NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 4th November 2017
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With the Brexit negotiations stalled and the Government conveying distinctly mixed messages about how to proceed, I believe the time has come for the public see the full detail of what is at stake. Ministers admit that they have prepared detailed ‘impact assessments’ predicting how Brexit might affect every sector of the economy – with 58 studies in all. Yet they have steadfastly refused to publish these so we can all be better informed about what might happen, for instance, in the aviation industry, in the health service, in skills and training or in manufacturing.
Greater transparency in the Brexit process is now needed and the Government should release these reports as part of that. On Wednesday I supported Hilary Benn and Keir Starmer in efforts to order the publication of these reports – and Parliament agreed unanimously to do so. Nobody is asking for sensitive documents or issues where there is commercial confidentiality to be published or done so in a way that might compromise the UK’s negotiating position with the EU. That is why the motion that passed did not require blanket publication of the studies without further consideration. Instead, the motion called for the studies to be presented to the independent and cross-party Brexit Select Committee which would then decide when and in what form to publish them.
We are about to start the most important legislation affecting our economy and legal system for a generation – the EU (Withdrawal) Bill committee stage which will last until Christmas. I will be doing everything I can to persuade my MP colleagues to rise above party politicking and treat this issues with the national significance it deserves, thinking through the consequences which will affect our country for decades to come.
- Plans were unveiled this week showing how the new Nottingham College city centre campus could look. The new building is part of the Southern Gateway regeneration scheme which also involves the development of Broadmarsh Centre and the rebuilding of the bus station and car park. If the plans are approved, the new Nottingham College City Hub will be built on land off Canal Street, to the south of Nottingham Contemporary. The College are running a public consultation on the plans and are running public sessions at Nottingham Contemporary on Friday 10th November from 10.30am-12noon and from 2pm-5pm. Alternatively, you can submit your views online here.
- The Local Government Boundary Commission for England has issued its draft recommendations for new ward boundaries for Nottingham City Council. The draft proposals recommend keeping the number of councillors at 55, but that they should be divided among 14 three-councillor wards, 4-two councillor wards and 5 one-councillor wards. There are arguments against single-councillor wards (Nottingham presently only has two and three-councillor wards), as constituents can benefit from a better service by having the option to contact multiple councillors. In general, the ward boundaries in Nottingham East have not been altered much. However, one of the curious recommendations is to create a new Hyson Green ward, which would take in parts of four existing wards – Berridge, Arboretum, Leen Valley and Radford & Park. The Commission are inviting comments on their draft recommendation until 15th January 2018. You can look at the proposals in more details and make comments online here.
- The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners has said that more than £1.2billion extra needs to be invested in policing in England and Wales to sustain current levels of policing. They have said that £440million extra is required in 2018/19 and £845million in 2019/20, which would provide an additional 5,000 police officers nationally to deal with increased local demands and new types of crime which are increasingly complex. Nottinghamshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping has said that he is determined to make sure that Nottinghamshire gets its fair share of the funding increase, which is vitally important given the higher than average increase in recorded crime levels in the last year, as I discussed in my update a couple of weeks ago. The Government have said that they will consult on plans for the 2018/19 settlement by the end of the year.
- It was good to get out and about and talk with residents of Kingston Court in Sneinton on Friday afternoon (pictured). Although there aren’t any elections on, it is still useful for me and local councillors to meet local residents and find out what’s on their minds – and I met some residents who had lived in the flats for over fifty years! Issues raised including the need for better variety of local supermarket shopping within walking distance and the approach of NCH to installing repairs and facilities in the flats.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- On Monday, the Leader of the House of Commons responded to an urgent question on the Government’s plan to tackle allegations of sexual harassment in Parliament. This followed recent reports of inappropriate behaviour in Westminster. All party leaders and the Commons Speaker have quite rightly made it clear that there is a vital need to provide better support and protection for MPs’ staff. She said that the House must establish a House-wide complaints service, complemented by a code of conduct and a contractually binding grievance procedure, available for all MPs, peers and their staff. The Labour Party already has a strong code of conduct in place, but clearly more attention to this is still required. Nobody who comes to work in the House of Commons should be subjected to unwanted advances from those who are in a position of power over them. I believe all parties should work together on this issue to come up with an appropriate safeguarding policy for everyone who works in Parliament. There should be a proper process of investigation for all allegations. The House should also look at widening the scope of the Members’ staff helpline to include independent advice on the next steps for a complainant.
- The various allegations swirling around in the media have, amongst other things, led to the resignation of Michael Fallon as Defence Secretary (to be replaced by the unusual choice of the Tory chief whip Gavin Williamson) and also the suspension of two Labour MPs while allegations against them are investigated. I hope that more robust processes can be put in place which allow for the best rules of justice to be pursued, allowing complaints to be made with confidence that they will be treated with absolute seriousness.
