NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 18th November 2017
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Brexit is now soaking up most of Parliament’s time and attention – with the EU (Withdrawal) Bill in its ‘committee stage’ this past week. On Monday Brexit Secretary David Davis tried to buy-off potential Government rebels with a phoney offer of a further piece of legislation to ratify the final deal with the EU. However, this would be next to useless if it comes after Ministers and the European Union have signed and sealed a new deal – and it would be even more insulting if that Bill only emerged once Britain has fallen over the cliff edge in March 2019.
Some MPs were initially duped by this apparent ‘concession’, but they then realised that the offer of an Act of Parliament after we’ve left would hardly be worth the paper it was written on. There is no point in the UK Parliament trying to legislate after the horse has bolted! MPs need to be able to shape a draft deal with the EU, and send Ministers back to renegotiate if it’s not good enough. This is vital for hundreds of jobs in Nottingham and for future generations who may see our economy marginalised from the rest of the world. I pressed him on this sham of an offer on Monday afternoon, as you can see here.
I also voted against the repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act, because we should not be deleting our existing legal arrangements without any certainty of what they might be replaced by; in other words, we should only get rid of our current deal subject to a new deal being agreed. It was disappointing that Labour’s frontbench chose to abstain in that vote.
I also tabled several amendments to the Bill which were debated this week and I forced a vote in the Commons on how a transitional deal would work. Unfortunately we didn’t quite have the numbers to beat the Government – although Rushcliffe MP Ken Clarke did join in support. It is totally ridiculous that some of my amendments (including a very important one on staying part of the ‘customs union’) weren’t voted on because of the straitjacket on time that Ministers have allowed for debate. I will continue fighting on this – and on Tuesday I have amendments on the all-important Charter of Fundamental Rights which the Government are trying to delete from our laws. I discussed a number of aspects of the Bill, including amendments I’ve tabled myself, on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme on Tuesday, as you can see here.
- A number of residents in St Ann’s have drawn my attention the article posted on the website of the Wellspring GP Surgery (http://www.wellspringsurgerynottingham.co.uk/ ) which suggests that they are facing financial pressures and possible closure because of the costs of their tenancy in the St Ann’s Valley Centre. Obviously, I will be making some urgent enquiries to get to the bottom of this saga as quickly as I can. It sounds to me that there is some sort of contractual issue between the building landlord (the City Council) and surgery management – but I hope that a solution can be found. The Valley Centre is a much valued ‘shared service’ facility and I would be very disappointed if we lost GP services from this facility. Local patients don’t need any uncertainty about accessing their healthcare and clearly it would be far preferable to find a way forward in partnership between these local agencies, who are all part of our local public sector.
- Following a number of deaths in custody in recent months I visited Nottingham Prison yesterday afternoon and met with the Governor Tom Wheatley to discuss the situation and the wider challenges facing the prison service locally. I was keen to explore whether there was a pattern behind the suicides and deaths, and while conclusions can only be reached following full coroners’ reports, at this stage there seems to be no single factor but a series of issues that could be contributing to this situation.
The Prison is increasing the staffing numbers it has, but they have lost a number of experienced officers in recent times – and so it was good to hear that the Governor has started a new ‘Key Worker’ approach to building relationships with each prisoner, looking into more detail about their welfare and hopefully flagging up vulnerabilities more readily.
There remains a significant drugs problem in the prison and I will be pressing for further action to clamp down on the likely methods that drugs are getting into the building. Some methods are clearly difficult to detect, including stories of some prisoners, released on licence in accordance with their sentence, who then perhaps deliberately re-offend in order to smuggle in substances back into prison. If some prisoners are reoffending for a living in this way, that is a very depressing state of affairs and I would support any resources to help prevent this route from continuing.
Smuggled mobile phones are also an ongoing problem – and the consequences of uncontrolled communications (or lack thereof) can cause real damage both inside and outside the prison. So I want to see a more transparent and regularised approach to prisoner telephone calls, allowing legitimate contact with approved family members, and cutting back on the demand for illicit mobile phone contraband.
