NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 9th September 2016
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
Parliament has now returned following the summer recess and perhaps the most controversial proposal Theresa May wants to pursue is an extension of the selective school system currently limited to grammar schools in other parts of the country with selection at age 11.
Whether by opening new grammar schools or allowing existing schools to pick children by ability, my worry is for the educational chances taken away from those not selected and left behind. There’s no evidence that selection at 11 helps social mobility, quite the contrary. Only about 3% of poor pupils go to selective grammar schools at present in the counties where they currently operate, much lower than the 17% who qualify for free school meals in those schools that aren’t selective. When OFSTED’s own chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw voices his serious doubts about the divisive and limited nature of an extended selective system, it’s clear that the evidence about boosting attainment is not the driving force behind these proposals.
Just as I would want intensive support for pupils who are struggling academically, I’m not opposed to extra assistance for high achieving children to nurture their abilities. But to separate off children on the basis of a snapshot test doesn’t give those excluded a chance to access that help and limits their potential. It’s natural for parents to want to chase excellent teaching in excellent schools – but the priority of government must be to boost that excellence for young people who don’t have that helping hand at home and who haven’t got parental advantages. Far better to focus on boosting the quality of teaching each pupil can receive in the classroom and tailoring teaching to the needs and abilities of each child. Forcing more children to confront a fork in the road at age 11 isn’t fair. Nor was this in the Tory manifesto at the election last year.
- It was great to have a chance to walk around the Skylarks nature reserve near Holme Pierrepont, which is run by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. I met with Erin McDaid and Ian Johnston from the Trust (pictured below), as well as local volunteers who help out with maintaining the reserve. Skylarks prides itself on being accessible to all – there is good information at the site on walks for all levels of ability. The nature reserve is aiming to attract people of all ages, including children and young people, the Trust are doing incredibly important work opening up access to beautiful Nottinghamshire countryside, and I would certainly encourage people to visit this lovely nature reserve.
- A few people have contacted me over the summer raising concerns about the future of the Old School House in Sneinton. The building was in a poor state of repair, so the City Council closed it earlier this month. Local councillors are keen to allow time for local groups to come forward with ideas for the building, including ideas for future funding. In light of this, Sneinton Neighbourhood Forum are holding a public meeting next Monday 12th September at 6.30pm – meeting outside the Old School Hall on Windmill Lane and then continuing the meeting at 7pm in a local venue. Representatives from the council and the Renewal Trust will be in attendance.
- Blood Pressure UK are running ‘Know Your Numbers Week’ from 12-18 September, to encourage people to take up a free and potentially life-saving blood pressure check. High blood pressure is known as the ‘silent killer’ as it has no obvious symptoms so the only way for people to know if they have the condition is to get their blood pressure checked. Once diagnosed, high blood pressure can be successfully managed. If you’d like to get your blood pressure checked, you can find your nearest ‘Pressure Station’ here. Many community pharmacies also offer free blood pressure checks all year round.
- Many residents in Nottingham who have relatives and friends in Pakistan and Kashmir have raised concerns with me about the ongoing situation in the Indian-controlled areas of Kashmir, with reports of an increase in violence and serious abuses of human rights. As part of the All Party Parliamentary Kashmir Group, I have signed a joint letter to the new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, asking him to give assurances about UK nationals visiting Kashmir, and to support the self-determination of the Kashmiri people.
- So sorry to hear that the excellent Stonebridge City Farm in St Ann’s has suffered a spate of vandalism in recent weeks, including chicken houses overturned and their lovely Star Wars themed shed smashed. If anyone has any information about this please contact the 101 non-emergency number for Nottinghamshire Police.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- It’s a reminder that when a Prime Minister changes, in effect there is a change of Government. As a result there are a whole series of policy changes from the old Cameron / Osborne regime that are ditched or changed or that rear up again. For example, just today Ministers have dropped their plans to legislate for the National Infrastructure Commission, which would have cracked through delays and politicking on the big projects we need for economic improvement. That’s a backward step and has the hallmarks of a centralising Number 10 under Theresa May to come.
- On Monday, the Government was asked to make a statement on any assessments it had made of alleged breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) in Yemen. This was the first opportunity in Parliament to press the Government on the clarifications that it has made to parliamentary answers on this issue. Earlier this year, the Government stated on a number of occasions that it had “assessed that there has not been a breach of IHL by the coalition” in Yemen. However, on the day the House of Commons rose for the summer recess, the Government corrected these statements to say that it had “been unable to assess that there has been a breach of IHL by the Saudi-led coalition.” It is unacceptable for the Government to provide incorrect answers and to take so long to correct them. If the Government does not know whether British-made weapons or planes have been used to commit breaches of IHL, then there are clearly questions about whether such equipment should be traded.
- At the beginning of the week Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt made a statement about the British Medical Association’s announcement that it was initiating further industrial action over the junior doctors’ contract. The prospect of a five-day strike by junior doctors next week was extremely serious and while many had thought a resolution had been reached, it is welcome that junior doctors have suspended the strike, even though the remaining programme of industrial action stays in place. If it eventually goes ahead, it will be the first such strike by medics in the entire history of the National Health Service. Lots of people have sympathy with the staff involved and it would be better if Ministers and BMA reps got around the table to sort this out without risking disruption or the good health of patients.
- We debated the Finance Bill this week in the Commons and I voted to strengthen anti-avoidance rules, I voted against cuts in corporation tax and capital gains tax and (for the many people who wrote via 38 degrees on the ‘Mayfair tax loophole’) I’m glad that the Government accepted the case for capital gains tax to apply to carried interest gains. Importantly, my colleague Caroline Flint MP persuaded Ministers to accept new powers to introduce country-by-country corporate account reporting which will boost tax transparency rules.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
David Davis, the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, this week gave his first report to the House of Commons on the working of his department following the referendum on 23 June. It’s obviously going to be one of the biggest political challenges of our generation. Yet despite working on it through the summer, we are still to hear what deal the Government is working towards and how it plans to achieve it.
There are lots of Nottingham businesses – and employees – potentially left in limbo which solutions are found. That’s why I called for assurances that we can get on with negotiating new trading deals and relationships at the same time as tackling the Brexit divorce proceedings, doing these in parallel not one after the other (click here for a link to the Facebook video of my exchange with the Minister).
At the G20 summit Theresa May was faced with problems from the US administration who are prioritising the EU trade talks first of all, Japanese Ministers issuing warnings about investment in the UK and Australian Ministers saying the UK may have to wait a couple of years before negotiations begin on new trading relationships.
These things may seem remote from Nottingham’s economy right now – but they are crucial. I’d be interested in your thoughts on the current state of play on ‘Brexit’ and the sorts of issues you’d like me to raise in the Commons on this in the coming weeks and months.