NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 10th February 2017
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Parliament has been dominated by the Brexit ‘Article 50’ legislation this week – and I tried hard to amend the Bill in order to restrain Theresa May’s headlong rush towards the ‘hard Brexit’ cliff-edge. Unfortunately there weren’t enough Conservative moderate MPs willing to support some of the changes I proposed, so the Bill now goes to the House of Lords for them to consider. I’ve described a bit more about the Parliamentary process on this in the news section below.
Britain’s place in the world is now changing rapidly. The disconnection from Europe is driving Government Ministers towards new trading alliances with non-European countries, and although I am happy to see progressive trade deals develop, I worry about the unrealistic naivety of a British Government thinking that a deal with Donald Trump will be generous to us and fit with British values. Britain’s role should be to promote fairness, the rule of law and equal opportunities. My concern is that severing our best relationships with other progressive European countries will reduce our impact in this regard.
This week has been disheartening and a reminder that a progressive majority in Parliament really is conspicuous by its absence. I am conscious of the need for the Opposition to be far more effective – and to put more fight into defending the values that are so clearly at risk worldwide.
- Today’s news that more patients than ever have waited more than four hours in accident and emergency units in England is a stark reminder of the increasing pressures on NHS resources. I visited our local Emergency Department at Queen’s Medical Centre on Thursday to see for myself the hard work and dedication of Nottingham’s NHS staff. It’s been a tough December and January at QMC but intensive efforts to improve patient flow through the hospital and joint working with local social services does seem to have been making a difference in recent weeks and today’s waiting times were better. But the overall trend is of more complex cases, from older patients, presenting more frequently and leading to bed shortages. It was very useful to talk with medical practitioners and managers to hear about recent trends and they reiterated the importance of adding on a new primary & urgent care facility alongside the Emergency Department at QMC to bolster capacity and take pressure off the most acute services. I’ll be redoubling my efforts to persuade Government Ministers to fast-track the capital investment we need for this facility, coupled with the staffing resource funding to make it work. The NHS is a cherished institution for our community and now is the time to reform and improve the frontline of emergency care so it can be fit for the 21st century.
- This week I visited the Jericho Road Project, a charity which has been working with women in prostitution for over 15 years, supporting them by providing food, benefits and housing advice and offering companionship. It was good to visit their premises and talk with the team and also quite a revelation to hear about the gradual shift from ‘on street’ prostitution to ‘online’ prostitution –which is obviously much harder to monitor and police.
- On Thursday I visited the Nottingham Alevi Cultural Centre. There are around 300,000 Alevis living in the UK, mostly originally from Turkey, and the Nottingham Alevi Cultural Centre estimate that there are around 1,000 Alevis in the Nottingham area who use their centre. I met members of the charity’s board and discussed their future plans for the Alevi community in Nottingham.
- A new Ofsted report has found that Jamia al-Hudaa Residential College in Mapperley Park is still not meeting standards following their previous inspection in April 2016. While some improvements have been made, Ofsted have concluded that the school is still not meeting all independent school standards. It is deeply concerning that standards are not improving sufficiently at this school – there are children being adversely affected and it’s not unreasonable for the Department for Education to intervene.
- I was sorry to hear of the death of Sir Peter Mansfield, the Nobel laureate who invented the MRI scanner and who worked as a physics lecturer at the University of Nottingham for thirty years from 1964. He achievements were truly world-changing and the 3D images of the body have provided a massive leap forward for medicine.
- Places at the Nottingham Kashmir Roundtable discussion I’m hosting on Friday 24th February are filling up fast. If you or a group you represent have a keen interest in the issues affecting the Kashmiri community, please email to let me know as space is limited and it would be good to have voices from a cross-section of opinion. We will be taking stock of the current situation in Kashmir, discussing the work of existing groups and organisations and thinking about other campaigns and representations that might be made.