These are complex problems and I will continue to discuss improvements with the Ministry of Justice and the local Nottingham Prison Monitoring Board in the hope that conditions can improve.
- Scotholme Primary School in Hyson Green have been working really hard to bring civic education to life in recent weeks, teaching the children about politics and democracy, bring in local councillors to talk about how community issues are decided. So it was a great pleasure to pop in yesterday and talk to Year 6 pupils about how Parliament works, how laws are made – and also to hear about their great fundraising efforts for ‘Children In Need’ (pictured below with headteacher Kate Hall).
- Historic England have granted Nottingham City Council £551,000 to help conserve and restore buildings in the Lace Market and Market Square. This, alongside £300,000 from private investment and £80,000 from the council itself, will go towards renovating thirty shop fronts and twenty historic buildings. We’ve lots of local heritage to be proud of in our city and if you have suggestions about favourite buildings that you think could benefit from this work I’d be interested to hear!
- Lots of residents express their concerns to me about rough-sleeping in the city centre. So I was glad to hear that the city council have allocated £106,000 towards a ‘cold weather plan’ helping to fund shelters, bed spaces and accommodation over the winter period. We need to do more to support the ‘No Second Night Out’ campaign that a number of charities including Framework and Shelter have been advocating recently.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- On Monday the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson responded to an Urgent Question on the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian national currently being detained by the Iranian regime. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested last year, and sentenced to five years in prison on the charge of plotting to overthrow the government. Although responsibility for her incarceration and continued mistreatment lies squarely with Iran, Boris Johnson’s ill-considered remarks last week that Mrs Zaghari Ratcliffe was “teaching journalism” have been leapt upon by the Iranian authorities and used as a pretext for threats to extend her sentence. While the Foreign Secretary eventually apologised and said that the Government had raised her detention at every level with Iranian authorities, Ministers clearly need to do more to correct this situation.
- On Tuesday the House of Commons debated issues highlighted in the so-called ‘Paradise Papers’, of systemic tax avoidance and evasion. This is the latest in a series of recent revelations about the complex structures which enable very wealthy individuals to (legally!) let themselves off paying their fair share. There are clearly a number of morally unacceptable activities involved in industrial-scale tax avoidance. The Treasury says we lose £12.8 billion through tax avoidance each year – money which could be spent on our public services and national defence, especially at a time when departments across Government are seeing their budgets cut. This is a global problem in need of a global solution. As a first step we need far more transparency and a register of offshore trusts. HMRC also need the capability to tackle the problem effectively, and this is what I’ll continue to push for.
- On Wednesday the Foreign Secretary updated MPs on the apparent coup in Zimbabwe, where soldiers had that morning taken control of state television, surrounded Government ministries and sealed off Robert Mugabe’s official and private residences; several Mugabe Government Ministers have reportedly been arrested. We await further detail on what is a febrile and still-developing situation, but I am reassured that none of the 20,000 British nationals in Zimbabwe have been reported as injured. All of them must be given the assistance they need, and a descent into violence has to be avoided at all costs; and going forward, the only way forward is for the Zimbabwean people to be given the chance to choose their own government freely and democratically. Mugabe has been a brutal dictator in Zimbabwe and we should hope that the people of that once great country have the chance for a fresh start for democracy and prosperity.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
On Wednesday the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be delivering his annual Budget speech in the House of Commons, setting his plans for tax and spending for the next financial year. It will be a very busy day and I’m hoping to give my reaction in the debates after the Budget speech – and would like to know what you think I should prioritise in my remarks.
Do you think that the Treasury should pay for additional public spending by particular changes in taxation? Are business and employers helped or hindered by the Government’s approach? What steps could the Chancellor take to make you better off?
I’m not expecting major changes from Philip Hammond in his announcements – in fact, I think that the impact of Brexit on the Budget will be at the heart of the debate, because a hit to businesses could reduce revenues and bring in a new wave of austerity.
I’d be interested to know your thoughts.
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East