NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 14th November 2015
As the news of the horrific attacks in Paris came through late last night, it was sadly clear this was becoming one of the worst terrorist incidents in Europe in modern times. It is staggering to comprehend the depravity that leads to such acts of evil and premeditation, going so far beyond any sane explanation, justification or rational cause.
There has been an outpouring of sympathy and solidarity from communities across the world for those affected and I’ve already had many Nottingham residents expressing their shock at the news. It is fitting that tonight so many landmarks across the UK will be lit in the colours of the French Tricolour to illustrate the UK’s fraternity.
There will clearly need to be a thorough analysis of these coordinated attacks and consideration will need to be given to what further steps if any the national authorities could possibly take to thwart or prevent the loss of so many lives. From my own time as the Minister for Civil Contingencies and Emergency Planning, I know that we place a great deal of expectation on the shoulders of our security services who do successfully impede terrorism in our country month by month – but it is of course impossible to always stop the determined suicide attacker. In the meantime it is important that the democratic world is not cowed or intimidated by those so clearly attempting to target our values, culture and way of life.
Ø Yesterday evening I was delighted to attend the ninth annual NUHonours Awards at the East Midlands Conference Centre. The NUHonours Awards celebrate the contribution of nurses, doctors, porters and all the other staff and volunteers who work at Nottingham hospitals and go above and beyond the call of duty in their care of patients and their families. It was a real pleasure to meet with so many of the staff and charity volunteers who keep our local NHS going so strongly – and it was also nice to be seated with Barbara Cathcart (pictured below) who runs the Nottingham Hospitals Charity and which hosted the awards. The Charity raises millions of pounds and contributes towards all sorts of improved facilities for patients, including over £2million for the new cystic fibrosis centre. Donations and bequests are often left to the Nottingham Hospitals Charity and more information is available at their website here http://nottinghamhospitalscharity.org.uk/
Ø A big shake-up has been announced by Ministers of HMRC tax offices across the country, with news of the closure of 137 centres and instead a consolidation into 13 new regional centres. While we have heard that the regional centre for the East Midlands will be based in Nottingham, the Government have yet to make clear how many job losses will result from the closure of the six offices currently operating in the region and whether there will be any other local impact from the change. There are some big questions arising from this reconfiguration, for taxpayers already finding it difficult in touch with HMRC, and of course for staff themselves. I will try to find out more about what exactly will be happening.
Ø It’s ‘Small Business Saturday’ on December 6th and in the run up to this great event I want to encourage as many people to shop locally and support high street retailers in our area. On Friday I popped in to ‘Ideas On Paper’ in Cobden Chambers who retail magazines, journals, books and stationery. They have helped collaborate with the City Council, Experience Nottinghamshire and Nottingham Business Improvement District (BID) on a new ‘Creative Quarter’ handbook to be distributed free from local shops. It’s got some useful tips and ideas about local eateries, shopping and events – if you’re in town do pick one up.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
Ø On Tuesday the Minister for Europe made a statement on the Government’s proposed renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the European Union. The Government set out the changes it wants to see in four areas: economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty, and welfare and immigration. The agenda raised important issues, including some which were in the manifesto I stood on at the general election such as protection for the rights of non-Eurozone countries and of national Parliaments. However, I was disappointed that there was so little about jobs and growth for the future. Britain is a more powerful, prosperous and secure country as a result of its membership of the EU.
The EU does need reform and especially in terms of democratic accountability, in my view. The Government also needs to guarantee that nothing in their agenda reduces the hard won employment rights which have been agreed at European level including rights to paid leave, rights for part time workers and fair pay for temporary and agency workers. There will now be a process of formal negotiation with the European institutions and all European partners, leading to discussion at the December European Council. The Government has said that it is progress in this renegotiation which will determine the timing of the referendum which will take place by the end of 2017.
The decision on whether or not the United Kingdom remains a member of the European Union is one of the biggest decisions this country will take for a generation. I want to see Britain playing a full role in shaping a reformed and better Europe which offers jobs and hope to its young people, uses its collective strength in trade with the rest of the world and stands together to face the urgent security problems we face.
Ø On Tuesday the Government’s Trade Union Bill passed its Report Stage and Third Reading in the House of Commons. I oppose this Bill because it undermines the basic protections that trade unions provide for people at work. Labour tabled a number of amendments to the Bill, with much of the debate on Tuesday focusing on the three broad areas of devolution, e-balloting and picketing. Our amendments on devolution were designed to ensure that the Bill’s measures would not apply to services which are either wholly or partly devolved in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland or to English local councils or the Mayor of London. This would ensure that devolved administrations are able to decide how best they engage with their staff and trade unions. Unfortunately these amendments did not pass.
The Bill also introduces higher thresholds for strike ballots. The Government argues that this is aimed at boosting democracy in the workplace. In reality, I believe the proposals are designed to restrict workers’ voices and to prevent unions from effectively representing their members. If the Government was interested in boosting workplace democracy it would allow electronic workplace balloting which would help bring ballots into the twenty-first century.
Following significant scrutiny and pressure at Committee Stage, the Government tabled a number of amendments to loosen requirements on picketing – but these minor concessions do not go nearly far enough. Clause 9 of the Bill will still impose significant new restrictions on the ability of trade unions and their members to picket and protest peacefully, undermining civil liberties. Unfortunately an amendment removing this Clause was defeated.
The Bill now goes to the House of Lords for the final part of its legislative consideration.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
The terrorist attacks in Paris are clearly on the minds of the whole world this weekend – and there is much debate and speculation even at this early stage about lessons to be learned and the reaction that is likely to build. I’d be interested to hear any thoughts, anxieties or observations you might have at this time.
President Hollande of France has stated his conclusion that these were targeted attacks by ISIS and ISIS have also now claimed responsibility. There is an obvious and live threat here and I suspect there will be an urgent series of deliberations – most likely including a Commons statement on Monday – touching on the three questions of where else may be vulnerable, how more effective intelligence might foil attacks before they happen and ultimately how the threat should be removed.
History suggests that events may well move quite rapidly in the days ahead and I feel this is going to be a time for very careful leadership and thoughtful consideration for the bigger picture.