|Here is the weekly Parliamentary update on last weeks business in Westminster.
The Sexual harassment scandal has overshadowed UK politics in the last week or so. Behaviour of this type is not acceptable in Westminster, or elsewhere for that matter, and all parties need to address this in a meaningful and purposeful manner. The backbench debate on sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools provided stark and disturbing context for the societal problems we have at this moment in time.
It was good to hear Jeremy commit to tackling this issue when he spoke at Labour North West regional conference on Sunday, and I will do all I can to support him in this aim. No one should have to experience what Bex Bailey and many others of all ages, have been through and we must ensure it never happens again.
I was so disappointed on Friday that Jim McMahon’s voting age reduction bill was talked out of time by the Government. The bill was second on the agenda but a number of Tory MPs made lengthy speeches on the first item, which meant that there was not enough time for a vote on the bill. The Bill is now due to be heard on the 1st of December, but it is highly unlikely that there will be any time for it to be heard on the day.
I hope you find the rest of the report informative.Kind regards
- Sexual Harassment in Parliament (Urgent Question)
- Independent Review: Deaths in Police Custody (Government Statement)
- Balfour Declaration (Government Statement)
- Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill (Second Reading)
- Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility (Urgent Question)
- Finance Bill (Report Stage and Third Reading)
- Armed Forces Pay (Opposition Day Debate)
- Exiting the EU: Sectoral Impact Assessments (Opposition Day Debate)
- Catalonia (Urgent Question)
- Northern Ireland Update (Government Statement)
- Sentencing (Government Statement)
- Unaccompanied Child Refugees: Europe (Backbench Business Debate)
- Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence in Schools (Backbench Business Debate)
Sexual Harassment in Parliament (Urgent Question)
On Monday, the Leader of the House of Commons responded to an urgent question on the Government’s plan to tackle sexual harassment in Parliament. This followed recent reports of inappropriate behaviour in Westminster.
Over the previous weekend it had been reported in the media that several MPs had acted inappropriately towards members of staff. These incidents came to attention further to media reporting on the existence of a WhatsApp group naming individual MPs suspected of inappropriate conduct.
The Leader of the House stated that the reported allegations make it clear that there is a vital need to provide better support and protection for MPs’ staff. She said that the House must establish a House-wide mediation service, complemented by a code of conduct and a contractually binding grievance procedure, available for all MPs, peers and their staff.
Nobody who comes to work in the House of Commons should be subjected to unwanted sexual advances from those who are in a position of power over them. I believe all parties should work together on this issue to come up with an appropriate safeguarding policy for everyone who works in Parliament. There should be a proper process of investigation for all allegations. The House should also look at widening the scope of the Members’ staff helpline to include independent advice on the next steps for a complainant.
This is a culture that has been ongoing for far too long and everyone has a responsibility to challenge and end it. This must now be a turning point.
Independent Review: Deaths in Police Custody (Government Statement)
On Monday, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service made a statement on Dame Elish Angiolini’s independent review of deaths and serious accidents in police custody.
The Minister outlined the recommendations of the Angiolini review and updated MPs on the Government’s response, which was published on Monday. He said the report provided some recommendations which would be worked on immediately, but also more complex reforms which would require a focused programme of work.
The Minister detailed that the Lord Chancellor would review existing guidance on legal aid and look to simplify the inquest system. He also explained that the Lord Chancellor would consider reducing the number of lawyers attending inquests, to make the process more sympathetic to the needs of the bereaved. The Minister described police integrity and accountability as central to public confidence in policing, and said the Government would be implementing legislation later this year to extend the disciplinary system to former police officers.
While I welcome many aspects of the Government’s statement, I believe we must deal with the long-running issue of deaths in custody so that policing by consent can be realised for every community in the UK. I am deeply concerned that this is a particular issue for urban communities and that a disproportionate number of black men die in custody. I also believe the Government should explain why it did not publish this report until several months after its completion, and provide a timetable for the implementation of its recommendations, alongside assurances to families affected.
Balfour Declaration (Government Statement)
On Monday, the Foreign Secretary made a statement on the Balfour declaration and its legacy today.
The declaration, made by the then Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour on 2 November 1917, expressed the British Government’s support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people and paved the way for the creation of the state of Israel. My colleague the Shadow Foreign Secretary expressed the Opposition’s continued support for the state of Israel and joined the Foreign Secretary in commemorating this historic anniversary.
It is right that on the centenary of the Balfour declaration we acknowledge the successes of Israel. However, I believe we must also acknowledge that the caveat in Balfour’s letter that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” remains unfulfilled. As we rightly reflect on the last 100 years we also have a duty to look towards the future and to the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians.
Unfortunately, the people of Israel remain at daily risk of random acts of terror. The displacement of Palestinian people continues, and the pace of settlement building has increased over the last few years. The Foreign Secretary expressed the Government’s view that the only way of bringing peace is through a two-state solution – a secure Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. He said that the birth of a Palestinian state would benefit Israel by safeguarding its demographic future as a Jewish democracy and allow Palestinians to realise their aspirations for self-determination and self-government.
The Shadow Foreign Secretary therefore urged the Government to play more of a part in delivering the benefits of Palestinian statehood by formally recognising the Palestinian state. This is something that the manifesto I stood on at the General Election in June committed to.
Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill (Second Reading)
On Monday, the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill had its Second Reading debate in the House of Commons.
The Bill provides opportunities for regular Armed Forces personnel to request temporary periods of flexible or part-time working and limits to deployment for defined periods.
I support the principle of making service life more compatible with civilian life. However, there are still questions about the details of how flexible working would work in practice and I will resist any measures that are simply a cost cutting exercise.
The Government said that flexible working is principally about recruitment and retention. While flexible working is an important part of modern working practices, I do not believe it is a silver bullet for the recruitment and retention crisis in our Armed Forces. The current Government has a terrible record in this area – outflow has exceeded intake every year since 2011.
I believe one way of dealing with this crisis would be to give the Armed Forces a fair pay rise. Yet, the starting salary of an Army private has been cut by more than £1,000 in real terms since 2010. The Government should lift the public sector pay cap and give the Armed Forces Pay Review Body the freedom to make pay recommendations that will continue to attract our best and brightest.
Good quality, affordable housing is also an extremely important part of the offer to our Armed Forces. The Government must therefore ensure that there continues to be access to high standard accommodation at a reasonable cost to service personnel.
The Bill passed unopposed on Monday and will now go forward for further scrutiny in Committee.
Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility (Urgent Question)
On Tuesday, my colleague the Shadow Culture Secretary asked the Government an urgent question following the launch of a consultation on proposed changes to gaming machines and social responsibility measures across the gambling industry.
The amount British gamblers lose on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) – which allow users to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds – has risen from £1 billion in 2009 to £1.8 billion in 2016.
FOBTs are highly addictive and can cause real harm to individuals, their families and local communities. I am concerned that Britain is suffering from a hidden epidemic of gambling addiction.
The Government first announced a review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures in October 2016. It is deeply disappointing that after a year-long process of delay after delay, instead of taking firm action and reducing the maximum stakes allowed on FOBTs, the Government has simply decided to hold another consultation. It is also failing to act on the proliferation of gambling advertising, on TV and online.
I believe this review is a missed opportunity. The measures announced this week will do very little for those suffering from gambling addiction and for the millions, including hundreds of thousands of children, who are at risk of developing an addiction.
I believe we should reduce the maximum stake for FOBTs to £2 a spin, and I would also like to see a ban on gambling company advertising on football shirts. This situation requires action now.
Finance Bill (Report Stage and Third Reading)
On Tuesday, the House of Commons considered the Finance Bill.
I believe this Bill is a wasted opportunity. We needed sensible proposals on investment, fair taxation and increasing the UK’s productivity. Unfortunately, we got a Finance Bill that would water down workers’ rights, increase financial burdens on small- and medium-sized businesses, and exempt offshore trusts from any reform of non-dom status.
The Government is reforming non-dom status so that an individual who has been resident in the UK for 15 of the last 20 years would be considered UK-domiciled for tax purposes. However, it is exempting offshore trusts from these reforms, effectively opening a new loophole. I supported an amendment that would have required the Government to undertake a review of this loophole. Unfortunately, the Government opposed the amendment and it was defeated. I also voted in favour of an amendment requiring a review of the treatment of capital gains on commercial property sold by UK taxpayers with a foreign domicile, which was, unfortunately, also defeated.
In addition, I also supported amendments to prevent the Government from reducing the tax-free threshold for termination payments without proper democratic scrutiny, as well as to prevent any system for businesses to provide quarterly updates as part of making tax digital from being mandatory. Unfortunately, both of these amendments were also defeated.
We face falling wages, rising levels of personal debt, poor productivity, low investment and widespread inequality. The Finance Bill will not put any of that right and I therefore voted against it. Unfortunately, it nevertheless passed Third Reading with the support of Government and Democratic Unionist Party MPs.
Armed Forces Pay (Opposition Day Debate)
On Wednesday, the House of Commons debated an Opposition motion on Armed Forces pay.
I believe it is vital that our Armed Forces and their families are properly looked after. Armed Forces pay was frozen between 2011 and 2013 and increases have been capped at 1% since 2013. As a result, Armed Forces pay was cut in real terms by between 3.9% and 6.6% depending on rank between 2010 and 2016.
After years of pay restraint, increases in National Insurance, changes in tax credits and increases in rental charges for those in service family accommodation, morale amongst our dedicated Forces has plummeted.
The latest Armed Forces Continuous Attitudes Survey (AFCAS) shows that satisfaction with basic rate of pay and pension benefits are at the lowest levels recorded. The AFCAS also found that only 43% of personnel would recommend joining the Armed Forces to others.
We need to ensure the Armed Forces continues to be an attractive offer for our best and brightest in order to maintain operational effectiveness.
The Opposition’s motion on Wednesday therefore called on the Government to end the public sector pay cap for the Armed Forces and give our service personnel a fair pay rise. The House of Commons passed the motion unanimously and I hope the Government will act on it. Our Armed Forces are driven by the hard working men and women who serve and it is time the Government recognised that.
Exiting the EU: Sectoral Impact Assessments (Opposition Day Debate)
On Wednesday, MPs debated a binding motion presented by the Opposition to require the Government to release the studies it has conducted on the likely impact of Brexit on 58 sectors of the UK economy.
Earlier this week, the Government finally published a list of the sectors covered by these studies. They include aviation, fisheries, construction, higher education and tourism. Taken together, the impact studies cover 88% of our economy. However, the Government has so far refused to release the impact studies or subject them to parliamentary scrutiny.
I have long believed that there needs to be greater transparency in the Brexit process and that the Government should release these reports as part of that.
I recognise that sensitive documents should not be published that might compromise the UK’s negotiating position with the EU. That is why the Opposition’s motion did not require blanket publication of the studies without further consideration. Instead, the motion called for the studies to be presented to the independent and cross-party Brexit Select Committee which would then decide when and in what form to publish them.
The Government did not oppose the motion on Wednesday and it passed unanimously. This is a victory for Parliament and for democracy, and the Government cannot ignore this binding decision by the House of Commons. It must now urgently set a date for when the papers will be released to the Brexit Select Committee.
Catalonia (Urgent Question)
On Thursday, the Minister for Europe responded to an urgent question on the political situation in Catalonia.
On 1 October, the Catalonian authorities held a referendum on independence that was found by the Spanish courts to be illegal under the Spanish constitution. This was followed on 27 October by a unilateral declaration of independence from the Catalan Parliament. In response, the Spanish Government imposed direct rule on Catalonia, dissolving the Parliament and calling local elections for 21 December. The Spanish state prosecutor has called for Catalan leaders to face charges of rebellion and sedition.
The Minister said on Thursday that the UK Government did not recognise the Catalonian declaration of independence and that it was essential that the rule of law be upheld. He further stated that the situation in Catalonia was an internal matter for Spain and its people and that the elections scheduled for December offered a path to return to the rule of law.
In recent weeks, we have seen from Madrid the use of officially sanctioned violence and intimidation by the police. From Barcelona, meanwhile, we have seen a declaration of independence based on an unconstitutional referendum. I am concerned that we are now in a dangerous position, where the future of Catalonia has been turned into an impossible choice between a unilateral declaration of independence and direct rule from Madrid.
I do not believe either approach offers a satisfactory or sustainable solution. Both sides must take a step back, ease the confrontational rhetoric and heavy-handed tactics, and listen to what the majority of people in Spain and Catalonia want: peace, dialogue and an end to division. The UK Government must do what it can to promote such a solution.
Northern Ireland Update (Government Statement)
On Thursday, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made a statement on the political situation in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland has been without a properly functioning devolved Executive and Assembly for nine months. During this time, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin have been engaged in discussions to restore an inclusive, power-sharing Executive.
The Secretary of State said that while important progress had been made in these talks, the parties had not yet reached an agreement. He stated that this meant it was now highly unlikely that an Executive could be in place to pass a budget before the end of November. The Secretary of State explained that the Government was therefore taking steps to enable a budget Bill to be introduced in the House of Commons, in order to protect the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland.
It is disappointing that ten months since the breakdown of the Northern Irish Executive, and following two elections and countless, increasingly meaningless deadlines, the larger parties in the region remain unable to agree with and show trust in one another. I believe the Government could have done more to bring about a resolution. The Prime Minister has visited Northern Ireland only once during her 15 months in office – she could be making a much greater effort to resolve this problem. In addition, the Government must consider bringing in outside help on this issue. Independent chairs and observers have proved very useful in the peace process in the past.
I will support the Government’s efforts to bring forward a budget for Northern Ireland. However, public services in the region need investment, not cuts. Any upcoming Bill must not simply introduce austerity to Northern Ireland, but must be done on a consultative basis with political parties and civil society.
Sentencing (Government Statement)
On Thursday, the Justice Secretary made a statement on sentencing and the Government’s response to the Hirst judgement.
In the UK, prisoners serving a custodial sentence do not have a right to vote in any elections. However, this blanket ban was ruled unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights in the Hirst case of 2005.
The Justice Secretary stated on Thursday that the Government had decided to propose two administrative changes to address the points raised in the 2005 judgement, while maintaining the bar on convicted prisoners in custody from voting. First, he said that the Government would work with the judiciary to make it clear to criminals when they are sentenced that while they are in prison they will lose the right to vote. Second, the Justice Secretary said that the Government would amend guidance to allow offenders released back into the community on temporary licence to vote. He made clear that these changes did not involve any changes to the criteria for temporary release, and that no offenders would be granted release in order to vote.
As a nation, we pride ourselves on our adherence to the rule of law and on abiding by our commitments. If we are signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights, we are bound by its judgements and by those human rights laws. I therefore believe it is vital that the Government has made certain that its proposals will fulfil our international obligations. The last thing we want is to be told that these measures do not meet our commitments under international human rights law.
Unaccompanied Child Refugees: Europe (Backbench Business Debate)
On Thursday, the House of Commons debated a Backbench motion on unaccompanied child refugees in Europe.
UN figures for the first half of 2017 show that over 70% of the 16,500 children who arrived in Greece, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria were unaccompanied or separated children. Yet the Government is refusing to play a full role in tackling this crisis.
This debate marked the one-year anniversary of the demolition of the Calais migrant camp. When the Calais camp was demolished, one in six of its inhabitants were children trying to reach family members. Several of those children have since died still trying to reach their family. I believe we must prevent tragic cases like these and the Government must ensure that where it is in the best interests of unaccompanied children they are reunited with their family in the UK. The Government should therefore provide an assurance that the Dublin III regulation definition of “family” will apply in the UK’s immigration rules after Brexit.
Last May, Parliament passed the Dubs amendment to resettle a number of unaccompanied children who have made it to Europe. However, not only has the Government said it will close the Dubs scheme after taking significantly fewer children than the 3,000 that was widely mentioned at the time, no places have been filled so far this year. Indeed, around 280 of the 480 places allocated remain unfilled. I cannot accept this – we must meet the obligations of the Dubs amendment and accept some of the most vulnerable children in the world.
Our country has a proud tradition of honouring the spirit of international law and our moral obligations by taking our fair share of refugees. We must not turn our back now.
Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence in Schools (Backbench Business Debate)
On Thursday, there was a Backbench Business debate on sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools.
Sexual harassment and sexual violence are part of a culture embedded in all elements of our society. Sadly, the sort of abuse we have seen reported recently in Hollywood and Westminster is also widespread in our schools.
In September 2016, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee published a report on sexual harassment in schools. It highlighted evidence from young people that sexual harassment has “become a normal part of school life”, as well as finding an alarming inconsistency in how schools dealt with sexual harassment and violence. Additionally, in September 2017, Girlguiding published its Girls’ Attitudes Survey, which found that almost two-thirds of girls (64%) had been sexually harassed at school in the past year.
At the June 2017 General Election, I stood on a manifesto that made a number of commitments on tackling violence against women and girls, including appointing a commissioner to set new standards for tackling domestic and sexual violence, and making age-appropriate relationship and sex education (RSE) a compulsory part of the curriculum.
I welcome that RSE is to be made compulsory in all schools. However, we are still unaware when the public consultation on this issue will begin. There is no time to be lost in enabling young people to learn about respectful relationships. It is also vital that the Government ensures that the consultation is properly funded and resourced and that the voices of girls and young women are represented.
Sexual harassment in schools has been going on for far too long and we have a responsibility to challenge and end it. This must now be a turning point.
|Here is the weekly Parliamentary update on last weeks business.
I spoke in the house on a couple of occasions, firstly on the debate on Universal Credit roll out, which you can see on the link below
And also on the Supported Housing debate, which is available here
I hope you find the report informativeKind regards
- European Council (Government Statement)
- Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill (Second Reading)
- Raqqa and Daesh (Urgent Question)
- Universal Credit Roll-out (Emergency Debate)
- Smart Meters Bill (Second Reading)
- Social Care (Opposition Day Debate)
- Supported Housing (Opposition Day Debate)
- Leaving the EU: Parliamentary Vote (Urgent Question)
- Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Backbench Business Debate)
- Global LGBT Rights (Backbench Business Debate)
European Council (Government Statement)
On Monday, the Prime Minister made a statement following the previous week’s meeting of the European Council.
The Prime Minister updated MPs on discussions at the Council covering a number of issues. On migration, the Prime Minister noted the Royal Navy’s continued work intercepting smuggling boats from Libya in the Mediterranean as part of Operation Sophia. I commend the service of the Royal Navy there, which has already saved thousands of lives.
I share concerns raised by the Prime Minister over the arrests of EU nationals and others defending human rights in Turkey. Imprisoning journalists and lawyers is not acceptable and we must underline the importance of respect for human rights and democracy in that country. The Prime Minister also welcomed new EU sanctions against North Korea and noted the Council’s firm commitment to the Iran nuclear deal.