- I understand that the transfer of the Co-op Food Stores shop and staff on 684 Mansfield Road in Sherwood into new ownership of the ‘Food Retailer Group’ have hit a big problem, with that firm now going into liquidation. This could clearly have sad implications for the staff concerned who were transferred, facing the prospect of redundancy. I am told that the Coop Group are going to try to see if they can help find alternative work for those staff and protect pensions and redundancy pay.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- It’s been wall-to-wall Brexit this week in the Commons with MPs totally absorbed in the limited debating time granted on the massive issue of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. This is surely one of the most important issues for a generation – yet Government Ministers have strained every sinew to prevent democratically elected MPs from involvement in the decisions that flow from the referendum result. Setting aside the irony of those who argued that the British Parliament must ‘take back control’ now doing all they can to thwart parliamentary consent, it is only because the Supreme Court reinforced the duty of MPs to make these final decisions that the Bill arrived in the first place. While I couldn’t ignore the democratic outcome of the referendum I voted for, hence my decision to abstain at third reading, I do believe that all those other questions not on the ballot paper must be given more careful thought, deliberation and scrutiny. That’s why I tabled more amendments than any other MP to the legislation – and why the vote on my ‘new clause 110’ produced such a close result on Tuesday during the committee stage. We didn’t have quite enough votes to win it at this stage, but the principle that Parliament should have a meaningful vote on the new draft Treaty, or on whatever our future relationship will be following the negotiations, is a very important one. My proposal was that British MPs should be able to have the final say on this, in advance of consideration by the European Parliament and EU Council of Ministers. Giving unilateral power to the Prime Minister would be a step away from the national consensus we ought to seek going forward. Two years of negotiations will be a difficult journey but at the end of that road lies a cliff edge. We may have an option to bridge across that canyon or we may then take a leap into the abyss. Either way, it should be Parliament’s decision, not something left to the Crown prerogative. Take for example a circumstance where the EU27 countries offer a deal to the UK that could salvage some of the benefits of Single Market tariff-free trade, but the Prime Minister turns it down and opts for WTO conditions instead. Despite what fleetingly sounded like a ‘concession’ from Ministers on this, it became clear as the debate progressed that in fact the Prime Minister has no intention at all of allowing a vote on such circumstances. So we could lose a good deal and fall off the cliff edge, with no reference to Parliament whatsoever! This is clearly unacceptable, and a number of eminent MPs from parties other than mine also agreed in the Tuesday vote. The ridiculous curtailing of debate to only three days in committee stage makes a mockery of the role Parliament should be playing and means we won’t have the chance to vote on other amendments touching on some other vital questions. Hopefully the House of Lords will do the careful diligent scrutiny that the Commons have been prevented from doing. Workers’ rights? Environmental cooperation? Trade and competition policy? Businesses and financial services? All issues MPs couldn’t vote on but deserve attention. In truth, this Bill is probably the last substantive chance for Parliament to tell Ministers the priorities of their constituents. I will keep fighting to avoid the UK falling off the cliff edge and Parliament is our last best hope for restraining those who would lead us down the path to a hard Brexit. The Bill now goes up to the Lords for consideration. I hope it will return to the Commons with a few of the basic safeguards for the rights of our constituents and for Parliament – and we can then persuade other like-minded colleagues to keep that right to check the power of the Prime Minister.
- Parliament will take a break with a short half-term recess next week, so these MP Updates will return the week after next.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
The nature of employment contracts and the workplace are rapidly changing – and the large number of ‘Deliveroo’ cyclists across the city are a reminder of the so-called ‘gig economy’ where short-term, temporary work is often provided without the long term security that once existed.
Today’s Court of Appeal ruling which backed up the case of a plumber who wanted to reduce his working days following a heart attack was instructive; the court ruled that even though the plumber was technically ‘self-employed’ he was entitled to basic workers’ rights. This was the case of an individual who worked solely for Pimlico Plumbers for six years, even though he was separately registered for VAT and paid tax on a self-employed basis.
I’d be interested to know if you or those you know have had any experiences with this emerging ‘grey area’ of the ‘flexible’ labour market. Are the concepts of ‘part-time’ or ‘fixed-term’ contracts now disappearing in favour of the zero-hours arrangement? Or are employers and employees finding new flexibilities to suit new circumstances? Is the law providing the right safeguards? I’d be interested in your thoughts.