Our MP reports from Parliament

11th September

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.

Kind regards

  • 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.

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20th July

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.

kind regards


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.

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11th July

 
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.

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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.

Our mailing address is:

Marie Rimmer

St Helens South and Whiston Labour

Century House, Hardshaw Street

St Helens, WA10 1QU

United Kingdom

 

 

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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.
Kind regards

  • Queen’s Speech
  • Grenfell Tower Fire (Government Statement)
  • Terror Attacks (Government Statement)
  • Housing and Social Security (Queen’s Speech Debate)
    Queen’s Speech 
    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.
Our mailing address is:

Marie Rimmer

St Helens South and Whiston Labour
Century House, Hardshaw Street

St HelensWA10 1QU

United Kingdom

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25th April

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.
Kind regards.
  • 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

2nd Floor
Century House, Hardshaw Street

St Helens, WA10 1QU

United Kingdom
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4th April

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.
Kind regards

  • 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.

Copyright © 2017 Marie Rimmer MP, All rights reserved.
Our mailing address is:

Marie Rimmer MP

2nd Floor

Century House, Hardshaw Street

St Helens, WA10 1QU

United Kingdom
 22nd March 2017
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

Kind regards

  • 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.

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