The Prime Minister’s statement was also an opportunity to review the progress of the ongoing Brexit negotiations, covering citizens’ rights, Northern Ireland and the financial settlement in phase one. Last week’s meeting was meant to mark the start of the second phase of negotiations, dealing with trade and our future relationship with the EU. However, the Government missed this important target.
These are the most crucial negotiations in our country’s recent history and it is increasingly clear that the Government is unable to deliver the deal we need. The longer there is paralysis in the Brexit process, the higher the risk of no deal being reached. The biggest threat of no deal, though, is the infighting and instability in the Government.
No deal would be catastrophic for jobs and living standards. It would mean the return of tariffs, queues at our ports, higher prices in shops, continuing uncertainty for EU and UK citizens, and a hard border in Northern Ireland. This is why I have consistently said that no deal should be rejected as a viable option.
Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill (Second Reading)
On Monday, the House of Commons considered the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which aims to establish a regulatory framework for the production and use of these vehicles in the UK.
I believe this Bill is crucial. Ultra-low-emission vehicles (ULEVs) and autonomous vehicles (AVs) will play an important role in our country’s future transport system and make our roads safer. It has been forecast that they will provide benefits of around £51 billion a year and could create an additional 320,000 jobs. Furthermore, increasing our use of ULEVs will play an important role in tackling our current air quality crisis and meeting our climate change objectives. It is therefore important that we ensure electric vehicles are affordable, convenient, and provided with suitable infrastructure to encourage uptake.
While I broadly support the Bill’s proposals, however, I have a number of concerns about some of its provisions. For example, the Bill currently gives the Government power to define an automated vehicle. I believe the Government should consult widely on the definition and provide details of its plans for a classification system and that this should be subject to secondary legislation.
I welcome the Government’s action to resolve issues surrounding the insurance of automated vehicles. However, I am also concerned about the cost to policyholders and disputes over future insurance claim liabilities, and the potential for increased administrative costs for insurers to detrimentally affect the uptake of AVs in the UK. I therefore believe the Bill should require the Government to review the effectiveness of AV insurance at regular intervals.
Finally, while I welcome the Bill’s intention to increase the number of charging-point facilities, I also believe the Government must make clear how the provisions of the Bill fit within a broader strategy for reducing harmful vehicle emissions and promoting a switch to ULEVs and EVs.
I did not oppose the Bill on Monday and it was passed without a vote. It will now be considered in Committee.
Raqqa and Daesh (Urgent Question)
On Tuesday, the Minister for the Middle East responded to an urgent question about the liberation of Raqqa and the future of the counter-Daesh campaign.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by the global coalition against Daesh, have been undertaking operations to liberate Raqqa from Daesh control since June. The city was officially liberated on 20 October.
The liberation of Raqqa follows other significant losses for Daesh, including Mosul in Iraq in July. The group has now lost more than 90% of the territory it once occupied across Syria and Iraq. The Minister said on Tuesday that the Foreign Secretary would provide a further update on recent counter-Daesh operations soon.
My colleague the Shadow Foreign Secretary asked the Minister about the UK’s strategy for the future of Syria and the military’s role in it moving forward. She also asked the Government about the steps it will now take to help rebuild a form of sustainable governance in Raqqa.
I pay tribute to the commitment and effectiveness of our Armed Forces engaged in operations against Daesh. The victory in Raqqa is a vital blow against this evil group.
Universal Credit Roll-out (Emergency Debate)
On Tuesday, the House of Commons held an emergency debate on the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC).
Last week, Parliament voted to pause and fix UC during an Opposition Day debate. Since the debate, the Government has not responded to the vote, nor made a statement on the issue. I believe that the Government’s decision to ignore Opposition Day debate motions puts us in dangerous territory, and should be viewed within the context of the Government’s attempts to increase its own powers and circumvent accountability as we leave the European Union. The Government must take action to explain how it intends to respond to the concerns raised about UC, or face constitutional questions.
Three key issues remain with UC: the programme’s design flaws, such as the six-week wait for new claimants; the cuts that were introduced in 2015, which have reduced family work allowances and frozen social security rates; and a number of implementation flaws, which have resulted in people being denied prescriptions and dental treatments as eligibility is unclear.
I believe all parties must work together to ensure UC is a success. The Government should end the initial six-week wait for payments, ensure alternative payment arrangements are offered to all claimants, and reconsider Jobcentre closures. The House of Commons has made its view clear on this issue – it is now time for the Government to act.
Smart Meters Bill (Second Reading)
On Tuesday, the House of Commons considered the Smart Meters Bill.
I support the overall aims of the roll-out of smart meters. I therefore did not oppose the Smart Meters Bill on Tuesday. However, I have a number of concerns both about the specific provisions of the Bill and the smart meter programme overall, particularly concerning delays and the cost to consumers.
The first clause of the Smart Meters Bill extends the Government’s powers to implement and direct the roll-out of smart meters from 2018 to 2023. However, the Government is committed to the installation of smart meters for all energy customers by 2020. Research suggests that meeting this deadline would require the installation of 40,000 smart meters every day. I am therefore concerned that the extension of Government powers until 2023 suggests that the end date for the smart meter roll-out will slip beyond 2020.
The Smart Meters Bill also establishes a “special administration regime” for the national smart meter communication and data service provider (DCC) in the event of its insolvency. Given the centrality of DCC to the smart meter system, it is clear that we need a plan in case of its insolvency. However, I am concerned that the Bill places the costs of an insolvency onto energy customers. This is particularly worrying given that consumers are already bearing the cost of the smart meter rollout.
The Smart Meters Bill passed its Second Reading and will now be considered in Committee where I hope its provisions will be closely scrutinised and improved.
Social Care (Opposition Day Debate)
On Wednesday, the House of Commons debated an Opposition motion calling on the Government to take urgent action to address the social care crisis.
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has found that, by the end of this financial year, £6.3 billion will have been cut from adult social care budgets since 2010. The Health Foundation has also said that that six years of real-terms reductions in social care budgets have left 400,000 fewer people receiving essential help.
Social care was an important issue at the General Election. The Government’s social care proposals were widely criticised and described as a “Dementia Tax”. Four days after the announcement of the policy, the Government was forced to U-turn on its decision to abandon the cap on care costs. In contrast, I stood on a manifesto that committed £8 billion in funding for social care, with an additional £1 billion in the first year to address the immediate funding gap.
I believe the Government should provide the urgent funding needed to close the social care funding gap for this year and the rest of the Parliament. It should also remove the threat of further cuts to local authority budgets and fines on local authorities for not meeting unrealistic Delayed Transfers of Care targets.
The House of Commons unanimously approved the Opposition’s motion on social care. I believe this reflects the will of MPs and the Government should now make clear how it will respond.
Supported Housing (Opposition Day Debate)
On Wednesday, the House of Commons debated an Opposition motion calling on the Government to halt its plans to cap help with housing costs for tenants of supported housing.
Housing benefit cuts that were due to take effect in April 2019 would have risked closing thousands of supported housing schemes, including homelessness hostels, sheltered housing, specialist accommodation for former members of the Armed Forces, and refuges for victims of domestic violence. The National Housing Federation reported that the threat of these changes had already led to an 85% drop in new supported housing development.
I therefore welcome that, under pressure from the Opposition, the Prime Minister announced on Wednesday that the Government would not be capping supported housing costs at the local housing allowance rate.
I believe the Government should now adopt a system which safeguards the long-term future of supported housing. This should build on the recommendations of the Joint Report of the Communities and Local Government and Work and Pensions Select Committees. Amongst their recommendations, backed by many in the sector, is a new “supported housing allowance”. This would be set at a higher rate than the local housing allowance, and better reflect the costs of running supported housing.
The House of Commons unanimously approved the Opposition’s motion on Wednesday. After this unanimous backing, any new Government proposals must reflect the clearly expressed will of Parliament.
Leaving the EU: Parliamentary Vote (Urgent Question)
On Thursday, my colleague the Shadow Brexit Secretary asked for urgent clarification on the Government’s policy on giving Parliament a meaningful vote to agree the final withdrawal agreement with the European Union.
The previous day, while appearing in front of the Exiting the EU Select Committee, the Brexit Secretary said that Parliament may not get to vote on any withdrawal agreement with the EU until after the UK has left in March 2019.
This is directly contrary to assurances given by the Government earlier this year during the passage of the Article 50 legislation. Back then, the Government said that both Houses of Parliament would have a vote on the withdrawal deal before the European Parliament. Under Article 50, this would need to take place before we officially leave the EU.
It would be unacceptable in my view for the European Parliament to vote on the withdrawal deal before it is concluded but not the House of Commons. We need a cast-iron guarantee that this will not happen.
Instead of just having to accept the Brexit Secretary’s word, I believe the Government should accept amendments to its EU Withdrawal Bill to put a meaningful Parliamentary vote on the withdrawal agreement into law and ensure that everyone knows where they stand.
Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Backbench Business Debate)
On Thursday, the House of Commons debated the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and its implementation.
Over 45 million people are enslaved worldwide – through forced labour, forced marriage or forced sexual exploitation – with an estimated 13,000 in the UK.
The passage of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 was a breakthrough, providing leadership on a global scale. However, I fear that the Act has been left to go stale through a lack of enforcement and additional legislation, risking that it becomes less effective in the fight against this evil practice.
I am concerned, for example, that the Government has done nothing about the majority of companies yet to make a slavery and human trafficking statement under section 54 of the Act. Businesses should not be left to carry on and take no action. The Government should publish a list of those companies that need to produce a statement on their modern slavery policies.
A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published earlier this week, meanwhile, showed that, too often, policing against modern slavery is reactive rather than proactive. In my view, there is a real need to improve training for the police to help them better understand how to identify victims and support vulnerable people to ensure they are not placed in the hands of traffickers.
During the debate, the Minister announced a number of reforms to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the framework for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support. These reforms include the creation of a new, single unit in the Home Office to make decisions about whether someone is a victim of modern slavery, and the creation of an independent panel of experts to review all negative decisions. However, I continue to have a number of concerns with the NRM, including its lack of specialist support or accommodation for trafficked children. I hope the Government will work urgently to address this.
Modern slavery touches our lives whether we know it or not and is a scourge with historical roots. We must make sure that the support and protection we offer against it is robust, reliable and effective.
Global LGBT Rights (Backbench Business Debate)
On Thursday, there was a Backbench Business debate on global lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.
There has been great progress on LGBT rights over the past 25 years. Since 1990, 40 countries have decriminalised homosexuality and over 30 have outlawed homophobic hate crimes. As of 2015, over 60 countries legally protect LGBT people at work and over 15 recognise same-sex marriage. However, there is still a long way to go to improve the rights and equality of LGBT people in this country and across the world.
For example, in Azerbaijan in September, police detained 83 people in round-ups of gay and bisexual people and transgender women. In Egypt, the parliament is debating criminalising homosexuality, with a punishment of 15 years in prison. In Chechnya, the Government has been accused of abducting, torturing and killing approximately 100 gay men. In our country, meanwhile, LGBT people seeking refuge are treated like criminals. Having experienced abuse, torture and persecution in their country of origin, many are placed in detention.
Despite positive developments in most countries, including ours, there remains a lack of comprehensive policies to address rights violations against LGBT and intersex people.
At the June 2017 General Election, I stood on a manifesto that made a number of commitments on this issue, including reforming the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010 to protect trans people; providing ongoing training for all teachers to tackle bullying of LGBT pupils; and appointing a dedicated global ambassador for LGBT rights. I believe strongly in LGBT equality and will continue to fight for the rights of LGBT people.
|Last week in Parliament was a very highly charged and emotional time. I made two contributions to debate in the week, firstly on the Universal Credit role out (more on that below) and secondly on the “Dangerous Driving involving Death: Sentencing” debate in Westminster Hall. This was particularly emotive following the tragic death of four year old Violet-Grace Youens on Prescot Rd, St Helens in March as a result of a collision involving a stolen car driven at reckless speeds.
Whilst nothing we do after crimes such as this will ever bring back the victims of the crime or ease the pain for those they leave behind, the consequences for people who perpetrate these crimes should be such that there is not just the appearance of justice being served, but meaningful and appropriate sentencing. I thank my Labour colleague Kevin Brennan, for moving the motion following on from a similar incident in his constituency and so soon after the Government’s consultation on maximum sentences for particular driving offences, which is available to download here
Here is a link to the video recording of that debate http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/87297fee-7e36-4cec-8912-7aa4695d2505?in=16:01:02
I hope that you find the report on the rest of the weekly business below useful and informative.Kind regards
- Iran (Urgent Question)
- Vauxhall (Redundancies) (Urgent Question)
- Nuclear Safeguards Bill (Second Reading)
- International Investment (Government Statement)
- EU Exit Negotiations (Government Statement)
- The Rohingya and the Myanmar Government (Backbench Business Debate)
- Regulation of Property Agents (Government Statement)
- Universal Credit Roll-out (Opposition Day Debate)
- Grenfell Tower (Urgent Question)
- Tobacco Control Plan (Backbench Business Debate)
- Valproate and Foetal Anticonvulsant Syndrome (Backbench Business Debate)
Iran (Urgent Question)
On Monday, my colleague the Shadow Foreign Secretary asked the Government an urgent question on the future of the Iran nuclear deal following President Trump’s decision not to recertify it.
The deal is designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon by placing restrictions on its nuclear programme in exchange for the loosening of sanctions. President Trump’s decision means that the US Congress now has 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions on Iran.
I believe the nuclear deal with Iran is working and stands out as one of the most successful diplomatic achievements of the last decade. For it to be put in jeopardy is reckless and dangerous.
Disappointingly, the Foreign Secretary did not attend the House of Commons to respond to this urgent question. However, the Minister for the Middle East stated that the Government took note of the President’s decision and is concerned by the implications of it. The Minister also emphasised that the UK is still strongly committed to the deal.
The Foreign Secretary complacently stated of the deal seven months ago that it was “pretty clear that America supports it.” The Foreign Secretary was wrong. We need a Government capable of standing up to President Trump and we must reject the tearing up of international agreements for purely political reasons.
Vauxhall (Redundancies) (Urgent Question)
On Monday, the Industry Minister responded to an urgent question on Vauxhall. This followed an announcement from the car maker that from early next year it would be moving staff in its Ellesmere Port plant from two production shifts to one, resulting in 400 redundancies.
The Industry Minister stated that Vauxhall’s announcement was disappointing and that the Government was standing by to do all it could to support those affected. She said that the Government had been told that the company’s decision was due to a downturn in sales, particularly of Vauxhall’s Astra model. The Industry Minister further stated that the Government had consulted the company on its future in the UK and that it was doing all it could to support car manufacturers as they shift towards new types of vehicle.
Vauxhall was bought by French company PSA only a few months ago. At the time, I was concerned that the company’s UK plants and the 40,000 people employed in its wider supply chain could be at risk. However, the Government said it would do all it could to protect Vauxhall workers. It is therefore particularly worrying that we are now seeing potential job losses at the company.
The Government is reported to have offered assurances to specific car companies about their futures in the UK. However, simply making secretive bespoke deals with individual manufacturers is not an effective industrial strategy. I believe the Government must give Vauxhall and other car manufacturers a clear signal that it will support the automotive sector throughout the Brexit process.
Nuclear Safeguards Bill (Second Reading)
On Monday, the House of Commons considered the Nuclear Safeguards Bill. The Bill aims to ensure that when the UK is no longer a member of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), we will have in place a legal framework that meets our international obligations on the safeguarding of civil nuclear material.
The Business Secretary said on Monday that the Nuclear Safeguards Bill was a contingency measure. He stated that the Government wanted to see maximum continuity in the UK’s relationship with Euratom, but that this would depend on negotiations with Euratom. However, we have not yet left Euratom and it is not clear whether doing so is a necessary part of leaving the European Union. That we are considering this Bill at all is due to the Prime Minister’s reckless and ideological decision to include Euratom in her letter informing the European Commission of the UK’s intention to leave the EU.
Regardless of the reasons behind the Bill, I am also concerned at its limited scope. Safeguarding arrangements are only one part of what is at risk if the UK leaves Euratom, yet the Bill fails to address many of the key issues that the Government itself identified as important in its position paper on this issue. It is also worrying that the Bill gives the Government significant powers to amend the UK’s nuclear safeguarding procedures without Parliamentary approval.
I believe we should aim for continued participation in Euratom, or as close a relationship with it as possible. Nevertheless, if the worst comes to the worst and we do crash out of the organisation without an agreement, it is vital that we have a nuclear safeguarding regime in place. I therefore did not oppose the Nuclear Safeguards Bill on Monday. However, I hope to see substantial amendments to it as it proceeds through Parliament.
International Investment (Government Statement)
On Tuesday, the Business Secretary made a statement on international investment. This followed the publication of proposals to reform the UK’s scrutiny of foreign investment.
The Business Secretary said on Tuesday that the Government proposed to lower the threshold for Government intervention in mergers involving companies in the dual use and military sectors, as well as parts of the advanced technology sector. The Government is also consulting on proposals to broaden the range of transactions that it can review for security purposes and to introduce mandatory notification of foreign investment in parts of the economy that are critical for national security.
I welcome the Government’s proposals on scrutiny of foreign investment. However, in the last year, we have seen a number of mergers that call into question the adequacy of our merger regime to defend vital economic interests. I am concerned both that it has taken so long for the Government to come forward with these plans and that it is not clear how they would have helped in many of the mergers that have already taken place. The Government needs to make clear that it will take the further action that is desperately needed on this issue.
The Business Secretary also highlighted in his statement the announcement from Bombardier and Airbus of a joint venture involving the C-series aircraft. He stated that the announcement offered the potential to protect the interests of Bombardier’s workers in Belfast and throughout its UK supply chain.
I also welcome the partnership between Bombardier and Airbus. The pairing of two cutting edge product lines is exciting for the future of aerospace manufacturing. However, it should not be an excuse for the Government to do less to ensure that the unfair tariffs imposed on Bombardier in the United States are dropped.
EU Exit Negotiations (Government Statement)
On Tuesday, the Brexit Secretary gave MPs an update following the latest round of the UK’s exit negotiations with the European Union.
This was the last round of negotiations before the October meeting of the EU Council, which was expected to mark the conclusion of the first phase. However, the Government failed to hit this very important target, meaning continued uncertainty for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, no agreement on Northern Ireland, and deadlock on the financial settlement.
This is a serious failure. It means discussions about trade talks and our future relationship are delayed until December at the earliest, and the chances of us crashing out of the EU with no deal are raised. Every passing week without progress on transitional arrangements also makes things worse for businesses and puts investment in our economy at risk.
