NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 26th March 2017
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This week’s brutal attack in Westminster, with dozens injured and four killed, was a shocking reminder of the dangers posed by crazed radicalisation and the violence and terror it can create. The death of PC Keith Palmer who sought to protect the gates at Parliament has provoked phenomenal sympathy across the world.
Britain’s response has been measured and proportionate – universal tributes to those murdered and hurt; reviewing the existing security provisions; London returning to business as normal. I was visiting Berlin on Wednesday so I learned of the attacks on the news, but for many of my colleagues and staff in Westminster this was a stark reminder of the risks that exist and the need for constant vigilance.
The Prime Minister spoke for the whole country when she said that any attempt to defeat our country’s values through violence is doomed to failure. The UK has suffered this latest terrorist attack on the near anniversary of a similar attack in Brussels and of course the indiscriminate murders in Berlin and Nice.
There will be lessons to learn including whether security services have the right powers, the way in which Westminster is guarded, and whether the perpetrator was directed or groomed to commit such an appalling crime. The individual in question was British and so this is a home-grown problem and not simply something driven by a foreign ideology.
In the meantime, I will be returning to work in Parliament tomorrow as usual and getting on with my role in our democratic system – and my thanks to the many constituents who got in touch with such kindness in the immediate aftermath of this attack.
- Sadly there was another tragedy on Wednesday in Nottingham, with the news of a senseless knife attack in St Ann’s resulting in the death of 21 year old Reuben Morris-Laing. I would like to offer my sincere condolences to Reuben’s friends and family at this awful time. The attack took place following an incident in Robin Hood Street outside the Premier Express store just before 9:30pm. The Police have appealed for any witnesses or individuals with cctv in their cars who might have been in the areas last Wednesday evening to contact them on 101 quoting incident number 825 of 22nd March, or to call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. The Police have arrested a 29 year old man and a 22 year old woman in connection with the murder and they were in custody this weekend. It’s clear that tackling knife crime, in Nottingham and elsewhere remains a challenge, and I support very much the call from St Ann’s councillor and City Council leader Jon Collins who has called for wider steps to deter individuals carrying knives without justification. He suggests that the mandatory sentence for firearm possession had a big effect on reducing gun crime and that a clearer mandatory sentence for carrying knives without good cause should be considered. This makes sense and I will try to press Ministers to take up this issue at the earliest opportunity.
- On Friday along with Lilian Greenwood MP, I met with the Nottingham Clinical Commissioning Group representatives to discuss recent decisions to change local NHS services. Financial pressures now mean that difficult decisions are being made locally to drive further efficiencies but also potentially alter existing provision. I raised my concerns about the impact on back pain services and the extent to which so many treatment issues were being pushed out into the ‘community’. In particular, I was eager to press the CCG on their plans for stroke rehabilitation services and the possible closure of specialist stroke beds for in-patients. The difficulties arising from the different approach between the County and the City CCGs account for some of changes now likely. More broadly I will be pressing the Government nationally to bear in mind the consequences of restricted resources and the false economy of cutting rehabilitation when this helps so many affected get healthy and back to work and normal life.
- Friday was also a good opportunity for me to catch up with the new Chief Executive of Marketing Nottingham & Nottinghamshire, Brendan Moffett and his team. It was useful to run through their new joined-up approach to promoting Nottinghamshire more broadly, and to discuss the opportunities for bringing investment and new business into the city.
- On Tuesday we saw new analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which demonstrated the true impact of the Government’s new school funding formula – and I’m afraid to say it made for pretty grim reading. In most Nottingham schools, the formula would mean a funding cut of over £500 per pupil by 2019. At the Djanogly Academy, for instance, pupils are forecast to lose £654 a year; at Nottingham Academy, the figure is £685, representing a huge real-terms budget cut of £1.8 million. Teachers and students simply can’t afford to see cuts of this kind, and the government must rethink their formula review to prevent this entirely avoidable crisis.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- The week in Westminster was, of course, overshadowed by the tragic events of Wednesday afternoon. I travelled to Germany on Wednesday and Thursday to meet with senior parliamentarians, Government representatives and policy-makers to discuss the prospects for the UK in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. The Prime Minister intends to send the formal letter notifying of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union this week, and I was getting a sense of how leading European nations are likely to respond. My worry is that the strong belief in maintaining the integrity of the EU by the Germans and others will mean they feel a need to show how those who leave do not prosper by doing so. This would make a good deal difficult to achieve, but the situation could be made worse if British Ministers are intransigent and show no willingness to compromise for our long term trade and economic benefit. More on this, no doubt, in the weeks to come.
- On Monday we debated the Prisons and Courts Bill, a wide-ranging piece of legislation which touches on many aspects of the justice system. While the Bill makes welcome steps to modernise the operation of our courts and tribunals, these changes make little difference to those who can’t access justice at all, a problem hugely exacerbated in recent years by changes to legal aid and the introduction of tribunal fees. Equally, the Bill doesn’t tackle overcrowding or understaffing in prisons. We desperately need more prison officers with the resources to reduce violence and make our prisons safe. These twin challenges are fundamental, and however welcome the Bill’s other provisions are, its failure to offer solutions to them represents a deeply disappointing missed opportunity.
- On Tuesday, the House of Commons debated the vitally important issue of fuel poverty. I’m clear that no-one in Britain should face the paralysing choice between heating their home and feeding their family – with over four million UK households living in fuel poverty, and thousands of avoidable deaths every winter, I’m really worried that things are moving in the wrong direction. The Energy Minister assured the House that the Government remains committed to meeting its targets on energy efficiency. In reality, though, we’ve seen a reduction of 88% in the number of major insulation measures over the last ten years, and the new Energy Company Obligation, which provides energy efficiency measures to fuel-poor households, will see 42% less funding this year than during 2013-17. At this rate the Government may miss its 2030 fuel poverty target by as much as 80 years! I believe that we should make energy efficiency a key infrastructure priority, and act to end fuel poverty entirely.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
We have seen a number of knife attacks and stabbings in Nottingham in recent years, including in Sneinton, St Ann’s and Hyson Green, and as I mentioned above in relation to this latest tragedy, there does need to be a serious look at changing criminal justice policy to try and reduce this phenomenon.
The stiffer penalty for being found with a gun definitely drove many potential criminals to stash away their weapons rather than carry them around on their person. As a result, the instant opportunity to lash out and use those weapons in the heat of anger may have been reduced. Of course, the seriously pre-mediated criminal would still not be deterred – but not all gun use was pre-mediated.
I should stress that I do not know the circumstances of this week’s attack and so can only comment in wider terms about knife crime in general. But perhaps if the same deterrent against gun possession also cracked down on carrying knives, then we could see a reduction in the number of injuries in the heat of the moment?
Are there other steps that the local police, courts and justice agencies should be taking to prevent criminality in our neighbourhoods? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.