NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 11th June 2016
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With less a fortnight until the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, it looks like the vote will be a close run thing. While the EU might not fill everyone with excitement, I think it’s a really important club that Britain needs to stay in for serious reasons – so that our economy does well and so we can influence world affairs.
For me, it’s about assessing the risks of severing the link and quitting the European Union. If we leave, will our departure from the single market hit businesses and reduce jobs in the area? If we get a recession as indicated by the Governor of the Bank of England, could we see more downstream cuts for vital public services like the NHS? If you’re a homeowner, will a fall in house prices risk a rise in ‘negative equity’ and problems with mortgage rates and repayments?
My view is that the risks outweigh the benefits of leaving. Just look at how the financial markets have reacted since yesterday’s opinion poll suggesting that ‘Leave’ is ahead: the pound was knocked to a seven-week low, with dented share prices and demand fueled for safer assets such as bonds and gold (and that’s just jitters on an opinion poll result!).
But this isn’t just about markets far removed from us. Nottingham directly benefits from EU membership, getting around £100million since 2000 on projects like the refurbishment at Broadway Media Centre and delivering the tram network. And hundreds of Nottingham businesses get easy access to customers across the single market.
I’ll be debating the issues live on BBC Radio Nottingham with representatives from both the ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ sides this coming Thursday evening from 6pm. This is an issue that will affect everybody.
- You may recall the incident at the Victoria Centre on 29th May when a suspicious package was identified and the shopping centre had to be evacuated during the busy Bank Holiday weekend. Speaking with some residents in the Victoria Centre flats above the shopping centre it’s clear that they felt they were not kept sufficiently informed during the incident. As well as liaising with the Police, I contacted Nottingham City Homes to ask if procedures would be reviewed in light of the incident and I was pleased to hear that a public meeting is being planned for residents to allow them to air their concerns. Fortunately the suspicious package turned out to be a discarded suitcase, but it is important that residents in the flats, or in any similar tower block, are made fully aware of emergency and evacuation procedures. The residents at Victoria Centre flats deserve to know in advance of all alarms and incidents what procedures should be followed and how they will be informed.
- This year’s Nottingham Refugee Week is taking place from 17th– 27th June at venues across Nottingham. Refugee Week is a great opportunity to raise awareness about the needs of refugees as well as to showcase local talent from the refugee community. Among the events taking place are film screenings, live music nights, food evenings and theatre performances.
- This week is National Carers Week, which is an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring, highlight the challenges carers face and to recognise the contribution they make to families and communities. Yesterday I spent much of the day shadowing Heather Dill who is a carer working for Nottingham Community Housing Association as she made home visits to three service users. It was a real eye-opener to spend this time ‘shadowing’ Heather – which was arranged through trade union Unison in the East Midlands (pictured below with Sean Kelly-Walsh from UNISON). Some of those needing care receive four visits a day, helped with getting out of bed, meals, cleaning and shopping – and crucially overseeing administration of medication. These are vital tasks, often unsung, but with thousands depending on this help across the city. I was struck by the attention to detail Heather showed, the need to keep records accurately at each visit and also the rapport she had with each client. I’ll be taking some of the lessons I learned – such as the need for adequate time for each visit – into discussions in Parliament about how social care should be delivered.
- It’s the Queen’s official 90th birthday celebrations and I know that there are lots of local events, with schools getting involved and hopefully the weather will be kind! If you’ve got any pictures of street parties or other things going on do email them so I can share on twitter and facebook etc! Enjoy the weekend.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- The two most interesting events in Parliament this week happened outside the Chamber itself – in the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee. Select Committees – groups of backbench MPs – play an important role in holding the Government and many other institutions to account, and the BIS committee did so well this week. On Tuesday it heard from Mike Ashley, who admitted that in certain instances Sports Direct staff were not paid minimum wage, and that the company had outgrown his ability to manage it. Then, on Wednesday they heard from various characters in the BHS retail collapse, a saga of dubious deals and threats between owner and staff. I’m glad that Iain Wright MP and his colleagues have pressed forward with these enquiries.
- On Monday the Home Secretary made a statement on the Government’s strategy for removing foreign national offenders (FNOs) following the publication of a critical report by the Home Affairs Select Committee. I am concerned that while there has been progress on the deportation of FNOs, it has been slow. The Select Committee said that it was deeply concerned that there were nearly 6,000 FNOs living in communities — the highest figure since 2012. My colleague, the Shadow Home Secretary rightly pressed the Government on what they will do to bring the figure down. This is an issue of Government competence and they urgently need to get a grip on it. Our membership of the EU makes it easier to deport people. The EU prisoner transfer agreement provides a framework to speed up the process, and country-to-country deals are far harder to achieve. Access to the Schengen information system and the European criminal records information system helps us to stop criminals arriving in the UK, and the European arrest warrant means that they can be brought to justice.
- On Monday and Tuesday the Investigatory Powers Bill returned to the House of Commons. I have consistently supported the principle of new legislation to provide an updated legal framework for investigatory powers with stronger safeguards to better protect our privacy and national security and I have been clear that I will only support new legislation in this area if it strikes the right balance. My colleagues in the Shadow Home Office team secured some important commitments with regards to privacy and human rights. They ensured that Judicial Commissioners will scrutinise the decision to issue a warrant, that NHS records should only be accessed in exceptional circumstances, that there should be stronger protections for lawyers and journalists, and got the Government to commit that trade union activities could not be considered sufficient reason for investigatory powers to be used. There will now be an independent review of all the bulk powers in the Bill. To have voted against the Bill would have denied people those safeguards and left us with a much weaker piece of legislation that does not afford those protections. I therefore voted for the Bill at Third Reading and am glad the Labour frontbench did so as well. It is clear that investigatory powers need updating in a fast-changing world, and it is also clear that greater transparency is needed in how those powers are used. The Bill will now be scrutinised in the House of Lords.
- The deadline for voter registration for the EU referendum was midnight on Tuesday 7 June. However, on Tuesday evening a technical glitch on the gov.uk voter registration website caused it to crash, meaning many people could not register to vote before the deadline. On Wednesday the Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Registration asked the Government to make a statement on the problems with the gov.uk voter registration website. I welcomed the Government’s announcement on Wednesday that people should continue to register to vote and that their applications would be valid. However, this chaotic situation was unacceptable given the predictable rise in traffic in advance of the deadline. On Thursday the Government brought forward a Statutory Instrument, with full support from the Opposition, in order to pass the relevant legislation to enable the deadline for voter registration for the EU referendum to be extended until midnight on Thursday 9 June. This was approved without a vote.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Nottingham City Transport is an internationally award-winning council-owned bus company that has helped make our city a leader in public transport in the UK. Yet the Government this week indicated that they may try to change the law and forbid local authorities from setting up municipally-owned bus and transport firms. It’s not clear yet whether this could hit Nottingham’s transport planning, because although Ministers claim they’re not intending to ban existing council activities, if we were to get the powers we need to commission and franchise local public transport in the city, this could be viewed as a ‘conflict of interests’ between the council as a ‘client’ and also as a ‘provider’. I’ve discussed this with my colleague Lilian Greenwood MP who is on Labour’s frontbench with shadow transport responsibilities. We will try to amend the Bus Services Bill when it comes to the Commons in the autumn, not least to clarify that NCT won’t be degraded or disadvantaged.
But I’d be interested in your thoughts on NCT and Nottingham generally as a provider of bus service connectivity – how do you think Nottingham compares to other parts of the country when it comes to public transport? Do you agree we should defend the city council ownership of NCT? It’s a detailed issue, but could have ramifications for our local bus services.