Both sides must redouble their efforts to break the impasse and ensure there is no delay in progressing to the main part of the negotiations. It has taken the Government months to get to this point and I am worried about its ability to deliver the Brexit deal our country needs to protect jobs, the economy and rights.
The Rohingya and the Myanmar Government (Backbench Business Debate)
On Tuesday, the House of Commons debated a Backbench motion on the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar.
Over half a million Rohingya refugees have fled their homes and crossed the border into Bangladesh amidst violence inflicted on civilians by the Myanmar military since August. Like many constituents, I have been horrified at reports of serious violations of human rights, including the rape and murder of children.
The House unanimously passed Tuesday’s motion, agreeing with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that the Myanmar Government’s treatment of the Rohingya amounts to a case of ethnic cleansing.
The UK has a special duty to Myanmar and Bangladesh due to our historic ties and I am pleased that the Department for International Development has committed to doubling all donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal up to £3 million.
It is vital that the Government press the Myanmar Government to allow full humanitarian access to Rakhine state and full, unhindered access for the UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission. It is also evident that the Government must now take a tougher line with the military of Myanmar. I believe Ministers should consider imposing personal sanctions against the military, promoting a UN-mandated international arms embargo along the lines of the EU’s and halting any investment in military-owned companies.
There needs to be a long-term and sustainable resolution of this situation and that must see all minorities in Myanmar being treated equally under the law and able to gain political representation.
Regulation of Property Agents (Government Statement)
On Wednesday, the Minister for Housing and Planning made a statement on the regulation of property agents.
The Government has launched a consultation on letting and management agents, which will run until 29 November 2017. In his statement, the Minister highlighted that the Government was seeking views on three key elements in particular: whether regulatory overhaul of the sector is needed; measures to protect consumers from unfair costs and overpriced service charges; and ways to give leaseholders more say over who their agent is.
The Government’s concern about the regulation of letting and management agents is welcome. However, in the face of a housing crisis getting worse by the day, I believe its announcement was feeble.
Managing and letting agents can set up with no expertise, no qualifications, no registration and no professional body membership. It is a market in which the reputation of the best is dragged down by the worst, and in which consumers too often face unfair upfront fees, restrictions on what they can do to their own homes and a system in which it proves impossible to get problems sorted out.
Rather than just asking whether renters and leaseholders need better protections, I believe Ministers should act to end the building of new leasehold homes, cap rises in ground rents, and introduce new consumer protections for private tenants including a control on rent rises, a ban on letting fees and new minimum standards.
Universal Credit Roll-out (Opposition Day Debate)
On Wednesday, the House of Commons debated an Opposition motion calling for the Government to pause the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) full service.
UC was first introduced in 2012, with the aim of simplifying the social security system and making work pay. While I support the original aims of UC, however, I am concerned that a number of serious design flaws with the system are pushing people into debt, rent arrears and even homelessness. For example, new claimants must wait six weeks before they receive any support, while one in four do not even receive support within this deadline. Furthermore, Government changes to the social security system have resulted in a net reduction of support for people with health conditions and disabilities. This cannot continue.
There is a growing body of evidence of the negative impact of UC. The National Housing Federation estimates around 80% of tenants on UC are in rent arrears, and the Trussell Trust has reported that referrals for emergency food parcels are significantly higher in UC areas. In addition, the Mayor of Greater Manchester has warned that rough sleeping is likely to double over the winter if the UC roll-out continues as planned, while analysis from the Child Poverty Action Group has concluded UC will push a million more children into poverty by 2020.
I believe we must work together to avert the disaster that will unfold if UC is rolled out without fixing its current design faults. The House of Commons unanimously approved the Opposition’s motion to pause the roll-out of UC. I believe this reflects the will of the House and the Government should now make clear how it will implement this decision and pause the roll-out.
Here is the link to the video of my speech http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/afc8f66c-ce05-40a5-a3ab-b9665bc636b4?in=15:32:00&out=15:37:45
Grenfell Tower (Urgent Question)
On Thursday, the Government was asked to make a statement on Grenfell Tower.
The terrible tragedy of Grenfell Tower was a national disaster. At such times, people look to the Government to lead and to act. The survivors, and the relatives of at least 80 people who lost their lives, deserve no less.
It is disappointing that more than four months after the fire, only 14 of more than 200 Grenfell families have new homes and fewer than one in ten of the country’s 4,000 other high-rise tower blocks has been tested by the Government.
The Communities Secretary repeated on Thursday that he will ensure that all councils have the support they need to carry out essential works. However, the Government has refused any central funds for essential fire safety work on other high-rise blocks.
I believe the Government should secure the extra homes that are needed for all the Grenfell families, provide the funds that are needed for urgent remedial work and to retrofit sprinklers, and set a deadline for testing every other tower block in the country to ensure they are safe for the people who live in them.
Tobacco Control Plan (Backbench Business Debate)
On Thursday, there was a Backbench Business debate in the House of Commons on the Government’s tobacco control plan.
The control of the sale and use of tobacco is an important public health matter not only for those individuals who use it but for all around them. After 18 months of delays, the Government published its updated plan for England on this issue in July. I welcome the plan, which sets out a bold ambition to achieve a smoke-free generation by 2022. However, I remain concerned that cuts to public health funding have meant that it has proven far more difficult for local authorities to provide the much-needed specialist support.
The King’s Fund has said that public health cuts will reach £800 million in the five years to 2021, and in 2017-18 alone local authority spending for tobacco control faces cuts of 30%. A study by the health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) also found that a growing number of local authorities no longer have a specialist stop smoking service.
I believe that cuts to public health grants are a false economy when it comes to seriously driving forward the agenda on public health, especially in relation to smoking. The new tobacco control plan can only be effective if the right level of funding is found to implement it and by ending cuts to public health budgets.
Valproate and Foetal Anticonvulsant Syndrome (Backbench Business Debate)
On Thursday, there was a Backbench Business debate on valproate and foetal anticonvulsant syndrome.
Valproate is an effective treatment for epilepsy, bipolar disorders and migraine, and doctors prescribe it because it is the best option for some women. However, taking the drug while pregnant can cause serious birth defects, and instructions for doctors say it should not be used during pregnancy unless there is no safer alternative and only after a careful discussion of the risks.
For far too long, women have been taking valproate entirely unaware of the severe impact it could have on their children. It is estimated that, since 1973, 7,000 children have been harmed by exposure to the drug.
Although there has been some movement on making women aware of the risks of the drug during pregnancy through the valproate toolkit, I believe the Government must continue to do more to raise awareness of the dangers of valproate. A survey published last month by epilepsy charities found that almost one-fifth of women taking the drug still don’t know the risks it can pose during pregnancy.
At the General Election I stood on a manifesto that committed to holding a full public inquiry into the wider history of pharmaceutical and medicine regulation, including valproate. This would ensure crucial lessons are learned from the experience of thousands of families.
I welcome calls for the Government to look into how it can compensate those families who have been so significantly affected. For more than 40 years, victims and families have been let down. The Government has a responsibility to right these wrongs and ensure that the scandal of sodium valproate misuse is never repeated.
|Last week Parliament re-convened following recess for conference season and below is the summary of business, which I hope you find useful and informative.
- Monarch Airlines (Government Statement)
- UK Plans for Leaving the EU (Government Statement)
- Gypsies and Travellers and Local Communities (General Debate)
- BAE Systems Military Air and Information Sites: Job Losses (Urgent Question)
- Race Disparity Audit (Government Statement)
- Bombardier (Government Statement)
- Government Policy on the Proceedings of the House (Emergency Debate)
- European Union (Approvals) Bill (Committee Stage and Third Reading)
- Baby Loss Awareness Week (General Debate)
- Higher Education Funding (Urgent Question)
- Finance Bill (Committee Stage)
- Prisons Policy/HMP Long Lartin (Urgent Question)
- Retail Energy (Government Statement)
- Clean Growth Strategy (Government Statement)
- Leaving the EU: Data Protection (General Debate)
Monarch Airlines (Government Statement)
On Monday, the Transport Secretary made a statement on Monarch Airlines.
Monarch Airlines entered administration and ceased trading on 2 October 2017. Since then, the Government and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have been overseeing the repatriation of 110,000 passengers. The collapse has resulted in the loss of almost 2,000 jobs.
The Transport Secretary said on Monday that the initial focus was on getting employees into new jobs and passengers returned to the UK. He stated that the repatriation operation was the largest of its kind ever undertaken and highlighted efforts to support former Monarch employees. He further stated that in the longer-term, the Government’s focus would be on enacting reforms to ensure the present situation could not repeat itself.
The Transport Secretary argued that Monarch’s situation should not be seen as a reflection on the general health of UK aviation. However, I believe the collapse must be viewed in the wider context of a competitive aviation sector, overcapacity problems, a loss of business because of terrorism and a lack of clarity from the Government on the future of British aviation after Brexit. I am also concerned that while Monarch collapsed because of a litany of failures overseen by the Government and the regulator, it is staff, customers, the taxpayer and pensioners who will pay the price.
I believe a full investigation should take place into the collapse. Serious questions need to be asked about the conduct and stewardship of all involved.
UK Plans for Leaving the EU (Government Statement)
On Monday, the Prime Minister updated the House of Commons on the Government’s plans for leaving the European Union following the speech she gave in Florence while Parliament was in recess.
The Prime Minister spoke about the Government’s assessment of its progress in the negotiations so far and her vision for future economic and security relationships between the UK and the EU. The Prime Minister also reiterated her ambition for a transitional period between us leaving the EU in 2019 and our future relationship.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister finally accepted the need for a transitional period in her Florence speech. However, it is still unclear what she envisages for this or how long it will last. The Prime Minister’s speech in Florence was meant to mark a breakthrough. Instead, it only confirmed the confusion within Government.
The negotiations between the UK and the EU are the most important in our recent history and vital to our economy. It is therefore staggering that, eight months on from triggering Article 50, the Government has made so little progress.
Gypsies and Travellers and Local Communities (General Debate)
On Monday, there was a general debate in the House of Commons on Gypsies and Travellers and local communities.
Gypsies and Travellers are among the most victimised, harassed and discriminated against groups in Britain, yet I believe the Government is doing too little to help.
In 2010, the then Labour Government legislated to protect Gypsies and Travellers from discrimination in the Equality Act. However, since then, the Government has failed to ensure that these groups have been properly protected or provided for.
In 2012, a Ministerial Working Group report included 28 commitments aimed at making mainstream services work more effectively with the Gypsy and Traveller communities. Yet a review in 2015 concluded that the life chances of Gypsies and Travellers had declined since 2010, while in 2016 the Government removed the legal requirement for local authorities to make a specific assessment of the housing needs of Gypsies and Travellers. In addition, the Government has not said how £60 million made available for Traveller sites under the Affordable Homes Programme has been spent or how many new sites have been allocated.
At the General Election, I stood on a manifesto that pledged to end racism and discrimination against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, and to protect the right to lead a nomadic way of life. I believe the Government must outline where the £60 million has gone from the affordable homes scheme and restore the requirement for local authorities to assess Gypsies’ and Travellers’ housing needs.
BAE Systems Military Air and Information Sites: Job Losses (Urgent Question)
On Tuesday, the Government was asked an urgent question following the news that BAE Systems plans to cut almost 2,000 jobs.
BAE Systems has announced that it is planning to cut up to 1,400 jobs in its military air and systems business, 375 in its maritime services division and 150 in its applied intelligence business.
The Business Minister said on Tuesday that the Government stood ready to support those affected and that it was reviewing what support it could offer BAE Systems. She also said the Government would do all it could to support the company’s future export opportunities.
The news from BAE Systems is disappointing and my thoughts are with those employees and their families who will have been hit hard by it. The loss of nearly 2,000 highly skilled jobs will be devastating for communities that have a proud history of defence manufacturing and there is a real risk that these skills could be lost forever.
BAE Systems has pointed to doubts over future orders as a reason for the job cuts. The Government must address the clear uncertainty that is felt by the industry and come forward with an urgent plan to save these jobs. I believe this should include the possibility of bringing forward orders to provide additional work for BAE Systems’ employees, such as replacing the Red Arrows’ fleet of Hawk aircraft that are approaching the end of their service life.
A vibrant defence industry is vital for the security of our country and brings immense economic benefits. This is no time for the Government to stand by and do nothing – proactive engagement with the industry could make a real difference to the workers concerned and to the future of our country’s defence industry.
Race Disparity Audit (Government Statement)
On Tuesday, the Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office made a statement on the publication of the Government’s race disparity audit.
The race disparity audit aims to assess differences between ethnic groups, and to identify effective strategies to reduce disparities. It highlighted inequalities across society, including that Asian and black households are most likely to be in persistent poverty and that the proportion of defendants who were remanded in custody was highest for black defendants, and particularly for black males. These figures illustrate the shocking levels of inequality across the UK.
The Cabinet Office Secretary said on Tuesday that the Government would take action to address the ethnic disparities highlighted by the audit. However, I am concerned at how long the Prime Minister sat on the report, despite persistent pressure from the Opposition to publish it three months ago. I also do not believe we should ignore that the Government’s own actions have contributed to some of the injustices facing our country.
This report is not enough. There is value in putting all the data on race disparity together in one place, but what matters most is what the Government does about it. I believe we need solutions and a sustained effort to really tackle the burning injustices evident in our society. The Government should reintroduce race equality audits and impact assessments, and implement its responsibilities under the public sector equalities duty.
Bombardier (Government Statement)
On Tuesday, the Business Secretary made a statement updating the House of Commons on the trade dispute brought by Boeing against Bombardier.
Bombardier is a Canadian aerospace company which employs 4,200 workers in Northern Ireland. Following a complaint by Boeing, the US Department of Commerce made provisional judgements to impose tariffs of 220% and 80% on Bombardier in relation to alleged subsidies and mis-selling into the US market. A final ruling in the investigation is due in February and would be subject to further appeal if the complaint were upheld.
The Business Secretary stated on Tuesday that the Government considered Boeing’s action to be completely unjustified. He said the Government was working closely with Canada and that Ministers had met with US counterparts and Boeing to encourage the American firm to drop its complaint.
The Business Secretary emphasised that the Government was working to bring the Bombardier case to a satisfactory resolution. However, I am deeply disappointed at the Government’s apparent lack of action so far. The Department of Commerce’s decision could have a catastrophic impact on Bombardier’s Belfast staff, as well as the thousands more employed in its supply chain throughout the UK. Yet despite the Ministry of Defence having contracts with Boeing totalling £4.5 billion, the Government seems reluctant to use this leverage to protect jobs in Northern Ireland.
I am concerned that the Government’s desire for a trade deal with the US is leading it to wash its hands of this issue. Politics should not be put ahead of the welfare of workers in Northern Ireland and all those in the UK who depend on Bombardier Belfast.
Government Policy on the Proceedings of the House (Emergency Debate)
On Tuesday, there was an emergency debate on the Government’s policy towards proceedings of the House of Commons.
In September, two Opposition Day motions – on public sector pay and student tuition fees – were debated in the House of Commons. During the debates, Government Ministers spoke against these motions. However, at the close of the debates, the Government did not oppose the motions, which therefore passed unanimously. Tuesday’s debate raised concerns that it was now the Government’s policy to do this for future Opposition Day debates and to ignore the decisions reached by the House on these motions.
Between January 1978 and September 2017 there was only one Government defeat on an Opposition motion. The Government’s policy changed the next day to reflect the clearly expressed will of the House of Commons. In contrast, following September’s debate on tuition fees, the Government disregarded the House’s clearly expressed will not to increase student tuition fees beyond £9,000.
The Leader of the House said on Tuesday that Parliamentary procedure is of vital importance to our democracy and that the Government takes it very seriously. However, it is a constitutional convention that the Government enacts decisions of Parliament. I find it deeply worrying that the Government appears to have decided to overturn this important constitutional convention. The Leader and Speaker of the House of Commons must act to resolve this issue.
European Union (Approvals) Bill (Committee Stage and Third Reading)
On Tuesday, the House of Commons considered the European Union (Approvals) Bill, which approves four draft decisions of the Council of the European Union.
The first two decisions will enable two countries, Albania and Serbia, to attain observer status at the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). The FRA advises EU institutions and national governments on fundamental rights, including in relation to discrimination, access to justice, racism and xenophobia. It is welcome that Serbia and Albania will take part in the FRA, particularly given the recent history of those two countries. I therefore support these decisions.
The third and fourth decisions enable the conclusion of an agreement between the EU and Canada on competition enforcement. The agreement will allow the European Commission and the Canadian Competition Bureau to exchange information they receive during competition investigations. As the current trade dispute between Boeing and Bombardier highlights, co-operation between the UK, Canada and the EU over competition has never been more important. I therefore also support the approval of these two decisions.
While the relationship the UK will enjoy with the FRA and any transitional arrangements relating to the cooperation agreement with Canada following Brexit remain unclear, I believe it is important that the UK continues to fulfil its duties as a member state while it remains in the EU. I therefore did not oppose the Bill, which passed Third Reading without a vote and will now proceed to the House of Lords.
Baby Loss Awareness Week (General Debate)
On Tuesday, there was a general debate in the House of Commons on Baby Loss Awareness Week, which this year takes place from Monday 9 October to Sunday 15 October 2017. This important event is crucial in helping to raise awareness of the work of the 40 baby loss charities and the support networks for bereaved parents and their families and friends.
NHS England offers some of the best neonatal care in the world, along with some exemplary psychological and bereavement support services. However, these services are not equally available to everyone. Last year there was a reported 25% variation in stillbirth rates across England. There is also huge variation in the amount of bereavement training provided to midwives and some maternity hospitals do not have bereavement suites.
I support the Government’s commitment to reducing the rate of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and brain injuries that occur during or soon after birth by 50% by 2030. Indeed, at the General Election I stood on a manifesto which pledged action to significantly reduce infant deaths and to ensure all families who lose a baby receive appropriate bereavement support.
Higher Education Funding (Urgent Question)
On Wednesday, the Shadow Education Secretary asked an urgent question about higher education funding.
The Government announced earlier this month that it is maintaining tuition fees at their current level for the 2018-19 academic year. This means that the maximum level of tuition fees will be £9,250 for the next academic year. It also pledged to increase the repayment threshold for student loans from its current level of £21,000 to £25,000 for the 2018-19 financial year. Thereafter, the Government has pledged to adjust the threshold annually in line with average earnings.
While these measures are welcome in principle, and I have been calling for months for an end to further fee rises and an increase in the repayment threshold on graduate debt, there are serious questions that still need to be addressed on the detail of these policies and the impact they will have on the public finances. The Government has also not made clear the details of a review of higher education funding and student finance that the Prime Minister has committed to.