- On Tuesday, the Government launched a consultation on proposed changes to gaming machines and social responsibility measures across the gambling industry. The amount British gamblers lose on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) – which allow users to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds – has risen from £1 billion in 2009 to £1.8 billion in 2016. FOBTs are highly addictive and can cause real harm to individuals, their families and local communities. I am concerned that Britain is suffering from a hidden epidemic of gambling addiction. The Government first announced a review of gaming machines and social responsibility measures in October 2016 – yet this week they have effectively decided to have a further round of consultation. I suspect that in the end the £100 limit will be drastically reduced to protect those who become addicted. But I am also concerned that this could simply drive gambling online and out of the betting shops, where at least there are some staff potentially able to monitor addictive behaviours. Online gambling practices also need to be far more closely regulated.
- On Thursday, the House of Commons debated a Backbench motion on unaccompanied child refugees in Europe. UN figures for the first half of 2017 show that over 70% of the 16,500 children who arrived in Greece, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria were unaccompanied or separated children. Yet the Government is refusing to play a full role in tackling this crisis. This debate marked the one-year anniversary of the demolition of the Calais migrant camp. When the Calais camp was demolished, one in six of its inhabitants were children trying to reach family members. Several of those children have since died still trying to reach their family. I believe we must prevent tragic cases like these and the Government must ensure that where it is in the best interests of unaccompanied children they are reunited with their family in the UK. Last May, Parliament passed the Dubs amendment to resettle a number of unaccompanied children who have made it to Europe. However, not only has the Government said it will close the Dubs scheme after taking significantly fewer children than the 3,000 that was widely mentioned at the time, no places have been filled so far this year. Indeed, around 280 of the 480 places allocated remain unfilled. Our country has a proud tradition of honouring the spirit of international law and our moral obligations by taking our fair share of refugees. We must not turn our back now.
- Replicating the 60+ bilateral free trade agreements currently in place between the EU and other countries (on which billions of pounds’ worth of jobs and investment in Britain depend!) is likely to be a complex and time-consuming task for the Government. While we all hope that they’re successful, there are suggestions every day that the Tory Ministers responsible don’t quite have their heads around the scale of the challenge. When the former Trade Minister Mark Price tweeted erroneously that every single one of the countries with which the EU has an FTA in place has “agreed” already to ‘roll over’ these existing agreements into copy-and-paste deals with Britain, I thought this needed a bit of challenge – because it sounded far too good to be true. So on Wednesday morning, I asked the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox whether Lord Price’s very bold claim was accurate — and as you can see at the link here, he didn’t seem quite so sure that all 60 countries had in fact “agreed” at all…
- On Thursday, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made a statement on the political situation in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has been without a properly functioning devolved Executive and Assembly for nine months. During this time, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin have been engaged in discussions to restore an inclusive, power-sharing Executive. The Secretary of State said that while important progress had been made in these talks, the parties had not yet reached an agreement. He stated that this meant it was now highly unlikely that an Executive could be in place to pass a budget before the end of November. The Secretary of State explained that the Government was therefore taking steps to enable a budget Bill to be introduced in the House of Commons, in order to protect the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland. It is disappointing that ten months since the breakdown of the Northern Irish Executive, and following two elections and countless, increasingly meaningless deadlines, the larger parties in the region remain unable to agree with and show trust in one another. I believe the Government could have done more to bring about a resolution. The Prime Minister has visited Northern Ireland only once during her 15 months in office – she could be making a much greater effort to resolve this problem. In addition, the Government must consider bringing in outside help on this issue. Independent chairs and observers have proved very useful in the peace process in the past.
- The Commons will have a short half term recess in the week ahead, so I shall be travelling to Africa with the inter-parliamentary union to explore issues around governance, poverty alleviation and environmental protection – hence no MP Update next weekend, which will return as usual the following week after the Commons returns.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Interest rates were raised for the first time in ten years by the Bank of England this week – with the ‘base rate’ up from the record low of 0.25%, now pegged at 0.5% for the time being. However the Governor of the Bank also signalled that there could be a couple of additional interest rate rises over the next two years.
The Bank of England say that the higher inflation rate was a reason to raise the cost of credit in this way. These are independent decisions not taken by politicians, but I have a feeling that the Bank may need to reverse this increase if the Brexit process deters investment and dampens down consumer sentiment further.
I’d be interested to know what the effect of this change will be on you. Are you on a variable rate mortgage and will the rise be difficult to bear? Or if you have a fixed rate mortgage will this be something you’ll only worry about if and when you re-mortgage? If you have any savings, do you think that the banks will pass on the rise? Or is this such a small change it will make little difference?