NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 6th February 2016
Britain’s membership of the EU is now under the spotlight following Wednesday’s statement by the Prime Minister and the publication of the renegotiation details. The PM says he’s made progress in four areas of sovereignty, economic governance, social benefits & free movement, and competitiveness.
Ultimately, the case for Britain’s membership of the EU is much broader than the points David Cameron wanted to focus upon. My view is that we should remain in the EU because it is the best framework for European trade and co-operation in the 21st century. The EU helps create an economic environment enhancing job opportunities, growth, and investment – as well as working to protect British workers and consumers. Leaving the EU could put all of that at risk and diminish our influence in the world.
People are better off thanks to our membership of the EU; one estimate suggests that the average family saves around £450 a year thanks to lower prices achieved through the strength derived from being part of the biggest consumer market in the world. If we leave the EU the likelihood is that Britain will still have to follow the EU’s rules when we do business there, but we will no longer have a say in making those rules.
There are still problems to be addressed and the EU definitely needs to be reformed. But the most effective way to reform an institution is not to ‘pull up the drawbridge’; it is through building alliances for change and patient persuasion, just as it would be for reforming the UN or NATO or other international treaty organisations. I think it is now clear what the choice will be – probably at the referendum this June. I’d be interested, though, to know how you feel about this referendum now that the choice is approaching.
I’ll be discussing this issue, teacher recruitment locally and also devolution across the East Midlands on tomorrow’s BBC1 Sunday Politics East Midlands programme from 11am.
- Friday was the NSPCC’s ‘Number Day’, designed to engage children in maths as part of their wider campaigning, and I visited Djanogly Northgate Primary School, where Headteacher Liz Anderson showed me around their newly converted site on Sherwood Rise (pictured below). The new school will in time take admissions from ages 2 to 11 and has been growing rapidly, providing permanent space for some local pupils who missed out on some reception class time because of a lack of school places in the area. As a new primary school facility they have no fixed catchment yet and have been admitting children from across the community as they grow. I was very impressed with the new facilities at this site and it’s a credit to the leadership team of the school that they are meeting the demand for new places so well.
- This week, Bite the Ballot have been running a National Voter Registration Drive (NVRD). On Friday, I dropped in to their NVRD event at High Pavement Sixth Form College. In light of the Government’s move to Individual Voter Registration (which I talk about in more depth below), it is especially important that people are aware of the changes in how they can register to vote. Voter registration is a particular problem among young people, so I was glad to see Bite the Ballot addressing this issue.
- There are hundreds of care workers across Nottingham working with elderly and disabled residents, helping with mobility, washing, guiding with medication and other needs. Yet this is a sector rarely seen because the workforce are often travelling from their own homes to where their clients live, sometimes with no central ‘work place’ in the sense many of us would understand. I met with the public service union UNISON to discuss their campaign on homeworkers and the need to identify the experiences and issues homeworkers are facing. If you know those working in this sector, there is a survey UNISON are circulating to get some proper information about the terms, conditions and issues homeworkers face – and I’d encourage as many people to respond to the survey at the link here.
- Many of you will have seen this disturbing footage of a cyclist being knocked off their bike at the London Road roundabout. Despite the expectation of a prosecution, because the car was hired the police cannot prove who was driving and so say they are unable to make the case. Beyond this specific case, a number of constituents have contacted me about cycle safety generally in Nottingham, and I raised this a couple of years ago with Police & Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping. It is clear there is a way to go on this front, and I have agreed with my fellow Nottingham MPs Graham Allen and Lilian Greenwood to raise cycle safety and dangerous driving when we next meet with the Leader of the Council and his team.
- Friday marked ‘Light Night’ in Nottingham, with free events being held across the city. It’s fantastic to see the City Council organising inclusive events such as these, and I was pleased to see Nottingham recognised recently as a great place to visit by Rough Guides.
- On Thursday 11th February, ‘Our Sneinton’ are hosting a community event called ‘I Love Sneinton’. This free event includes performances from local musicians, children’s activities and refreshments, and is taking place from 4pm to 8pm at The Growin’ Spaces Community Café in St Christopher’s Church Hall, Sneinton. For further information see the flyer below or you can register online here.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- Since the Government’s move to Individual Voter Registration in late 2014 around 800,000 people have dropped off the electoral register. This represents a 1.8% drop nationally, though in some areas (for example university towns) the drop has been as great as 13%. Further, marginalised groups have suffered disproportionately; a young man from an ethnic minority background in private rented accommodation in a city has a less than 10% chance of being on the register. That is why I supported Siobhain McDonagh’s Ten Minute Rule Bill on Automatic Voter Registration this week. The Bill would place a duty on the Secretary of State to do everything they can to ensure electoral registers are accurate and complete. This would be done by compiling date from a number of public authorities – for example HMRC and DWP – to build a civic registry. The aim is a full, accurate and up-to-date register, where registration is easy. It is vital for our democracy that all people and groups are represented, and that is why I favour this important Bill.
- The Bank of England and Financial Services Bill came to the House of Commons for the first time on Monday. It is in two parts: amendments to the structures of the Bank of England, and regulation of financial services. The Bill removes the “presumption of responsibility” brought in to hold senior bankers to account, before these regulations have even come into force. From March 2016, the burden was to be on bankers to prove they took all the reasonable steps necessary to prevent regulatory breaches. Now the Government want to backtrack and replace this with a “duty of responsibility”. I also have some concerns that the Bill does not do enough to improve transparency and oversight of the work of the Bank of England, which gains extra powers in this legislation.
- On Wednesday the House of Commons debated an Opposition motion on tax avoidance and multinational companies. The debate comes after the deal HMRC was reported to have signed with Google amounting to £130million in respect of taxes dating from 2005 – 2015. I fear businesses and taxpayers will feel this arrangement is unfair. Furthermore, details of how the announced figure of £130million was reached have not yet been revealed. Companies like Google make a significant contribution to research and development and through the employment they provide. However, it is only right that Google and other major multinational companies pay a fair rate of tax.
- At the beginning of this week I visited the Gulf state of Kuwait to meet with representatives of their National Assembly and Ministers in the Kuwaiti Government. Following the UK liberation of the country in 1991, Kuwait has developed into one of the more democratic countries in the region but sits at the centre of real tensions and unresolved issues, located as it is between Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. With the oil price collapse it was interesting to discuss the economic and fiscal pressures that are building. The role of Gulf states in the Syrian conflict was also something I wanted to explore – in advance of the London conference later this week which raised new commitments for humanitarian relief.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Charities have been getting a lot of attention in the news this week, whether the larger charities like Age UK because of their energy supply businesses, or the tactics deployed for raising money. But today’s announcement from the Government that they are to ban charities who get grants from government from speaking out about public policy or campaigning does seem to be quite extreme. While Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock says he wants to end “the farce of government lobbying government”, I think that it seems pretty draconian to impose a gagging clause on charities if they are generally campaigning for decent health services or better education, simply because some of their funding derives from council grants or other public bodies. Just what is it about charity campaigning that frightens Ministers so much? I’d be interested to know your reaction to this proposed amendment from the Government.