It is welcome that the Government has frozen fees for one year, but this is simply because it does not have a majority in the House of Commons for any further rise. Last month the House voted against increasing fees to £9,250 a year. I believe it is vital that the Government accepts the will of Parliament and informs the House when it will revoke this rise too.
Finance Bill (Committee Stage)
On Wednesday, the Finance Bill was considered line-by-line in a Committee of the whole House.
The Bill would give the Government the power to reduce the tax-free amount available for redundancy payments. It is clear to me that the Government is laying the ground so that workers who have already lost their jobs should pay tax on more of what they get. I voted for an amendment that would have allowed the Government only to increase, rather than decrease the tax-free threshold. I also voted for an amendment that aimed to remove the power for the Treasury to amend the meaning of “basic pay” for the purposes of calculating “post-employment notice pay.” In addition, I supported an amendment to make it clear that victims of discrimination should not have compensation for harm taxed as if it were earnings. I was disappointed that all three amendments were defeated by Government MPs.
The Bill would loosen the rules on business investment relief, increasing the scope for non-doms to avoid tax when they bring funds into the UK. This is a straightforward giveaway to non-doms, which I oppose. I voted for an amendment that would have required HMRC to carry out a review of the conditions under which business investment relief is available, including estimates of the value of the reliefs (before and after the changes proposed in this Bill) and an analysis of those using the relief, including their domicile status.
I was disappointed that the amendment was not successful. Until the Government agrees at least to review the operation of the relief, I will remain unpersuaded that its extension does anything other than offer yet another concession to non-doms and provide even greater scope for tax advisers to indicate how UK taxes can be avoided.
The corporation tax rate is devolved to Northern Ireland and the Finance Bill is being used to introduce measures which will expand the scope for businesses to be established there and claim the lower rate. I am concerned that this measure will lead to “brass-plating”- where companies set up token offices in a place to take advantage of lower tax. I voted for an amendment to the Bill that called on the Government to review the measure as soon as is practicable after the first financial year in which it has been fully in force. I was disappointed that the Government opposed and defeated this amendment as the measure will encourage tax avoidance in Northern Ireland and do little to deliver the jobs and investment it so desperately needs.
As the Finance Bill progresses I will work to remove the loopholes that still exist in the Bill, to toughen measures against aggressive tax avoidance and to prevent the burden being placed on some of the biggest casualties of austerity: those workers who have been made redundant. I hope that the Government will listen in the interests of the British economy.
Prisons Policy/HMP Long Lartin (Urgent Question)
On Thursday, the Justice Minister responded to an urgent question on prisons policy and events at HMP Long Lartin.
Overnight, there had been reports of a disturbance at HMP Long Lartin, a high-security prison in Worcestershire housing some of our most dangerous offenders. This incident remained contained to one wing of the prison, and involved 81 prisoners. It was resolved with no injury to staff or prisoners.
The Minister said on Thursday that there would be an investigation into this incident. He stated that it would take a number of weeks to ensure that intelligence is properly examined, and to learn lessons to prevent further disturbances.
I believe the disturbance at HMP Long Lartin marks another low point in this Government’s prisons policy. There have been many other such disturbances in recent months, but it is particularly concerning to see one in a high-security prison containing dangerous offenders.
Seven in ten of our prisons are now over-crowded, and one in three has lost frontline staff in this year alone. Meanwhile, the head of the prison service has ruled out any prison closures over the next five years, effectively shelving the Government’s manifesto promise to shut down dilapidated prisons. I believe the Government must now consider the impact its cuts to the prison service have had on prison safety.
Retail Energy (Government Statement)
On Thursday, the Business Secretary made a statement about the Government’s draft Energy Price Cap Bill.
The draft Energy Price Cap Bill provides for a price cap for domestic energy customers on standard variable tariffs and default tariffs. The Business Secretary said on Thursday that the cap would be set by the energy regulator, Ofgem, and would be temporary, initially lasting until 2020, with the potential for a three year extension if necessary.
I have long supported an energy price cap. However, this legislation is too little, too late and will not protect the most vulnerable customers this winter. Members on both sides of the House of Commons have been pushing for months for action on this issue, yet owing to the Government’s delays, millions of households will now face another winter of cold homes or astronomical bills.
I am also concerned that the Bill does not provide clarity on the parameters of the proposed cap, but instead passes much of the responsibility to Ofgem. Furthermore, the Business Secretary needs to provide greater detail of how and when he will reform the energy market. A price cap, while welcome, is only a sticking plaster until radical reform of the market takes place.
I believe the price cap legislation the Government has introduced is wholly inadequate. We should introduce an immediate emergency price cap to ensure that the average dual-fuel household energy bill remains below £1,000 per year, while we transition to a fairer system for bill payers.
Clean Growth Strategy (Government Statement)
On Thursday, the Minister for Climate Change and Industry made a statement to the House of Commons on the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy. The strategy sets out the Government’s policies and proposals to meet the carbon emissions reduction targets set out in its carbon budgets.
I welcome the publication, after many delays, of the Clean Growth Strategy and support many of the policies it contains. I welcome, for example, the commitment to further rounds of offshore wind to assist with decarbonisation of the energy sector, as well as the possibility of renewed development of onshore wind.
However, I am concerned that overall, the strategy fails to achieve the aim of setting out policies that will enable us to meet our emissions reduction targets. Even with the new measures set out in the Clean Growth Strategy, it is estimated that the UK will miss its carbon emissions reduction targets by 6% for 2023-7 and 9.7% for 2028-32. The Government needs to clarify what additional measures will be necessary to rectify this deficit.
At the General Election, I stood on a manifesto that committed to generating 60% of all the UK’s energy from renewable and low-carbon sources by 2030. Achieving this would by itself ensure that we meet our carbon budget for 2028-32. I therefore believe the Government should endorse this target and work to bring it about.
Leaving the EU: Data Protection (General Debate)
On Thursday, there was a general debate in the House of Commons on leaving the European Union and data protection.
Three quarters of the UK’s cross-border data flows are with other EU countries. These data flows are essential for UK trade. With the EU, the UK has created one of the world’s leading regimes for data transfer, which has allowed our technology sector to flourish. I believe it would be a disaster if any mishandling of the Brexit negotiations imperilled this achievement.
The Digital Minister stated on Thursday that the Government wishes to ensure that after Brexit, the free flow of data between countries, with that data held securely and privacy respected, can continue. He highlighted the Government’s Data Protection Bill, which aims to update the UK’s data protection framework and ensure that it is in line with EU data protection rules at the point of Brexit.
I support the main principles of the Data Protection Bill. However, I am concerned that it contains a number of shortcomings. For example, the Bill does not set out fully how the Government will deliver the continued unhindered flow of data after Brexit. I am also concerned that it does not do enough to prevent the use of children as data assets.
It is vital that we get the Data Protection Bill right in order to allow people to benefit as much as possible from the new digital services being created all the time. I therefore hope that the Government will be able to rectify some of the inadequacies the Bill currently contains as it goes through Parliament.
|Parliament has now resumed after the summer recess and, after the first week’s business, here is a report on the main issues of the week. I hope you find it useful and of interest.
- Violence in Rakhine State (Urgent Question)
- EU Exit Negotiations (Government Statement)
- Grenfell Tower and Building Safety (Government Statement)
- Korean Peninsula (Government Statement)
- Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill (Committee Stage and Third Reading)
- Free Childcare Entitlement (Urgent Question)
- National Shipbuilding Strategy (Government Statement)
- Ways and Means (Government Motions)
- Hurricane Irma (Government Statement)
- European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Second Reading, Day 1)
Violence in Rakhine State (Urgent Question)
On Tuesday, the Minister for Asia and the Pacific responded to an urgent question on the recent violence in Rakhine, Myanmar.
Following attacks by Rohingya insurgents in late August this year, Myanmar’s military has been engaged in persistent violent clashes resulting in civilian deaths and a worsening humanitarian situation. According to the UN, 125,000 refugees have fled the conflict to neighbouring Bangladesh and are living in terrible conditions.
I believe the Government must do more than express disappointment at this situation – it must ensure it is doing everything it can to bring this senseless violence to an end. The Government should set clear and unambiguous red lines for Myanmar’s authorities – civilian and military – when it comes to respecting human rights. As well as a complete end to all further violence and burning of villages, we also need to ensure that the thousands of people who have already lost their homes urgently receive the food, water and medicine they need.
Once a cessation of violence and humanitarian access has been achieved, the work of building a lasting peace must begin. This should include a recognition of the rights and freedoms of the Rohingya people, who have faced years of persecution in Myanmar, and an end to restrictions on their movement.
Britain and the rest of the world community must stand ready to support that process, but it will first rely on the civilian and military authorities in Myanmar living up to their responsibilities within a modern democratic government. As a long-standing, critical friend, we should expect and demand nothing less.
EU Exit Negotiations (Government Statement)
On Tuesday, the Brexit Secretary gave an update to MPs on the two rounds of EU exit negotiations that took place in July and August.
Brexit negotiations are currently in the first of two phases, focusing on the rights of citizens, Northern Ireland, the financial settlement and other technical separation issues. Only when sufficient progress has been made in this phase will negotiations move on to the second phase covering the future relationship between the UK and the EU. The Brexit Secretary noted a number of areas where progress had been made in the first phase of negotiations but acknowledged that more is needed.
There have now been three of five negotiation rounds in this first phase and I would expect agreement to be emerging on the key issues. However, rather than coming closer together, the Government and the EU appear to be getting further apart. I am becoming increasingly concerned at the slow progress.
I accept that the negotiations are complex and difficult, but substantive progress and clear outcomes are urgently needed. The Government must ensure that it achieves this at the next negotiation round. If the second phase of negotiations is pushed back, I fear that the risk of no deal being reached by March 2019 increases, which would be the worst possible outcome for Britain.
Grenfell Tower and Building Safety (Government Statement)
On Tuesday, the Government made a statement on Grenfell Tower and building safety.
The fire at Grenfell Tower must mark a change in our country on housing, so that such a tragedy can never happen again.
I believe the Government has three overriding responsibilities: first, to ensure that everyone from Grenfell affected has the help and the rehousing they need; secondly, to reassure everyone living in other tower blocks across the country that their homes are safe, or that work will be done to make them safe; and thirdly, to learn the lessons from Grenfell Tower in full.
It is disappointing that 12 weeks on from the fire only 29 households out of 196 have been rehoused, and Ministers still cannot answer how many of the country’s 4,000 tower blocks are safe. The Government’s system of fire safety checks on tower blocks is not fit for purpose; the testing programme is too slow, too narrow and too confused to do the job that is needed.
I welcome the publication of the terms of reference for the Grenfell Tower public inquiry and the independent review of building regulations. However, the regulations review fails to recognise the recommendations accepted by the Government in 2013 after the deaths in high-rise fires at Lakanal House and Shirley Towers. The public inquiry also fails to address the wider questions on social housing policy, an issue the Grenfell residents and survivors want examined.
I believe a hard look at social housing policy is essential to a full understanding of this terrible tragedy and to making sure it never happens again.
Korean Peninsula (Government Statement)
On Tuesday, the Foreign Secretary made a statement on the situation on the Korean peninsula.
Over the parliamentary recess North Korea conducted three missile tests, including one that flew over Japan, and threatened to launch missiles at the US Pacific territory of Guam. Last week, the country tested the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated under the regime, triggering an earthquake ten times more powerful than the one created by the last detonation. North Korea claims that this was a hydrogen bomb capable of being delivered on an intercontinental nuclear missile.
The Foreign Secretary condemned North Korea’s actions and informed the House of Commons that the North Korean ambassador had been summoned to the Foreign Office. He also called on China, which accounts for 90% of North Korea’s overseas trade, to use the leverage it has to ensure a peaceful settlement to this crisis.
In response to the country’s continuing missile tests, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted the toughest sanctions ever imposed on North Korea on 5 August, banning exports of coal, seafood, iron ore and lead. The Foreign Secretary emphasised that, if fully implemented, these measures would cost North Korea around $1 billion and reduce the country’s resources for nuclear weapons. However, sanctions agreed in November 2016 are still only in the early stages of being enforced, so I believe it is important that these new sanctions are implemented quickly and effectively, and given time to work.
I unreservedly condemn North Korea for its flagrant breaches of international law. Britain should be a voice of calm and reason on the world stage and I believe the only sensible options in this situation are dialogue and diplomacy. This should include a deliberate de-escalation of rhetoric and actions, the proper enforcement of new sanctions, and the restarting of the six-party talks to seek a new and lasting settlement.
Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill (Committee Stage and Third Reading)
On Tuesday, the House of Commons considered the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill. The Bill aims to boost investment in fibre broadband infrastructure and future 5G development by providing 100% business rates relief for five years for new full-fibre networks installed after April 2017.
If the UK is to have the type of economy that we want, we must make a concerted effort to deliver high-speed broadband to every community in the country. I therefore broadly support the Bill. However, I also have some concerns over how the business rates relief will be delivered and what impact it will have.
While big data providers such as Virgin and BT will be the initial beneficiaries of the scheme, it is hoped that smaller providers will also benefit and I believe we need more detail about how the scheme will achieve this. I would have liked the Bill to include a requirement for the Government to assess the operation of the relief in its first year, which would have enabled the Government to change the scheme if it were not working. I am also slightly disappointed that the Bill does not address the divide between urban and rural areas in relation to broadband, as this is a problem in the constituency.
Nevertheless, I welcome the Bill overall and believe it is an important step towards securing better broadband connectivity and access.
Free Childcare Entitlement (Urgent Question)
On Wednesday, there was an urgent question on the implementation of free childcare entitlements.
On 1 September 2017, the provision of 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds went live in England. Parents will now rightly expect to use their new childcare allowance this month. However, this was a policy shrouded in secrecy, misinformation and disorder, and I believe there are clear reasons for concern.
To receive this childcare, parents were encouraged to apply for an eligibility code before the deadline of midnight on 31 August 2017. However, I am concerned that only around 200,000 of the 390,000 eligible parents have applied. I am also worried about the number of children who have not secured a funded place.
I am further concerned that research by the Pre-School Learning Alliance suggests that 38% of nurseries could go out of business in the next financial year due to lack of funding from Government. In order to stay viable, early years settings will need to charge for extras such as trips out, nappies and lunches in order to pay their staff and keep the lights on. I believe the Government must guarantee that it will not allow a two-tier system to emerge, whereby parents who cannot afford to pay the extras do not have access to the policy and those who can do.
The Education Minister said on Wednesday that the Government would closely monitor delivery of all free childcare entitlements and that those parents who are eligible and who applied before the deadline would have a code to allow them to access 30 hours of free childcare. However, I remain concerned that the implementation of this policy will have a negative financial impact on providers and risks pricing out the poorest. I believe the Government must now listen and commit to re-evaluating the policy’s funding.
National Shipbuilding Strategy (Government Statement)
On Wednesday, the Defence Secretary made a statement on the National Shipbuilding Strategy. This included plans for the first batch of £250 million Type 31e frigates.
I welcome the publication of the strategy and the commitment to the long-term future for our shipbuilding industry. However, as well as investing in our naval fleet I believe we must also invest in the men and women who serve in our Royal Navy.
I am concerned that despite warnings over many years, our navy is facing a crisis in recruitment and retention. The Government is on course to miss its own target for the size of the navy and we simply do not have enough sailors to crew our naval fleet.
Experienced personnel are leaving because of dissatisfaction with pay and conditions. If the Government was serious about properly resourcing the Royal Navy it would lift the public sector pay cap and pay our servicemen and women properly.
More widely, I believe the Government’s commitment to a shipbuilding strategy must be complemented by a comprehensive industrial strategy. The strategy rightly focuses on the export opportunities for UK shipbuilding, and orders from overseas will be important in ensuring steady work for shipyards across the UK.
Ways and Means (Government Motions)
On Wednesday, the House of Commons considered Ways and Means motions which contained tax measures to form the basis for a new Finance Bill. Forty-eight motions were debated, each of which covered a different aspect of tax or financial policy. Generally, the measures had previously been introduced by the Government, and then withdrawn because of the General Election.
I was disappointed that there was nothing proposed to help investment, productivity or public services. I also felt the measures on tax avoidance were not strong enough, including on the tax advantages of “non-doms.” On the whole, I believe this was a missed opportunity.
There are 10,000 fewer HMRC staff than in 2010 and there was no commitment from the Government on Wednesday to properly resource the organisation so that it can enforce tax rules. I am also worried that there will not be enough support for businesses from HMRC if the Government goes ahead with its Making Tax Digital plans.
There were votes on three of the motions: on termination payments, business investment relief, and trading profits taxable at the Northern Ireland rate. I voted against each of them. I am concerned that the measure on termination payments may result in downward pressure on the compensation received by people losing their jobs. The plan to loosen the rules on business investment relief will in my view allow greater scope for avoiding taxes. The attempt to relax the rules around Northern Ireland trading profits will encourage tax avoidance in Northern Ireland and do little to deliver the jobs and investment it so desperately needs.
I do not believe any of the motions debated on Wednesday will provide the bold and radical solutions needed to stimulate growth, raise productivity and encourage investment in our economy.
Nevertheless, all of the motions passed, and the Finance Bill will now progress. The Second Reading debate is due to take place next week – I believe that this process is too rushed and that the Government is not allowing MPs enough time to scrutinise its proposals.
Hurricane Irma (Government Statement)
On Thursday, the Minister for the Americas made a statement on Hurricane Irma, a category five hurricane which is having a devastating effect in the Caribbean.
Hurricane Irma has hit four British overseas territories – Anguilla, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands – as well as Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guadeloupe and St Martin. The devastation that the hurricane has wreaked is terrible, with reports of several deaths.
The Minister stated on Thursday that officials in the UK and the British overseas territories had been working to assess the needs of the territories affected and to co-ordinate a cross-Government response. He said that the Royal Naval ship RFA Mounts Bay was already in the Caribbean and would reach the affected territories later that day to help respond to the disaster. The Minister also said that the Government’s emergency committee COBRA would meet that afternoon to discuss the relief and reconstruction effort.
I express my deepest sympathies to those whose lives and livelihoods have been lost to the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma. The damage for those who live in the region will be both profound and lasting. It is important that the UK stands ready to provide a sustained commitment to longer-term reconstruction, as well as immediate humanitarian relief and consular assistance for any UK nationals affected.
The Minister promised to keep the House of Commons updated on the situation and its efforts to help those affected.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (Second Reading, Day 1)
On Thursday, the Government’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill, also known as the “Repeal Bill”, was debated in the House of Commons for the first time.
This Bill is not about whether Britain leaves the EU – it is about how we leave the EU, what role Parliament has in that process and how we safeguard vital rights and protections as we leave.
