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Volume 609: debated on Tuesday 3 May 2016


Tuesday 3 May 2016


Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Divorce proceedings of a UK citizen abroad

The petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that Mrs Sian Mitchell moved to the United States of America where she married a US citizen with whom she has a son; further that divorce proceedings are currently in motion and Mrs Mitchell has been ordered by the courts in California to remain in the State with her son until proceedings have been resolved; and further that the petitioners believe that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Government should offer as much support and assistance to her as possible so she can return to the United Kingdom.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Government to make representations to the US Government and the State of California to press the issue and get a resolution to the problem at the earliest possible stage so that Mrs Mitchell can return to the United Kingdom with her son as soon as possible.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Gavin Williamson, Official Report, 15 December 2015; Vol. 603, c. 1523.]


Observations from the The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Hugo Swire): On Tuesday 8 March 1 met Mrs Mitchell’s mother, Ms Debra Morgan and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) to better understand the situation and explore what consular assistance we may be able to provide. I am sympathetic to Mrs Mitchell’s situation and am keen that my officials provide all necessary support to her and her son.

I explained to my right hon. Friend that in line with our consular policy we cannot offer or pay for legal advice. My officials have provided Mrs Mitchell with details of the California State Bar Association, our recommended route to securing legal representation, and I am pleased that Mrs Mitchell does have an attorney representing her.

It is a key tenet of both the United Kingdom and the United States that courts are not subject to improper influence and it is important that the FCO respects this. The British Government cannot interfere in US judicial matters and it would be highly inappropriate for us to take a partisan interest in an ongoing civil legal case.

The petition requests the assistance of the FCO in order that Mrs Mitchell can return to the UK with her son at the earliest opportunity. As there are ongoing court proceedings and the United States is party to the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, we are unable to issue an Emergency Travel Document for Mrs Mitchell’s son without the consent of Mr Mitchell until the conclusion of these proceedings. We consider each application on its own merits but in these circumstances there would need to be compelling reasons, such as an imminent threat to the life of the mother or child, put forward by the applicant for us to consider issuing a travel document against this established protocol, in particular where there is also a California court order that the child remains in the state until the divorce process is concluded.


Appropriate mental health treatment for Matthew Garnett

The petition of Isabelle and Robin Garnett,

Declares that the petitioner’s son, Matthew Garnett, has been detained under the Mental Health Act in an emergency transitional Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit for six months; further that he is not receiving appropriate care or treatment; further that he appears to be regressing which is causing enormous distress to his family; further that he has recently sustained a broken wrist; further that a specialist facility (Malcolm Arnold House, St Andrew’s in Northampton) accepted his referral in August 2015; further that Matthew urgently needs to be admitted to this facility so that he can be properly assessed and treated; and notes that an online petition of the same nature has received 262,636 signatories.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to look urgently at this case and ensure that a bed can be made available for Matthew Garnett at Malcolm Arnold House as soon as possible, and to take action to address the wider issue of inpatient services for children and adolescents with mental health difficulties.

And the petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Helen Hayes, Official Report, 14 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 756.]


Observations from The Minister for Community and Social Care (Alistair Burt): The Minister of State for Community and Social Care MS(CS), Alistair Burt, has recently been made aware of cases where there have been issues around the provision of children and young people’s mental health care.

To address these issues, the Minister recently met with the family of one of these children, Matthew Garnett to hear of their experiences about where they think the system could be improved to support children and young people who have complex needs to get the right mental health care.

Since this meeting, the Minister has asked NHS England, which is responsible for commissioning in-patient care for children and young people with mental health needs, to carry out a review of Matthew Garnett’s case.

Michael Marsh, the Medical Director of Specialised Commissioning for NHS London, chaired the review. The review is now preparing recommendations for local improvements. The Minister has asked to see the report of the review and its recommendations as soon as they are available.

The Minister has also asked Department of Health officials to work with an independent expert to see if there are more general systemic issues to be addressed as the Government implement the transformation programme to improve children and young people’s mental health, as set out in the Government’s report Future in Mind. This work will proceed as soon as the report of the review and its recommendations are available.

Matthew Garnett has now been transferred to St. Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton, which is able to provide the care he needs.


Tobacco levy

The petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that cuts to public health funding mean vital Stop Smoking Services are being closed down; further that these closures are preventing smokers accessing the most effective way to make them quit; and further that an online petition and an additional paper petition on this matter have received 16,112 signatures.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges HM Treasury to make the tobacco industry pay for the damage they cause by introducing a tobacco levy to help fund Stop Smoking Services and advertising campaigns to help people quit.

And the petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Kevin Barron, Official Report, 8 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 246.]


Observations from the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Damian Hinds):

The Government thank the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron) for his petition on introducing a levy on the tobacco industry to fund smoking cessation services. We also thank all the members of the public who have signed the petition.

As the single largest cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK, smoking remains one of the country’s most significant public health challenges. The Government laid out their position on introducing a levy on the tobacco industry in the consultation response published last September. The Government do not believe a levy is an effective way to raise revenue or protect public health, particularly when we have already committed to maintaining the tobacco duty escalator until the end of the Parliament.

Local Authorities will receive over £16 billion to spend on public health—including stop smoking services—over the next five years. This is in addition to what NHS England will continue to spend on vaccinations, screening and other preventive interventions.

The Government remain committed to working towards their two fiscal goals on tobacco of raising revenue and protecting public health and will continue to make targeted interventions through the tax system. At Budget 2016 we announced an additional 3% rise on hand-rolling tobacco duty and that the Government would introduce a minimum excise tax for cigarettes, with legislation in Finance Bill 2017. The Department of Health will publish a new tobacco control plan later this year, which will ensure the Government’s wider strategy for tackling the harms caused by tobacco continues to strengthen and evolve.