel regularly and I hope that these new measures will assist them.