I believe Brexit must not lead to any drop in rights and protections and that power should be brought back to Parliament and local communities. Unfortunately, the Government’s Bill would do the precise opposite. It would put huge and unaccountable power into the hands of Government Ministers, side-line Parliament on major decisions and put crucial rights and protections at risk. It would also undermine and introduce restrictions on devolved administrations rather than leading to the wider devolution of power we need to see.
As currently drafted, this Bill is flawed and needs to be repaired. It would cause lasting damage to the role and power of Parliament and it would do nothing to help deliver the Brexit deal that we need – one that puts jobs and the economy first and maintains rights and protections.
I therefore do not believe that I can support this Bill when it returns for a vote in the House of Commons on Monday at the conclusion of its Second Reading debate.
Please find below the summary of last weeks business at Westminster. Apologies for the lateness in sending it, but I hope you find it of interest.
Summary of this week in the House of Commons:
- G20 (Government Statement)
- Export Licensing: High Court Judgement (Government Statement)
- Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill (Second Reading)
- Taylor Review: Working Practices (Government Statement)
- Contaminated Blood (Emergency Debate)
- Air Travel Organisers’ Licencing Bill (Committee Stage and Third Reading)
- Humanitarian Situation in Mosul (Government Statement)
- Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry (General Debate)
- Counter-Daesh Update (Government Statement)
G20 (Government Statement)
On Monday, the Prime Minister made a statement following her attendance at a meeting of the G20 in Hamburg, Germany. The summit covered a variety of issues, including terrorism, trade, climate change, and international development.The Prime Minister reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on development assistance and pressed other G20 leaders on tackling modern slavery supply chains. She also reiterated the UK’s commitment to the Paris climate change agreement.The Paris agreement is a vital step towards preventing the world reaching a point of no return and I believe the US President’s attempt to pull out of it is both reckless and dangerous. However, where other world leaders have been unequivocal with the President, it seems the Prime Minister has not. The Prime Minister should be prepared to talk up values of international co-operation and condemn attempts to undermine co-operation on climate change.Keeping Britain global is one of our country’s most urgent tasks and I believe we need a new approach to foreign policy and global co-operation. Amid the uncertainty of Brexit, tensions between the Gulf states, nuclear sabre-rattling in North Korea, refugees continuing to flee war and destruction, cross-border terrorism and the impact of climate change, we need strength, not weakness. At a pivotal moment for our country and the world, however, I fear the current Government has run out of steam.Export Licensing: High Court Judgement (Government Statement)
On Monday, the International Trade Secretary made a statement on a High Court judgement on arms export licensing. This followed the court’s dismissal of a claim for a judicial review of decisions on arms exports to Saudi Arabia. The central issue in the claim was that there was a clear risk that defence exports to Saudi Arabia might be used in serious violation of international humanitarian law in Yemen.
The International Trade Secretary welcomed the court’s judgement. He stated that it recognised the rigorous and robust processes that the Government has in place to ensure that UK defence exports are licensed in line with EU and UK arms licensing criteria. He noted in particular the court’s judgement that it was rational for the Government to conclude that there was no clear risk that Saudi Arabia might use British arms in serious violation of international humanitarian law.
However, while the court ruled that the Government’s decision on arms exports to Saudi Arabia were rational on the basis of the procedures it adopted and the evidence available to it, if these procedures and evidence were insufficient or misleading, the decision itself could be deeply flawed. I am further concerned that the court’s judgement was based on evidence brought forward only in closed hearing. The war in Yemen is a humanitarian tragedy and the Government must not treat Monday’s judgement as a green light to continue pushing for a military solution in the country.
I believe that on arms exports the UK must be seen to adopt the highest ethical standards and controls. The Government must be certain that there is no risk that Saudi Arabia might use UK arms in Yemen in a way that violates our obligations under international humanitarian law.
Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill (Second Reading)
On Monday, the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill was read for the second time in the House of Commons.
The Bill aims to provide 100% business rates relief for the installation of new optical fibre for a period of five years. The purpose of this relief is to support direct investment in new broadband infrastructure and 5G communication for business and homes.
The Minister for Digital stated on Monday that the Bill is part of a suite of actions the Government is taking to boost Britain’s fibre, break down barriers to better broadband for business and get quicker connectivity for consumers.
I support the measures in the Bill that encourage the provision of faster and more reliable broadband connectivity for the public and for business. However, I am concerned that the reforms may benefit big business without offering support for smaller firms. More widely I am concerned that the Bill does not contain any meaningful commitments on expanding the UK’s superfast broadband in our rural areas.
I believe that the country needs fresh ideas to meet the emerging challenges of the new century. However, I am concerned that this Bill lacks the comprehensive and compelling legislative framework required to support all businesses and local authorities on business rates. I believe the Government should work constructively with others to ensure that Britain’s infrastructure is kept as up-to-date as possible.
I cautiously welcome this Bill, which passed Second Reading on Monday without a vote. The Bill will now be considered in a Committee of the whole House.
Taylor Review: Working Practices (Government Statement)
On Tuesday, the Business Minister made a statement to the House of Commons on an independent review of modern working practices. This followed the publication of the review, which the Prime Minister asked Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts, to carry out last year.
The Taylor review set out seven principles to make work in the UK fair and decent. These included that there should be greater distinction between platform-based “dependent contractors” and those who are fully self-employed; that there should be additional protections for that group; and that the best way to achieve better work is through good corporate governance, good management and strong employment relations. The Business Minister stated that the Government might not accept every recommendation, but would consider the report and respond fully by the end of the year.
The publication of the Taylor review was a real opportunity to overhaul the employment system to protect workers in a changing world. Unfortunately, while I agree with the sentiment of the report in many areas, I believe it misses many opportunities to clamp down on exploitation in the workplace. For example, I am concerned that the Government could interpret the report’s references to so-called dependent contractors to allow it to row back on recent legal victories for gig economy workers. I am also concerned that the review does little to strengthen the enforcement of existing rights.
At the recent election, I stood on a manifesto that promised to give all workers equal rights from day one; to strengthen the enforcement of those rights; to abolish employment tribunal fees; and to fine employers who breach labour market rights and regulations. If the Government was truly committed to strengthening workers’ rights, it would implement these measures.
Contaminated Blood (Emergency Debate)
On Tuesday, there was an Emergency Debate in the House of Commons on the contaminated blood scandal.
It is more than 45 years since the first people were infected with HIV, hepatitis C and other viruses from NHS-supplied blood products. Their lives, and those of their families, were changed forever by this tragedy. The latest estimates suggest that the scandal has taken the lives of at least 2,400 people.
There are a number of recent allegations about the conduct of public officials and the treatment of the victims, which need to be fully and transparently addressed. The victims and their families have suffered for too long and the Government should provide every possible support to them in their quest for truth.
On Tuesday, the Government confirmed that it would call an inquiry into the scandal. The Minister for Health said the Government would engage with affected groups and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Contaminated Blood before deciding on the style, scope and duration of the inquiry.
I support a full, Hillsborough-style public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal. I believe it should deliver full disclosure of documents relating to the disaster, through a process managed by the victims, and should compel parties involved in the scandal to participate fully.
Air Travel Organisers’ Licencing Bill (Committee Stage and Third Reading)
On Tuesday, the House of Commons considered the Air Travel Organisers’ Licencing Bill.
The Bill aims to modernise ATOL, the consumer protection scheme for package holidays that include a flight. It intends to enable UK businesses to trade across Europe more easily, and to ensure that consumers are protected whether they book their holiday online or on the high street. The aims of this Bill enjoy cross party support. I do however, have some concerns about the impact of some of its provisions.
I believe we need more clarity on how UK consumers will be protected by EU-based companies selling in the UK, as they will no longer be subject to ATOL but to member state equivalents. I therefore supported an amendment which would have required the Government to publish a review on the impact of the Bill on UK consumers using EU-based companies. I was disappointed that the Government voted against this clause and it was defeated.
I am also concerned by proposed new powers outlined in the Bill which will allow the Government to make several changes to the Air Travel Trust, the legal vehicle that holds the money that is used to refund consumers under ATOL protections. I supported an amendment which would have required the Government to undertake a full review and public consultation, before introducing any of these changes. Unfortunately, the Government opposed this amendment and it was defeated.
I also supported a new clause which would have required the Government to report regularly on the effect of Brexit on consumer protection under the ATOL scheme. Again, this amendment was voted down by the Government.
While I continue to have concerns about some parts of the Bill, I support it overall, because it brings ATOL up to date and extends protections to many more holidaymakers. The Bill passed Third Reading without a vote and will now transfer to the Lords for further consideration.
Humanitarian Situation in Mosul (Government Statement)
On Wednesday, the Secretary of State for International Development made a statement to the House of Commons on the humanitarian situation in Mosul. This followed the Iraqi Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday that the city had been liberated from Daesh.
Almost 50,000 homes in Mosul have been destroyed and over 700,000 people are displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance. The Secretary of State stated on Wednesday that after winning the battle for Mosul, it is important to win the peace. She confirmed that the UK would provide £40 million of humanitarian funding this year, taking the UK’s total commitment to Iraq since 2014 to £209 million. This funding will help to provide shelter, food and medical support to displaced people, as well as protection services for the most vulnerable. The Secretary of State also said that the Department for International Development would provide £6 million this year to help restore basic services and infrastructure in liberated areas such as Mosul.
I welcome Mosul’s liberation after three years of oppression. I also welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement of significant funding commitments and the UK’s continued role in the coming days and weeks. It is important now that the Government also takes action to resettle the numerous refugees in and around Mosul and to support accountability for human rights violations in the fight for the city.
The UK’s critical aid and emergency support will save lives and help to rebuild Mosul. Our commitment demonstrates the important role that UK aid plays not only in standing alongside the people of Iraq, but in contributing to long-term peace and stability.
Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry (General Debate)
On Wednesday, there was a General Debate in the House of Commons on the Grenfell Tower fire.
We were all shocked by the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower. 158 families have lost their homes, and many others have lost loved ones. All are struggling with the horror and trauma of losing family members, of their own escape and of being left with absolutely nothing.
The pledges that the Government has made to the families and survivors – no-strings financial assistance, open access to trauma counselling, guaranteed school places, no legal action on immigration status or sub-letting, and rehousing – are all welcome and important. Yet there is still a big gap between what the Government is saying and what the residents and the community in North Kensington are saying is happening to them.
I welcome the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire. This must get to the bottom of how the fire happened, help us hold those responsible to account, and do what is needed to make sure it does not happen again. The inquiry is due to begin in August. I believe the emerging findings should be completed by the summer to allow the recommendations to be acted on as quickly as possible. In the meantime, those who have been affected must be given the support they need, including payment of full legal, funeral and other costs, and permanent local rehousing.
I also believe it is unacceptable that more than four weeks on from the fire the Government still does not know how many of the country’s other tower blocks are unsafe. I believe it must widen its testing programme and reassure all high-rise tenants that their buildings are safe, or commit to fund the urgent work necessary to make them safe.
Counter-Daesh Update (Government Statement)
On Thursday, the Defence Secretary updated MPs on the campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, and the UK’s involvement. The Defence Secretary focused on three areas: the military effort, humanitarian aid and governance.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister of Iraq declared victory in Mosul. Over 1,200 Iraqi soldiers have been killed in the fight for Mosul and more than 6,000 wounded. These forces have been supported since September 2014 by the RAF, which has targeted more than 750 Daesh targets. In Syria, the campaign against Daesh is undoubtedly more challenging and complex, and the fight to liberate Raqqa from Daesh has now begun.
The Defence Secretary highlighted that 13.5 million people in Syria urgently need humanitarian assistance. He also noted that around 100,000 civilians remain in Raqqa city, caught between Daesh and forces loyal to President Assad, are in desperate need of aid. However, the Defence Secretary emphasised that while humanitarian assistance is part of the answer, the Government recognises that a political settlement was needed alongside strengthened regional government.
While the battle for Mosul has almost concluded, the fight against Daesh in Iraq and the wider region is far from over. The Defence Secretary was therefore asked by my colleague the Shadow Defence Minister on the role UK personnel will play in ensuring the security of the border between Iraq and Syria amid the possibility that Daesh fighters could cross back into Iraq from Syria.
I pay tribute to all the personnel who have taken part in this campaign and I would particularly like to see proper recognition to all those UK servicemen and women who have served on Operation Shader against Daesh. They have played a vital part in the fight against Daesh and its perverse ideology.
|Please find below the report on last week’s business in the House. I hope you find it useful.· Energy Price Cap (Urgent Question)
· Northern Ireland: Political Situation (Government Statement)
· Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Rehousing (Government Statements)
· Air Travel Organisers’ Licencing Bill (Second Reading)
· Education: Public Funding (Urgent Question)
· European Union (Approvals) Bill (Second Reading)
· Public Sector Pay Cap (Urgent Question)
· Adult Social Care Funding (Urgent Question)
· Jobcentre Plus: Closures (Urgent Question)
· Exiting the European Union and Global Trade (General Debate)
Energy Price Cap (Urgent Question)
On Monday, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was asked to make a statement on the Government’s intention for an energy price cap.
The Secretary of State wrote to the energy regulator Ofgem on 21 June asking for its advice on extending price protections to more customers on the poorest-value tariffs. On Monday, Ofgem replied that it would extend the current safeguard tariff for customers on pre-payment meters to a wider group of consumers. The Secretary of State said in his statement on Monday that he welcomed Ofgem’s initial proposal, but would wait to see if its actual proposals go far enough.
However, during the General Election, the Prime Minister promised to introduce a cap on unfair energy prices that would protect around 17 million families from being exploited. I am concerned that Ofgem’s response to the Secretary of State falls far short of implementing this promise.
While Ofgem’s response contained some welcome suggestions, it would only affect 2.5 million customers, leaving more than 14 million unprotected. These people will have been expecting relief from unfair price rises as a result of promises made during the election. I believe they will now feel let down by the Government’s change of course on this issue.
Northern Ireland: Political Situation (Government Statement)
On Monday, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made a statement to the House about the political situation in Northern Ireland. This followed the passing of the 29 June deadline to form a new Northern Irish Executive.
The Secretary of State said that while differences remain between the parties in Northern Ireland, progress had been made and he continued to believe that a deal remains achievable. He stated that the Government remained committed to working with the parties to reach an agreement and that if an agreement is reached, it would bring forward legislation to enable an Executive to be formed. However, the Secretary of State also highlighted the need for a formal budget for Northern Ireland and the possibility that legislation may be required to enable the expenditure of Northern Ireland departments.
On Tuesday, the Government subsequently announced that it would not be possible for the parties to reach an agreement in the immediate term.
I welcome that the Government continues to work on an agreement between the parties. If this is achieved, I will support the putting in place of whatever legislation is necessary to enable an Executive to form and the Assembly to meet. However, it is disappointing – if not surprising – that the talks process will effectively be put on hold over the summer. There will be legitimate frustration among many Northern Irish citizens that six months after the Executive broke down we remain at this impasse.
I believe that the direct involvement of the Prime Minister could help bridge the divide in Northern Ireland and move things forward. I am therefore surprised that the Prime Minister seems reluctant to take personal responsibility to break this deadlock. I share the Secretary of State’s hope that a deal can be done when talks resume in the autumn, but if that hope is to materialise, the Government must engage with greater energy and focus.
Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Rehousing (Government Statements)
On Monday, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made a statement in the House of Commons about the fire at Grenfell Tower and the safety inspections of cladding in other buildings. On Wednesday, the Housing Minister made a further statement in which he announced the launch of an independent taskforce to assist Kensington and Chelsea council with the longer term challenge of recovery.
The Secretary of State said on Monday that the Government’s immediate priority is to help those who were affected and to take every precaution to avoid another tragedy in buildings with similar cladding. The Government has said that 600 tower blocks with cladding need safety checks, but nearly three weeks on only 181 have been tested so far – and all have failed. I am concerned, not only that the testing is too slow, but that the tests themselves are too narrow. The Government is only testing one component of the cladding, not the panels, adhesives, insulation or the cladding’s installation method.
It was also recently announced that Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a retired Court of Appeal Judge, has been appointed to lead a full public inquiry into the fire. After consulting the community in North Kensington, Sir Martin will outline the terms of the public inquiry. It is important that the inquiry is independent. However, I also believe it is vital that the terms of the inquiry allow it to get to the bottom of what went wrong and make sure it can never happen again.
On Wednesday, the Housing Minister confirmed that the Government would establish an independent taskforce to help Kensington and Chelsea deal with the longer term challenge of recovery. I want the taskforce to work, but I doubt that it will and I am concerned that it lacks the necessary powers. I also do not believe that public confidence in the council will be restored by replacing one set of leaders with politicians from the same ruling group.
It is also worrying that despite the Prime Minister’s deadline of three weeks for everybody affected to be found a home nearby, whole families are still in hotels and hostels. A hotel room is no home, and temporary housing is no place to rebuild shattered lives.
For the Grenfell Tower survivors, for the victims’ families and for the local community in North Kensington, it is vital that those in positions of power mean what they say and do as they promise. It is important that we act now to help the Grenfell Tower survivors and restore public trust for those who live in tower blocks across our country.
Air Travel Organisers’ Licencing Bill (Second Reading)
On Monday, the Air Travel Organisers’ Licencing Bill was read for the second time in the House of Commons.
The Bill aims to modernise ATOL, the consumer protection scheme for package holidays that include a flight. The Bill intends to enable UK businesses to trade across Europe more easily, and ensure that appropriate protection is in place regardless of whether consumers book their holiday online or on the high street. It will also provide the ability for the scheme to adapt to future trends, including changes that may be brought about as the UK leaves the EU.
The Minister for Transport stated on Monday that the Bill is an important step in bringing the ATOL protections up to date. I agree that the Bill is to be welcomed – I believe it will have many benefits for UK consumers and travel operators.
I do, however, have some concerns about the impact of some of the Bill’s provisions. I would like to have seen greater clarity on how UK consumers will be protected by EU-based companies, as they will no longer be subject to ATOL, but to member state equivalents.
I am also concerned that the Bill gives the Government the power to reform ATOL without full Parliamentary scrutiny. While I recognise the merits of reforming ATOL, I also believe that an impact assessment, full consultation and full scrutiny will be required before any fundamental changes are made to this well-respected consumer protection system.
Nevertheless, I broadly support the Bill and the protections it will extend to many more holidaymakers. The Bill passed Second Reading without a vote and will now be considered in a Committee of the whole House.
Education: Public Funding (Urgent Question)
On Tuesday, there was an Urgent Question on the Government’s plans for the public funding of education. This followed recent concerns over three aspects of this issue: school funding, public sector pay and university tuition fees.
On school funding, the Minister for Schools stated that the Government is spending record amounts on schools and that it will respond to a consultation on the national funding formula shortly. However, at the 2017 election the Conservative manifesto committed to an additional £4 billion of school funding over the course of the next Parliament, funded by scrapping universal infant free school meals. Now that the Government has abandoned its plans on free school meals, there are serious questions about how this pledge can be funded.
On public sector pay, the Minister said on Tuesday that the Government would consider the School Teachers Review Body recommendation for teachers’ pay. However, I am concerned that the cap on public sector pay is causing a particular issue in schools, where there is a growing crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. I believe the Government should lift the 1% pay cap in education and look at reinstating a pay body for support staff.
Finally, on tuition fees, the Government has pushed through a further increase – raising the highest fee level to £9,250 – without full Parliamentary scrutiny. A scheduled debate and vote on the issue was cancelled on the day the General Election was called. I believe we now need a national debate on this increase.
European Union (Approvals) Bill (Second Reading)
On Tuesday, the House of Commons considered the European Union (Approvals) Bill, which approves four draft decisions of the Council of the European Union.
The first two decisions will enable two countries, Albania and Serbia, to attain observer status at the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). The FRA advises EU institutions and national governments on fundamental rights, including in relation to discrimination, access to justice, racism and xenophobia. It is welcome that Serbia and Albania will take part in the FRA, particularly given the recent history of those two countries. I therefore strongly support these decisions.
The third and fourth decisions enable the conclusion of an agreement between the EU and Canada on competition enforcement. The agreement will allow the European Commission and the Canadian Competition Bureau to exchange information they receive during competition investigations. The inability of these institutions to share such information is an obstacle to effective enforcement of competition rules. I therefore also support the approval of these two decisions.
While the relationship the UK will enjoy with the FRA and any transitional arrangements relating to the cooperation agreement with Canada following Brexit remain unclear, I believe it is important that the UK continues to fulfil its duties as a member state while it remains a member of the EU. I therefore support the Bill, which passed Second Reading without a vote.
Public Sector Pay Cap (Urgent Question)
On Wednesday, the Shadow Chancellor asked the Government to make a statement outlining its policies on the public sector pay cap.
The Treasury Minister said that the Government’s policy on public sector pay had been designed to be fair to both our public sector workers and those who pay for them. She stated that this approach had not changed.
However, we have seen mixed messages coming from a range of Government sources in recent weeks regarding the public sector pay cap. It was therefore important for the Government to clarify if the cap remained in force and when a decision will be made about its future.
I support an end to the public sector pay cap, because I believe that public sector workers deserve a pay rise after years of falling real wages. The Chancellor should write formally to the pay review bodies to say that they are now free to do what is right by public servants and give them a fair pay award this year.
Adult Social Care Funding (Urgent Question)
On Thursday, the Government was asked to make a statement on the Care Quality Commission’s report on the state of adult social care services in England.
I am concerned that the report highlights that 3,200 care services were rated as “requires improvement”, with more than 340 rated as “inadequate.” This means that some 92,000 vulnerable people are receiving poor care and some 10,000 people are receiving inadequate care. I am further concerned that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) reports examples of unacceptable care “occasionally resulting in actual harm to people using services”. It also makes clear that too many services are not improving or “seem incapable of improving.”
I fear that budget cuts have caused a crisis in care staffing, which is at the heart of the poor care that is being reported. More than £5 billion has been cut from social care budgets since 2010, while this week the Government suggested that the £2 billion allocated in the spring Budget to local councils for social care will now be dependent on performance against targets for delayed transfer of care. This could result in some councils losing funding that they have already planned to spend.
At the General Election I stood on a manifesto that pledged an additional £8 billion for social care, including an extra £1 billion this year. I believe the Government should match that pledge and drop its plans to make funding for social care dependent on local councils meeting targets.
Jobcentre Plus: Closures (Urgent Question)
On Thursday, the Shadow Work and Pensions Minister asked an Urgent Question on plans to close Jobcentre Plus offices, the impact on local communities and Department for Work and Pensions jobs.
On Wednesday, the Government announced plans to close 78 smaller Jobcentre Plus offices in urban areas and to “merge” them with larger ones nearby. It also proposed co-locating around 50 Jobcentre Plus offices with local authorities or other community services, closing 27 back office buildings around the country and re-organising the corporate centre to make maximum use of six regional corporate hubs.
The Work and Pensions Secretary said on Thursday that the closures will save more than £140 million a year for the next ten years. He stated that eight out of ten claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance and 99% of applications for Universal Credit full service are now made online, which means that DWP buildings are used much less.
However, I believe the impact of the closures will undoubtedly be felt most by the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. The closures will force claimants to travel further to access the vital services they need, thus having an impact on the lives of sick and disabled people, carers and parents with young children.
I believe the Government should publish the equality analysis on each site that is being closed and immediately pause these closures to allow proper scrutiny of its plans.
Exiting the European Union and Global Trade (General Debate)
On Thursday, the House of Commons considered exiting the European Union and global trade. This was part of a series of debates designed to give Parliament the opportunity to discuss how we leave the EU.
During the debate, the Government stated that trade was at the heart of Government policy making and that as we leave the EU, the UK will be able to shape trade policy according to our own national interests. However, I am concerned that the Government has failed to set out a coherent international trade strategy for when we have left the EU. The challenges we face as we leave the EU are not insurmountable, but they do require clarity and careful planning. So far we have not had this.
The most important of our trading relationships is with the EU, which must be the Government’s priority – no deal with the EU would be the worst possible outcome. The Government has previously promised to deliver the exact same benefits as we have inside the single market and customs union and I believe we must hold it to that commitment. I also believe that a transitional period once we leave the EU is vital in order to avoid a cliff-edge for the UK economy.
Beyond Brexit, I believe the Government needs to set out its principles and objectives for future trade negotiations, including what sectors of the economy it intends to prioritise. It is worrying that the Government has introduced a Trade Bill, but has not set out any policy to base it on. I believe it must publish an International Trade White Paper, in order to give British businesses some clarity and confidence about our future trading relationships.
4th July 2017
|Below is the summary of last week’s business in the house, I hope you find it useful and informative.Kind regards
· European Council (Government Statement)
· Northern Ireland (Government Statement)
· Grenfell Tower Fire/Fire Safety (Government Statement)
· Brexit and Foreign Affairs (Queen’s Speech Debate)
· NHS Shared Business Services (Urgent Question)
· Education and Local Services (Queen’s Speech Debate)
· Health, Social Care and Security (Queen’s Speech Debate)
· 21st Century Fox/Sky Merger (Government Statement)
· Economy and Jobs (Queen’s Speech Debate)
European Council (Government Statement)
On Monday, the Prime Minister made a statement following a meeting of EU leaders on 22-23 June.
The Prime Minister outlined the Council’s discussions on security, migration, climate change and trade. She also spoke about the Government’s proposals on EU nationals’ rights in the UK following Brexit.
Under the Government’s plans, EU nationals who have lived in the UK for more than five years at a specified cut-off date will be allowed to apply for settled status. Any EU nationals who have not yet lived here for more than five years at the cut-off date will be allowed to stay until they can apply for settled status. However, we do not yet know what the cut-off date will be, as this will be determined by the negotiations with the EU.
I have long believed that the Government should unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals already living in the UK and this was a commitment in the manifesto that I stood on at the recent General Election. Unfortunately, the Government’s proposal falls far short of the full and unilateral guarantee that I believe should have been made many months ago. People should not be bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations. The Prime Minister was pressed for more details on her offer to EU nationals, including what would happen to it if no deal is reached with the EU.
More widely, I believe the Government must adopt an approach to Brexit that protects jobs, trade and the economy. It must finally rule out its notion that no deal is a viable option for the country and put the national interest first by building a new partnership with the EU on the basis of common interests and values.
Northern Ireland (Government Statement)
On Monday, the Government revealed to the House of Commons the details of the agreement reached between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Under the agreement, DUP MPs will support the Government on votes on the Queen’s Speech, the Budget, and legislation relating to our exit from the European Union and national security. Meanwhile, the Government will provide Northern Ireland with extra funding, including for infrastructure development and to address pressures in health and education.
I believe this deal is unfair to the rest of the UK and could be damaging to the future of peace in Northern Ireland.
The Good Friday agreement that helped to bring peace to Northern Ireland is rightly seen across the world as a model for other countries seeking to end conflict. However, it is also fragile and relies above all on trust, good faith and the impartiality of the British Government. It is worrying that the Government is putting the agreement at risk in order to ensure its own survival.
I do not begrudge the £1 billion extra support for Northern Ireland, but in Scotland, Wales and the English regions, the needs are just as great. Indeed, public services in our own constituency are also in serious need of extra funding. I believe the Government needs to set out where the extra £1 billion announced on Monday is going to come from and when the rest of the UK will get its fair share of extra funding.
Grenfell Tower Fire (Government Statement)
On Monday, the Government made a statement in the House of Commons about the fire at Grenfell Tower.
On 18 June, the Government wrote to councils and housing associations with responsibility for residential buildings with potentially similar cladding to Grenfell Tower and asked them to start sending samples of their cladding. The Government announced on Monday that as of midday the cladding from 75 high-rise buildings in 26 local authority areas had failed the combustibility test. That number has since increased further.
The Government said that its most urgent priority is to make existing tower blocks safe and pledged to provide a financial support package for any local authority that needs extra funds to carry out the necessary work. The Government also acknowledged that there are longer term decisions to be made, including looking at our whole approach to the provision and quality of social housing.
Almost two weeks on, the shock from this truly terrible, tragic fire at Grenfell Tower has not subsided and neither have the concerns and fears of its residents. I believe the Government’s response, both national and local, was not good enough in the early days and is still not good enough. The residents of Grenfell Tower and their relatives are still struggling to keep their lives going in the face of this gravest loss. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of residents in 4,000 other tower blocks across the country are still wondering whether their homes are safe.
I believe we need a much more thorough review of fire safety in all the country’s residential tower blocks, schools and hospitals, and a guarantee that the Government will help to fund the costs. The Government has not given enough attention to social housing and the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower should force a profound change of course on housing in this country.
Brexit and Foreign Affairs (Queen’s Speech Debate)
On Monday, the debate on the Queen’s Speech focused on Brexit, foreign affairs and defence.
At a time of deep international uncertainty, the Government has no answers on Brexit or the many foreign policy challenges Britain faces. The Queen’s Speech does nothing to advance Britain as a beacon of strength, security, prosperity and values around the world. Nor does it contain any of the kind of measures that we desperately need to see in order to get to grips with the defence issues we are facing.
I am concerned that the Government has weakened Britain’s influence and ability to protect our interests by cutting the diplomacy and defence budgets. The outcome of the first round of Brexit negotiations has also shown how unrealistic the Government’s rhetoric has been.
We have started the negotiations on Brexit in the worst of all circumstances and the Government’s approach is damaging our reputation abroad and weakening our position. I believe we need a more constructive and responsible approach, starting with an end to the “no deal is better than a bad deal” mantra. No deal means no agreements on trade, security, the Northern Ireland border or citizens’ rights.
We need to reset our approach to Brexit, rebuild relations with the EU and make sure that jobs, the economy and rights come first.
NHS Shared Business Services (Urgent Question)
On Tuesday, the Government was asked to make a statement on clinical correspondence handling at NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS).
The failure of NHS SBS in its mishandling of just under 709,000 letters, including blood test results, cancer screening appointments and child protection notes, is unacceptable.
I am concerned by the findings of a National Audit Office (NAO) investigation into the failings at NHS SBS. As at 31 May 2017, the NAO had found 1,788 cases of potential harm to patients as a result of unprocessed correspondence. The report also revealed that while managers at NHS SBS had been aware of the clinical risk to patients since January 2014, they did not develop a plan to deal with the backlog.
The Government on Tuesday described NHS SBS as “incompetent” and agreed that the organisation should never have allowed a backlog to develop. It also confirmed that the costs of this failure amount to more than £6 million. It stated that it is seeking to recover as much of that amount as possible back from the company involved.
I believe the Government needs to explain why the oversight of NHS SBS went wrong and set out what it will do to make sure that NHS patients do not lose out as a result of this failure.
Education and Local Services (Queen’s Speech Debate)
On Tuesday, there was a debate on the education and local services aspects of the Queen’s Speech.
I am concerned by the lack of measures in the Queen’s Speech on education. While I welcome that the Government appears to have abandoned its plans to bring back grammar schools, it must now focus on solving the real problems: the crisis in funding and in the teacher workforce. I believe we need to reverse cuts to school funding and protect budgets in real terms for the lifetime of this Parliament.
On local services too, the Queen’s Speech offered no specific legislation. However, local government has suffered severely as a result of seven years of Government cuts. Indeed, the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that between 2010 and 2020 local government will have had its direct funding cut by 79%. This is having a negative impact on services: youth centres, museums and libraries are having to close, and our social care system is in crisis.
I believe urgent action is needed on health and social care budgets, public sector pay and local government funding, yet all those issues were absent from this delayed Queen’s Speech.
Health, Social Care and Security (Queen’s Speech Debate)
On Wednesday, the debate on the Queen’s Speech focused on health, social care and security.
I am disappointed that the Queen’s Speech offered no attempt to address the challenges facing the NHS and social care. Waiting lists in the NHS are close to four million; 26,000 people are waiting more than two months for cancer treatment; and the 18-week cancer target has been downgraded and abandoned.
On security, while I welcome the considered approach outlined in the Queen’s Speech on counter-terrorism, I believe resources are a key issue. There are now 20,000 fewer police staff and 10,000 fewer firefighters than in 2010. Asking our security services, and public sector workers generally, to do more with less is unfair, unworkable and counter-productive.
The recent terror attacks and Grenfell Tower fire have shown the bravery, heroism and effectiveness of our public service workers at times of national emergency. I believe the Queen’s Speech should have been an opportunity to take action to support our hard-pressed emergency services, and other public sector workers. Instead, the Government confirmed that its policy of a maximum 1% public sector pay increase has not changed.
I believe a pay rise for nurses, paramedics, police officers, firemen and women – for all public sector workers in our constituency and across the country – is fair and affordable. That’s why I supported an Opposition amendment in the debate on the Queen’s Speech to end the public sector pay cap. Unfortunately, while I voted for the amendment, the Government voted against it and it was defeated.
21st Century Fox/Sky Merger (Government Statement)
On Thursday, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport made a statement on the proposed merger between 21st Century Fox and Sky plc.
I believe this deal threatens media plurality and would concentrate an even greater amount of media power in the hands of the Murdoch family.
The Secretary of State announced that on the basis of Ofcom’s assessment she was minded to refer to the Competition and Markets Authority to conduct a further examination of the deal on the grounds of media plurality.
In my view the Government has done the bare minimum. I fear that it is yet to make a final decision and could choose to accept concessions made by 21st Century Fox instead of referring the deal to a phase two inquiry. If this happens it will throw the integrity of this process into question.
Additionally, Ofcom’s finding that, following the phone-hacking scandal, the Murdoch family remains fit and proper to hold a broadcasting licence is disappointing, and raises the question of whether the test is fit for purpose.
To ensure the facts come forward, part two of the Leveson Inquiry must go ahead and investigate the corporate governance failures that allowed the phone hacking scandal to take place.
It is clear to me, following the Government’s statement on Thursday, that the rules governing media ownership in this country need to be reviewed.
Economy and Jobs (Queen’s Speech Debate)
On Thursday, MPs continued to debate the Government’s announcements made in the Queen’s Speech, this time focusing on the economy and jobs.
The Queen’s Speech failed to outline measures to end austerity in public services, to reverse falling living standards or to make society more equal.
With inflation rising, I believe the Government should have used the Queen’s Speech to announce an end to the public sector pay cap and an increase in the minimum wage to a real living wage of £10 per hour by 2020. It should have taken a different approach, increasing funding to public services to expand childcare, scrapping tuition fees at universities and colleges and restoring the Education Maintenance Allowance, maintenance grants and nurses’ bursaries. Those with the broadest shoulders should have to pay their fair share of tax, with more done to clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion.
I voted for an amendment which called on the Government to take action in these areas and to commit to a properly resourced industrial strategy to increase infrastructure investment in every nation and region of the UK. Unfortunately, Government MPs voted against the amendment and it was defeated.
A further amendment called for women from Northern Ireland to no longer have to pay for abortions on the NHS. Under Opposition and public pressure, the Government finally accepted this on Thursday and the amendment was not pushed to a vote.
Following the debate, there was a final vote on the Government’s programme as announced in the Queen’s Speech. I voted against the Government’s plans. Unfortunately, Government and Democratic Unionist Party MPs voted in support of it and it passed by 323 votes to 309.
|Copyright © 2017 Marie Rimmer, All rights reserved.
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St Helens South and Whiston Labour
Century House, Hardshaw Street
St Helens, WA10 1QU
27th June 2017
|In this, my first weekly report of the new Parliament, I would first of all like to thank each of you for allowing me the opportunity to serve again as Labour MP for our constituency, it truly is a great honour and a privilege to do so.
Below is the update on last weeks business in the house, I hope you find it informative.
- Queen’s Speech
- Grenfell Tower Fire (Government Statement)
- Terror Attacks (Government Statement)
- Housing and Social Security (Queen’s Speech Debate)
This week, the Queen’s Speech set out the Government’s agenda for the new session of Parliament, outlining proposed policies and legislation for the next two years.
It was a thin Queen’s Speech, which was notable more for what was missing than what was being proposed. Many of the policies included in the Conservative election manifesto were left out because the Government does not have enough MPs to get them through Parliament. The policies I was delighted to see dropped included the commitments to means-test Winter Fuel Payments, to end free school lunches for infants, to introduce new grammar schools and to have a vote on fox hunting.
The Government no longer has the majority of MPs, and in my view the sparseness of the Queen’s Speech shows it is unable to put together a proper programme.
Eight of the bills announced relate to Brexit and its impact on immigration, trade and sectors such as fisheries and farming. Brexit must not lead to the rolling back or weakening of workplace rights, environmental protections or consumer rights. It is in all our interests that we get a Brexit deal that puts jobs and the economy first and I will scrutinise all the Bills announced on Wednesday very carefully.
I was pleased to see proposals to introduce new laws on domestic violence. Stronger action on this issue is always welcome, but it was also important that the Prime Minister was pressed on Wednesday to restore legal aid in such cases, and the funding to re-open the many refuges that have closed.
I also welcome the Government’s commitment to reform mental health legislation to give it greater priority. However, it was right that on Wednesday the Prime Minister was pressed to give an assurance that no mental health trust will see its budget cut this year, like 40% of them did last year.
In light of the recent terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire, the Prime Minister was also rightly pressed to fully fund our emergency services. I am concerned about the lack of action to tackle the underfunding of all our public services. I fear the Government’s plans will lead to more austerity and cuts.
Parliament will debate the content of the Queen’s Speech over the course of the next week. I will scrutinise all of the announcements it contained very carefully.
In general, I would have preferred to see a bolder vision which offered hope and addressed the big challenges facing our constituency. I would like to have seen proposals to increase the living wage to £10 an hour by 2020, cut class sizes in our schools, work out a proper funding deal for the NHS and take real action to tackle our housing crisis by building genuinely affordable homes.
Grenfell Tower Fire (Government Statement)
On Thursday, the Prime Minister made a statement in the House of Commons on the fire at Grenfell Tower.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that the victims of the fire did not receive the support they needed in the aftermath of this tragedy. She stated that the Government has since set up an emergency community centre to support victims. This includes access to a GP, specialist mental health services and support from government officials. Families who have lost their homes will receive £5,000 from an emergency fund. The Government also committed to re-homing those affected within three weeks.
The Prime Minister said she would commission a full and independent public inquiry to provide justice for the victims and their families. The Government also rightly committed to pay for the victims’ legal representation and announced a new public advocate to act as an independent voice to represent bereaved families at public inquiries.
We have all been shocked by the Grenfell Tower fire and dismayed at the tragic loss of so many lives. I commend the community spirit and public generosity which has supported bereaved families and residents of Grenfell Tower at this traumatic time. I also express my admiration for those in our emergency services who responded with the utmost courage and professionalism.
However, lessons must be learnt. This disaster never should have happened and another such disaster must never be allowed to happen again. The residents of Grenfell were let down, both in the immediate aftermath and so cruelly beforehand, when Grenfell residents’ concerns about the safety of their building were ignored. I believe this is a tragedy and an outrage.
The public inquiry into the Grenfell fire must report as soon as possible – there are over 4,000 tower blocks around our country and people living in them need answers and reassurance. I therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to publishing an interim report. In the meantime, changes that can be and should have been made must now be made without delay and the Government should act immediately to fund the retrofitting of sprinklers into high-rise blocks.
Terror Attacks (Government Statement)
On Thursday, the Home Secretary made a statement on the horrific terror attacks of the last few months. This was the first opportunity MPs have had to discuss these terrible events in the House of Commons since the General Election.
The Home Secretary said that she believes we are experiencing a new trend in the threat that we face following the Westminster attack in March. Since then, we have seen attacks in Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park, and five other plots have also been prevented.
The Government has since announced plans to establish a Commission for Countering Extremism and a review of the counter-terrorism strategy to ensure the police and security services have the powers they need.
I largely support these actions by the Government but believe there should be greater emphasis on resources, not just new legislation. Indeed, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation has said that current powers are sufficient.
While specialist policing and security resources are important, so too is the neighbourhood policing that builds communities’ confidence and encourages people to come forward with information that may help stop future terrorist activity. However, we have lost 20,000 from police numbers since 2010 and I fear that further cuts may be in the pipeline. I will oppose any further cuts to police budgets.
I commend all of our emergency services – the police, fire service, and NHS staff – who run towards danger, saving lives and preventing worse injuries. My thoughts too are with those families to whom children or parents will never come home, as well as the many people who have been injured and seen sights that they may never be able to unsee.
Housing and Social Security (Queen’s Speech Debate)
On Thursday, the House of Commons debated the Government’s proposals for housing and social security that were brought forward in the Queen’s Speech.
The Government has committed to introduce a draft Bill to ban letting agencies from being able to charge fees to tenants. This is a policy I have long supported, as one in seven tenants pay more than £500. It is right that the Government has changed its mind and is acting to ban this unfair practice.However, a ban on tenants’ fees is only one part of the change that is needed on housing. The Government has cut investment and outsourced responsibility for building new homes to big developers. Home ownership has fallen to a 30-year low and the number of people sleeping rough on our streets has more than doubled. I am concerned that the housing measures announced in the Queen’s Speech fall far short of the change required. We need a long-term solution to fix the housing crisis facing first-time buyers, renters, homeowners and those who are homeless.
In terms of social security, the Queen’s Speech announced a Financial Guidance and Claims Bill to establish a new arm’s length single financial guidance body to replace three existing providers of publicly funded financial guidance. It will also strengthen the regulation of claims management companies.
Overall, I believe the Bill is a welcome step towards improving the transparency of pension schemes and making sure that financial advice and guidance is more accessible. I will be carefully scrutinising the details of it to ensure it helps improve advice and does not represent a cut to these important services.
However, the Bill does nothing to tackle the serious structural issues surrounding pension provision. I believe the Government needs to reject plans for a further increase in the State Pension age, take steps to regulate and secure the future of defined benefit pension schemes, provide transitional protections to WASPI women and tackle excessive costs and charges being applied to pension saving pots.
More widely, while I was pleased that further cuts to older peoples’ living standards appear to have been dropped, after seven years of austerity we still have escalating levels of poverty, including for 7.4 million people in working households, 4 million children, 4.2 million disabled people and one in seven pensioners. I am therefore disappointed that the Government did not take this opportunity to change course on social security.
|Copyright © 2017 Marie Rimmer, All rights reserved.
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St Helens South and Whiston Labour
Century House, Hardshaw Street
St Helens, WA10 1QU
|Here is the summary report from last week in Parliament. Obviously the week was dominated by the decision of the Prime Minister to call a snap election and the vote that followed.
Next Wednesday, the 3rd of May, Parliament will be dissolved and the election campaign will begin in earnest. I will be standing again for Labour in St Helens South and Whiston and I hope that I will be returned on the 8th of June to continue to work hard for the constituency.
Also don’t forget that the Metro Mayoral Elections are next week too.
- Syria and North Korea (Government Statement)
- Finance (No.2) Bill (Second Reading)
- Early Parliamentary General Election (Government Motion)
- Technical and Further Education Bill (Consideration of Lords Amendments)
- Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 (Government Motion)
- Persecution and Detention of LGBT Citizens: Chechnya (Urgent Question)
Syria and North Korea (Government Statement)
On Tuesday, the Foreign Secretary made a statement in the House of Commons about developments in Syria and North Korea.
Two weeks ago, we saw the horrifying chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Syria, which killed dozens of ordinary villagers and injured many more. In response, the United States launched strikes against the military air base in Syria from which it is believed the chemical attack was launched. Russia continues to support the Assad regime and blocked a UN Security Council resolution that demanded the regime’s co-operation with an international investigation into the chemical attack.
More than 400,000 lives have been claimed by the ongoing civil war in Syria and it is clear that a peaceful settlement is needed now more than ever. I believe efforts must therefore focus on building international support for a ceasefire and an intensified political process.
In North Korea, the Kim Jong-un regime tested two nuclear bombs and 24 missiles in 2016. Last weekend, the regime attempted to test yet another missile and threatened further tests. I condemn North Korea’s ongoing nuclear missile programme and believe this crisis can only be resolved through co-ordinated international action, de-escalation of tensions and negotiations.
The world needs statesmanship, not brinkmanship, on these issues and Britain needs to provide stable global leadership.
Finance (No.2) Bill (Second Reading)
Each year the tax measures for the year ahead from the Budget are set out in a single Bill: the annual Finance Bill. On Tuesday, the House of Commons debated this Bill.
The Finance Bill 2017 increases the standard rate of Insurance Premium Tax (IPT) from 10% to 12% with effect from 1 June 2017. It is concerning that as a result, families in our area will have to bear a higher cost for insurance for their car, house, personal possessions and even pets and mobile phones.
The Bill introduces new digital record-keeping and reporting requirements for businesses, self-employed people and landlords. Taxpayers covered by the clause are required to keep their tax records in digital format and submit quarterly updates to the HMRC. These proposals will put undue pressure on small businesses and the self-employed in our area, who simply do not have the resources to input tax information on a quarterly basis.
The Bill also increases the rates of excise duty charged on spirits, beer, wine and made-wine, and cider and perry in line with inflation (3.9%). I know that many in the drinks industry have expressed concern at how this will affect pubs and small businesses.
More widely, I do not believe that the Bill does enough to tackle tax avoidance and evasion. I would like a wide-ranging review of the UK tax gap to be part of this Finance Bill.
Predictions of average earnings have been revised down for next year and I am concerned that this Finance Bill does too little to address the severe problems with living standards that many of my constituents are currently facing. In my view, it also does not offer the support for small and medium-sized businesses I would like to see. I voted against the Bill. However, it passed its Second Reading stage with support from the Government.
Due to the timing of the Dissolution of the House prior to the general election, the remaining stages of the Bill are scheduled for next week. I hope significant improvements can be made to the Bill.
Early Parliamentary General Election (Government Motion)
On Wednesday, the House of Commons voted for a general election to be held on 8 June.
Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, general elections should take place on the first Thursday in May every five years. The last election was held on 7 May 2015, so the next one was not due until 2020.
However, the Prime Minister announced on Tuesday that she wanted an early general election.
On Wednesday, the Government proposed a motion, under Section 2 of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011: “That there shall be an early parliamentary general election.” This required support from at least two-thirds of all MPs in the Commons, which it received.
The Government had consistently said there would not be an early election. However, on Wednesday, the Prime Minister presented the case for the motion on the basis that an election would help the Government to negotiate Brexit. I disagree with that case, as we had a referendum on Brexit, and Parliament has voted to accept that result. In my view there is no obstacle to negotiations taking place.
Technical and Further Education Bill (Consideration of Lords Amendments)
On Wednesday, the House of Commons considered the Technical and Further Education Bill.
The Bill proposes to rename the Institute for Apprenticeships the “Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education” and to extend its remit. It also proposes to create an insolvency framework for the further education sector.
I believe that further education plays a vital role in giving young people the skills they need, and supporting older learners into retraining and learning new skills. It is essential that it is put on a sustainable financial footing. However, this Bill does not go far enough to address the serious issues in technical or further education.
Although I welcome some of the Bill’s proposals on the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, the Government has not done enough to make clear the role and capacity of the Institute. Furthermore, while I believe the proposals in the Bill establishing an insolvency framework for further education and sixth form colleges are necessary, this is only because of repeated Government failure in this sector. Indeed since 2010, the sector has been facing sustained budget cuts which have amounted to 14% in real terms.
On Wednesday, I supported an amendment to enable families eligible for child benefit to receive it for children aged under 20 who are undertaking apprenticeships and to extend the Higher Education Bursary to care leavers taking apprenticeships. Unfortunately, the Government opposed the amendment and it was defeated.
I also supported an amendment requiring schools to give education and training providers the opportunity to talk directly to pupils about the approved technical education qualifications and apprenticeships they offer. I am pleased that this amendment passed with cross party support.
Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 (Government Motion)
The UK is required to send a report on the economy and the Government’s budget to the EU every year. On Wednesday, the House of Commons debated a motion to approve the economic assessment which forms the basis of that report.
Given the result of the EU referendum, it might seem odd that the House of Commons was debating this. However, the report is a legal requirement and the motion presented the opportunity for debate about the deficit and negotiations to leave the EU.
I have been disappointed at the level of progress made on reducing the deficit, and am concerned that debt as a percentage of GDP has risen and now stands at 85%, with £750 billion borrowed over the last seven years. I am also concerned that predictions of both economic growth and average earnings growth have been revised down for coming years.
The EU accounts for 44% of UK exports of goods and services, and 53% of imports. A “hard Brexit” would put much of those exports and EU imports at risk. I was disappointed that the assessment presented by the Government on Wednesday did not, in my view, sufficiently assess what the UK’s post-Brexit economy would look like, or acknowledge the economic difficulties ahead. For these reasons, I voted against the motion.
Persecution and Detention of LGBT Citizens: Chechnya (Urgent Question)
On Thursday, the Government was asked an urgent question in the House of Commons about allegations of persecution and detention of LGBT citizens in Chechnya, Russia.
I am concerned about reports that over 100 men in Chechnya were arbitrarily detained because of their sexual orientation, and that many have been tortured and at least four people killed. The Minister for Europe described these reports as “credible” and said that the Government was also concerned.
The Russian Government bears ultimate responsibility for the safety of its citizens, yet it appears to be looking the other way while Chechen authorities commit the most terrible abuse. This appalling and disgusting prejudice is still represented in official policy in some parts of Europe and something must be done.
The UK’s representations on this issue need to be escalated and raised at a much higher political level. The Prime Minister should take the initiative by calling in the Russian Ambassador to demand answers.
|Copyright © 2017 Marie Rimmer MP, All rights reserved.
Marie Rimmer MP
Century House, Hardshaw Street
St Helens, WA10 1QU
Here is the Parliamentary report for last week’s session. We’re on Easter Recess now, so there won’t be an update until the house returns on the 18th.
On Monday I asked The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Penny Mordaunt) a question about whether she would be scheduling a debate and vote on the Government’s emergency PIP regulations. You can watch the video of this athttps://goo.gl/QhTJlW
I hope you find the report interesting and informative.
- Magnox: Early Contract Terminations (Urgent Question)
- Bus Services Bill (Report Stage and Third Reading)
- Northern Ireland: Political Developments (Government Statement)
- Neighbourhood Planning Bill (Ping Pong)
- Article 50 (Government Statement)
- Personal Independence Payment: Regulations (Emergency Debate)
- Pension Schemes Bill (Report Stage and Third Reading)
- Legislating for UK Withdrawal from the EU (Government Statement)
Magnox: Early Contract Terminations (Urgent Question)
On Monday, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was forced to make a statement on the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s early termination of the contract to decommission the Magnox nuclear estate.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) awarded the 14-year contract to clean up 12 redundant Magnox sites to the Cavendish Fluor Partnership in September 2014. However, on Monday the NDA announced that it had decided to terminate the contract on two years’ notice. The BEIS Secretary said that after CFP started work on the estate, it had become clear that there was a mismatch between the work tendered for and that to be carried out.
The BEIS Secretary also said on Monday that the NDA had settled outstanding claims relating to the contract, paying nearly £100 million to engineering companies Energy Solutions and Bechtel. He stated that the tender process for the contract was clearly flawed and that the Government had therefore established an independent inquiry into the original procurement process and why the 2014 contract proved unsustainable.
I believe it is vital that the independent inquiry into the contract involves full public disclosure, as well as a public hearing. This is particularly important as a court judgement last year stated that the NDA had attempted to get rid of information that might have damaged its case. I also believe this calls into question the future operation of the NDA, as well as whether the Government has a well thought out and long-term nuclear decommissioning strategy.
This is the second big contract that the Government has cancelled in the space of six months and I believe it raises questions about the Government’s handling of procurement processes. The public should not have to put up with such a lack of competence.
Bus Services Bill (Report Stage and Third Reading)
On Monday, the House of Commons considered the Bus Services Bill.
In the mid-1980s the Government deregulated the bus industry across Britain, except in London. Since then, fares have risen faster than inflation; bus use has fallen by more than a third; and bus market monopolies have become the norm. I therefore welcome that the Government appears to have reversed its historic policy towards the bus market with this Bill, which offers a step back from the problems created 30 years ago.
I believe local communities should have a much greater say over the operation of bus services in their area, and this Bill could go some way to re-regulating the bus industry. It gives mayoral combined authorities the ability to regulate their bus services, increasing parity between areas such as Greater Manchester and London. It provides local authorities with new partnership options for working alongside bus operators. I also welcome that the Bill gives the Government the power to require local buses to have audio-visual information systems in place.
The Bill is not perfect. I would have liked powers to re-regulate bus services to be available to all areas, not just mayoral combined authorities. I also supported a new clause which would have required the Government to publish a national strategy for buses, including consideration of a concessionary scheme for young people. I was disappointed that the Government voted against this clause and it was defeated.
I was further disappointed that the Government amended the Bill to include a clause banning local authorities from forming their own bus companies in the future. I supported an amendment to remove this clause, which unfortunately did not pass.
However, I am pleased that the Bill will go some way to reversing the damage of deregulation in bus services and I supported it at Third Reading. The Bill will now return to the House of Lords for consideration of amendments.
Northern Ireland: Political Developments (Government Statement)
Monday was the deadline for political parties in Northern Ireland to form a government following the election there on 2 March.
On Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland reported to the House of Commons that despite the efforts that had been made, there had been no agreement, and there was now therefore no devolved Administration.
The consequences of all of this are potentially extremely serious, as the budget for Northern Ireland has not been signed off, and that could soon start to have an impact on the day-to-day lives of businesses and the general public.
I hope that every effort will be made to reach a deal as soon as possible. The process has to be built on partnership, genuine compromise and consensus if we are to build up faith and confidence not just in the institutions, but, much more importantly, across the whole population of Northern Ireland. I want this to succeed and believe all avenues should be used to reach that goal.
Neighbourhood Planning Bill (Ping Pong)
On Tuesday, the House of Commons debated the Neighbourhood Planning Bill. This included consideration of amendments made in the House of Lords.
The key purpose of the Bill is to identify and free up more land to build homes on to give communities as much certainty as possible about where and when development will take place. It also aims to speed up delivery of new homes by reducing the time it takes from planning permission to building work commencing and new homes being delivered.
I believe it is important to recognise the value of the planning system in delivering developments that are well planned, in the right place and supported by the infrastructure they need. This includes access to good quality healthcare, schools, further and higher education, transport links and employment.
On Tuesday, the Government made a concession on the Lords’ Opposition amendment regarding permitted development and public houses. The amendment removed permitted development rights from pubs and ensured that any change of use or demolition of pubs in the future would require a planning application and allow for a local decision in all cases.
Pubs provide 1 million jobs and are worth £22 billion a year to the economy. Yet since 1980, 21,000 pubs have closed, and 21 pubs close every week. I am therefore pleased that the Government is acknowledging the role that pubs play in the local community.
Article 50 (Government Statement)
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister made a statement in the House of Commons informing MPs that she had formally started the process for the UK’s exit from the European Union.
The UK voted to leave the EU, and I respect that decision. Now that Article 50 has been triggered, our country will undertake the most important negotiations that it has in modern times and the next steps will be crucial.
It is vital that the Prime Minister secures the best deal for the country. However, she has already said that she believes no deal with the EU would be better than a “bad deal”. I believe no deal would be the worst possible outcome and it would be a national failure if protections for jobs and living standards, for example, were not secured.
I will therefore judge any final deal negotiated by the Government against six tests relating to the impact of Brexit on: the UK’s future cooperation with the EU, our economy, immigration, fundamental rights, national security, and the distribution of power and opportunity across the country.
I want to see our country have a collaborative and co-operative future relationship with the EU and a partnership based on our shared values, common aims and mutual benefit. I can assure you that I will use all means possible to hold the Government to account on this over the coming months.
Personal Independence Payment: Regulations (Emergency Debate)
On Wednesday, the House of Commons debated Personal Independence Payment (PIP) regulations. The request for an emergency debate had been made by my colleague the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary.
PIP helps with some of the extra costs caused by long-term ill-health or a disability. Last year, two tribunals were held to challenge how strict PIP criteria are. Both ruled in favour of changes that allow more people who need this support to be able to access it. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said these changes would cost the Government £3.7 billion more by 2022.
Following these rulings, the Government rewrote its legislation to stop these changes from happening. The Government’s analysis estimates that this will affect more than 160,000 people, the majority of whom have mental health conditions and will not be able to access the full support that they would have been entitled to under the tribunals’ rulings.
It is regrettable that Wednesday’s emergency debate was the first real opportunity for the House of Commons to discuss the new regulations and that the debate did not allow for a substantive vote on them. I believe the Government’s decision to introduce the new PIP regulations without debate or scrutiny undermines both our democracy and the independent tribunal judgments. I am concerned about future actions that the Government may take in relation to court cases that it loses.
I am also concerned that these changes to PIP have come on top of significant cuts to support for disabled people. I believe the Government should publish an assessment of all tax and social security changes, showing the impacts that they have had, and will continue to have, on disabled people.
Pension Schemes Bill (Report and Third Reading)
On Wednesday, the House of Commons continued to consider the Pension Schemes Bill. Consideration of the Bill at Report Stage and Third Reading was postponed last week due to the London attacks.
The Pension Schemes Bill includes measures to regulate master trusts and to protect the interests of pension scheme members. It also includes regulations to override contractual terms in occupational pension schemes, with the intention of enabling full implementation of policies to restrict certain charges and fees relating to pension scheme members.
I support the measures in this Bill. However, I feel it is a missed opportunity to address our wider pensions crisis. The Government could have used this Bill to address the high costs and charges being applied to occupational pension savings, prevent further decline of defined benefit pension schemes, and provide support to women born in the 1950s who are unfairly affected by the increase in the state pension age.
I supported an amendment which sought to ensure that in the event of a master trust failing, there is a funder of last resort. I also supported a number of other amendments relating to member-nominated trustees for master trusts; a review of the new master trust governance and member engagement process; and master trust annual member meetings. It is disappointing that the Government opposed these amendments, as there is a need to create further security and dignity in retirement for working families across the UK. However, overall I welcome that the Bill will strengthen the regulatory footing of master trusts.
The Bill passed Third Reading and now awaits consideration by the House of Lords.
Legislating for UK Withdrawal from the EU (Government Statement)
On Thursday, the Government published a White Paper about its proposed Great Repeal Bill and the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU made a statement in the House of Commons.
The paper sets out three elements to the Great Repeal Bill. Firstly, it would repeal the European Communities Act 1972 on the day we leave the EU, ending the supremacy of EU law in the UK. Secondly, it intends to convert EU law into UK law, making sure rules do not change overnight and allowing Parliament and devolved legislatures to amend, repeal or improve these laws in the future. Thirdly, the Bill would create powers allowing the Government to amend laws that it determines would not operate appropriately once we have left the EU. The Secretary of State explained in his statement that he believes the Bill will help to ensure certainty and stability.
While the text of the Bill has not yet been published, I have initial concerns that the White Paper does not detail any enhanced safeguards for the proposed sweeping use of Government powers.
I do not underestimate the task of converting EU law into UK law but I believe there have to be clear principles for this. As a starting principle, I believe all rights and protections derived from EU law must be converted into UK law with no limitations, no qualifications and no sunset clauses.
|Here is the report from last week’s business at the House, sorry for the delay. In the section on Personal Independence Payment I’ve included a blog post I wrote for my website www.marierimmer.org.uk
- European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill (Ping Pong)
- Britain’s Place in the World Debate (Budget Resolutions)
- European Council (Government Statement)
- Education and Skills (Budget Resolutions)
- Personal Independence Payments (Urgent Question)
- Visible Religious Symbols: European Court Ruling (Urgent Question)
- Class 4 National Insurance Contributions (Government Statement)
- Counter-Daesh Update (Government Statement)
- Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill (Ping Pong)
- National Citizen Service Bill (Report Stage and Third Reading)
- Sky/21st Century Fox: Merger (Government Statement)
European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill (Ping Pong)
On Monday the House of Commons debated the Bill which gives the Prime Minister power to trigger Article 50 and begin the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
MPs considered two amendments to the Bill proposed by the House of Lords. The first sought to guarantee the residence rights of EU citizens presently in the UK. It would have required the Government to introduce proposals for achieving this within three months of the triggering of Article 50. I believe this is a matter of principle because there are 3.2 million EU nationals who have made their homes in the UK including many in our area. They do vital jobs in our local NHS and in our public services and are valued members of our community.
The second amendment sought to guarantee that the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and our future relationship with it, should be subject to votes in Parliament. This amendment sought to formalise the promises that the Government has already made to do this.
I have supported the important protections and safeguards behind both these amendments throughout the Bill’s passage through Parliament and Monday was the last opportunity for them to be put into legislation. I was therefore disappointed that the Government opposed and defeated them.
The Bill has now become an Act of Parliament and I expect that the Prime Minister will trigger Article 50 shortly.
I will continue to argue on behalf of my constituents for a strong future relationship with the EU – one based on collaboration and co-operation – and oppose any Brexit that puts jobs, the economy or living standards at risk.
Britain’s Place in the World Debate (Budget Resolutions)
This week the House of Commons continued to debate last week’s Spring Budget, and on Monday this focused on defence, foreign affairs and international development.
The Foreign Secretary stated that commitments to spend 0.7% of gross national income on international development and 2% of GDP on defence would be honoured by the Government.
While these seem like clear commitments, there are many unanswered questions about how funding is split between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, and about how this money is spent.
The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review allocated another £300 million of the aid budget to the £1 billion Conflict, Stability and Security Fund overseen by the National Security Council, involving, amongst others, the Foreign Office, Home Office and MoD. I am concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability in relation to cross-departmental aid spending. Aid spent outside the DfID budget is not subject to the same rigorous requirement to focus on poverty reduction, as set out in the International Development Act.
The FCO has faced cuts of 38% and I am concerned about the loss of skilled linguists and experts, the consequences for our standing in the world and for our global reach and influence.
Since 2010 the way that our 2% of GDP defence spending is calculated has changed and now includes, for example, war pensions. I believe we should look very carefully at whether we should go back to the old way of calculating the 2% that was used before.
European Council (Government Statement)
On Tuesday the Prime Minister made a statement following a meeting of the European Council.
The Prime Minister reported that the issues discussed included the challenge of managing mass migration; threats from organised crime and instability in the western Balkans; and the measures needed to boost Europe’s growth and competitiveness.
The Prime Minister said, following the Bill on Article 50 completing its passage through Parliament, that she would return to the Commons before the end of the month to notify when she had formally triggered Article 50 and begun the process through which the United Kingdom will leave the European Union.
The Prime Minister was pressed to focus on securing a transitional agreement with the EU at the earliest opportunity to give people and businesses some short-term clarity. She was also asked to bring certainty to EU nationals living in the UK, and to protect jobs and living standards by securing tariff-free access to the single European market. Additionally, she was pressed on the Government’s response to the refugee crisis.
As the Government moves towards the triggering of Article 50, it will be my parliamentary role, and that of my colleagues, to fight for jobs and the economy on behalf of my constituents, using every method of scrutiny to hold the Government to account.
Budget Debate (Education and Skills)
The House of Commons continued to debate last week’s Spring Budget on Tuesday, with a debate focused on education and skills.
I am disappointed that this Budget did not take any of the necessary steps to ensure that Britain has a school system that allows every child to fulfil their potential.
Despite the Government’s Social Mobility Commission recommendation that it should not implement its proposals for new grammar schools, the Government remains committed to expanding the use of academic selection. The Chancellor used the Budget to announce plans to spend another £320 million on the next tranche of new free schools. This money is supposed to create 140 schools, providing 70,000 school places. However, this is unrealistic when figures from the National Audit Office show that, given the average cost of creating a place in a free school, the Government will be unlikely to create even a fifth of the spaces it has promised.
The Government also announced that it is providing £5 million a year to transport children to grammar schools. However, this follows a £6million cut to school transport budgets last year, which left no statutory provision for disabled 16 to 18-year-olds and others, who were forced to change school.
The Chancellor pledged £216 million for every other school over a three-year period. However, the National Audit Office has said that £6.3 billion is required to ensure that all existing school buildings are at least satisfactory.
The Budget included no plans to address the growing financial black hole in the schools system and it did not commit any revenue spending to address the £3 billion in cuts that are facing schools across the country. The Government previously committed that not a single pupil in the country would see their funding cut. Yet the National Audit Office has found that there will be an 8% drop in per pupil funding this Parliament.
Personal Independence Payments (Urgent Question)
On Wednesday my colleague the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary asked the Secretary of State to make a statement on the recommendations of the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) on the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) (Amendment) Regulations 2017.
In a letter dated Monday last week, the Social Security Advisory Committee made a series of recommendations for the Government including greater scrutiny of the regulations, an in depth assessment of the impact on existing claimants and greater consultation with healthcare professionals.
The Government was rightly pressed for a guarantee that its changes to eligibility would not result in anyone seeing a reduction in their PIP award.
The rules around Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which help with the extra costs of a long-term health condition or disability, will change from today (Wed 15th March 2017) .
Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people as a result of additional associated costs, and PIP is a key source of income to prevent real hardship. Disability charity Scope has estimated that these additional costs amount to approximately £550 a month.
The Government says it is making these changes because two court judgements have made access to PIP – to people with debilitating mental health conditions or cognitive impairment which means they need support to navigate a journey – beyond what they had originally intended. This contradicts their response to their 2012 consultation on the new PIP assessment process and the arguments they made in a 2015 court case, where they argued that “psychological distress” should be included in PIP assessments.
On Tuesday the Government back tracked on their tax hikes for the self-employed in response to the uproar from small businesses. Now they should listen to calls from more than 30 disability charities who have written to ministers urging them not to restrict access to PIP. The charities have echoed Labour’s calls that people will be left without vital financial support if these draconian changes go ahead.
In addition they should listen to their own Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC), who, like the charities and disabled people’s organisations, they failed to consult prior to introducing these changes. In a letter to the Minister for Disabled People this week, SSAC recommended that there should be wider engagement prior to any changes and that proposals should be tested before implemented.
Labour has been fighting these regulations since they were sneaked out at the end of February. The changes will see over 160,000 disabled people and people with chronic mental health conditions not be able to access the full support they are entitled to – an effective cut worth £3.7bn. For a disabled person this means the difference between £21.80 and £57.45 a week.
We need to see people with mental health conditions being treated fairly and being properly supported to live full and independent lives. The proposed changes would create a legal distinction between mental health problems and other kinds of impairments when it comes to assessments. So much for parity of esteem.
The Government has fallen well short of fulfilling their commitment here. Evidence from the mental health charity, MIND, shows that 55% of people with mental health conditions transferring from Disability Living Allowance to PIP receive less support or no support at all. In addition the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions claimed that the new regulations meant people with a mental health condition could receive the enhanced PIP mobility rate when the new PIP assessment guidelines make it absolutely clear that they cannot!
On the day when Scope published analysis revealing that 89% of PIP Mandatory Reconsiderations or Appeals were successful, the Tories were still trying to peddle the myth that everything is fine with PIP.
The new PIP regulations is one of a series of cuts in social security support since 2010, with more due in April. The results have been devastating to disabled people, with debt, poverty and failing health. For too many it has been too much and they have given up on life, as life seems to have given up on them.
I do not believe that, given the choice, the British public would chose cuts in Corporation Tax (which is lowest in the G7) over pushing disabled people into destitution or worse.
The Government needs to know that enough is enough. No more cuts in support to disabled people. So please join us, Disabled People’s Organisations, activists and charities to campaign against these changes. Tell your family, your friends, your neighbours and get as many people as possible to lobby their MPs, write to the Prime Minister and sign the petition
calling on the new regulations not to be implemented.
Stand with Labour, stand with disabled people. Enough is enough.
Visible Religious Symbols: European Court Ruling (Urgent Question)
On Wednesday, the Government was asked to make a statement on the recent European Court of Justice ruling allowing employers to ban workers from wearing religious dress and symbols in the workplace.
On 14 March 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled that companies can ban employees from wearing the Islamic headscarf, but only as part of a wider ban which includes other religious and political symbols. The court found that such a ban is legal if it is “objectively justified by a legitimate aim”, such as a company’s policy of political or religious neutrality.
The judgment was prompted by the cases of two employees in Belgium and France who were dismissed from work after refusing to remove their headscarves. The Belgian employee had been working for a company which has a general ban on visible religious or political symbols, while the French employee was told to remove her headscarf after a client complained. The court emphasised that if a company does not have a wider internal ban, it cannot selectively discriminate against a worker at request of a customer.
The Government said that it is the right of all women to choose how they dress, and it does not believe that the recent judgment has changed that right. The Government said that the court’s ruling confirms the long-standing position of EU and domestic law that an employer’s dress code, where it applies in the same way to all employees, is justifiable if the employer can show legitimate and proportionate grounds for it.
However, I am concerned about the implications this judgement may have for faith communities. Whilst I am pleased that the Government is working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to update the guidance to employers on dress codes, I believe that it should reinforce the rights of employees in the UK to express their religious freedom.
I do not believe that a customer or service user would assume that a company is favouring one religion just by virtue of how one of its employees dress. Women and men must be allowed to choose how they express their faith and I do not believe that this judgment is consistent with the British liberal and human rights tradition.
Class 4 National Insurance Contributions (Government Statement)
On Wednesday the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement on national insurance contributions paid by the self-employed. He announced a u-turn on the tax rise announced in last week’s Budget.
The Chancellor said that the reason for reversing the increase was that MPs and others had questioned whether it was compatible with the tax lock commitments made in the Government’s election manifesto in 2015. The Chancellor said that there will now be no increases in NIC rates in this Parliament but that the Government will look for other ways to address the difference in the tax treatment of those who are employed and those who are self-employed.
I welcome this reversal, and I hope that the issues that self-employed people in my constituency care about will now be addressed instead, including: exploitation, late payments; the lack of access to maternity, paternity, adoption and sick pay, compassionate and carer’s leave.
The £2 billion that would have been raised by this tax rise was to go some way to tackling the serious problems in our social care system. So, it will be important for the Government to set out where these funds will come from now. The Chancellor was pressed on Wednesday to guarantee that no other tax rises for working people, or cuts to public services, would result from the change in policy.
Counter-Daesh Campaign: Iraq and Syria (Government Statement)
On Wednesday, the International Development Secretary updated the House of Commons on operations against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
Since the last update in the House of Commons in November, Iraqi forces have made significant progress against Daesh in Mosul, Iraq, with support from coalition aircraft including those of the Royal Air Force. After three years of Daesh rule, east Mosul was retaken on 24 January this year. The next phase of the operation, to liberate west Mosul, was launched on 19 February.
The International Development Secretary stated that her department has committed £169.5 million to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, and that a significant proportion of these funds is contributing to the Mosul humanitarian response.
In Syria, Daesh also continues to lose territory. The wider civil war there is now entering its seventh year, and some 13.5 million people are in need of humanitarian support.
The International Development Secretary also noted progress in countering Daesh’s propaganda, which is used as a recruitment tool, with its output having fallen by about 75% over the last year.
I pay tribute to the brave men and women of the armed forces involved in the fight against Daesh, and to the aid workers and others who are delivering humanitarian support to civilians. I hope the Department for International Development will engage with civil society groups and other local actors in mapping out the long-term future of Iraq and Syria. I also believe we must continue to give help to the most vulnerable fleeing terror and persecution.
Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) BilL
On Wednesday the House of Commons debated the Health Services Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill. This included consideration of the amendments made in the House of Lords.
The key purpose of the Bill is to allow the Government to act to ensure the cost of medicines used by the NHS is kept as low as possible. I support the Bill as it will allow the NHS to better control the prices of medicines and it will close a loophole which has allowed a number of companies to hike the prices of drugs.
However, I have concerns around access to medicines and treatments, which is why I supported an amendment to the Bill which would have ensured that patients have rapid access to new clinical and cost-effective medicines and treatments approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Unfortunately the Government voted against this amendment.
I believe the decision not to include this amendment represents a missed opportunity, however I strongly support the core of the Bill, which seeks to close loopholes and to secure better value for money for the NHS from its negotiations with the pharmaceutical sector.
National Citizen Service Bill (Report Stage and Third Reading)
On Wednesday, the House of Commons considered the National Citizen Service Bill.
National Citizen Service (NCS) is a summer programme that offers courses to 15-17 year olds during the school holidays in England and Northern Ireland. It is currently administered by the NCS Trust, a community interest company.
The Bill proposes to place NCS on a permanent statutory footing, with the aim of making the NCS Trust a national institution while preserving its independent ethos. It also proposes to establish appropriate administrative, funding and accountability arrangements for the NCS Trust and to enable HMRC to send information on NCS to young people.
Social integration is the most important function of NCS, and I believe that bringing together young people from different backgrounds broadens their understanding of their own country and the community of which they form a part, and it helps to build a sense of shared nationhood, which is very important for the future of our country.
I believe that the NCS has a great deal to offer young people, and I therefore welcome the Bill and its provisions to put NCS on a more secure footing. However, this week the Public Accounts Committee raised a number of concerns over the NCS and its value for money, governance and transparency. I hope the Government will show that it is listening to these concerns.
The proportion of NCS graduates from poorer backgrounds has fallen since 2011. The Government must do more to make NCS open to those who need it most. I hope that the Government will listen to these concerns as the Bill progresses so that we can harness the potential of young people to the fullest.
Sky/21st Century Fox: Merger (Government Statement)
On Thursday the Culture Secretary gave a statement to the House of Commons on the proposed merger between 21st Century Fox and Sky.
The Culture Secretary confirmed that she will intervene in the deal on the grounds of media plurality and commitment to broadcasting standards, and I welcome this.
The Culture Secretary will seek advice from Ofcom on those public interest considerations, and from the Competition and Markets Authority on other issues and has said there will be a thorough regulatory review. The CMA and Ofcom are expected to report back by Tuesday 16 May.
Ofcom has a duty to be satisfied that broadcast licensees are fit and proper on an ongoing basis. Earlier this week Ofcom announced that it would conduct a ‘fit and proper’ assessment at the same time it considers the public interest test in response to the decision to intervene in the Sky/21st Century Fox merger. I welcome this, but I am concerned that Ofcom has only 40 days to conduct the assessment. I also believe that some of the questions can only be answered by going ahead with part 2 of the Leveson inquiry, the findings from which would be crucial to assessing whether James and Rupert Murdoch should be allowed to obtain 100% control of Sky.