NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Saturday 24th February 2018
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
This week’s remorseless bombardment of the East Ghouta enclave in the Syrian city of Damascus by Russian and Assad’s forces has to be one of the most brazen international atrocities committed in recent times. Four hundred and sixty civilians have been killed this week and the national media have rightly been leading with the harrowing scenes of parents striving desperately to protect their children from indiscriminate attack.
The United Nations Security Council is supposed to be the forum that allows international humanitarian responses, but the constant and malicious ‘veto’ of any action by one permanent member of the Security Council – Russia – is making a mockery of that forum. Assad’s regime is trying to buy time to wipe out the last remaining resistance to his dictatorship by pummelling this neighbourhood, and Putin is backing his ally’s tactics with total disregard to the international community and norms of the Geneva Convention. There is a desperate need for an internationally enforceable ceasefire to get help and humanitarian assistance to over five million people trapped by Assad. Hopefully pressure can be brought to bear against Russia because otherwise, as the French ambassador rightly says, the Syrian tragedy will become a graveyard for the United Nations.
British politicians have been far too silent on this issue, held back by those opposed to ‘intervention’ as though it’s ok to turn a blind eye. We cannot let this antipathy towards international involvement allow monstrous actions to go by and think this has nothing at all to do with us.
- An update on the situation on Nottingham Prison: Following the death of another prisoner, the Ministry of Justice have released a plan to address the issues raised in the Chief Inspector’s ‘Urgent Protocol’ notification. I spoke with the Secretary of State directly about this matter, following my call for urgent attention to a number of matters in the Commons debate last year. I am glad that Ministers have now responded with an action plan to the required deadline. The promise of extra resources to clear the backlog of security reports and capital funding for extra interview rooms is welcome, but the steps to reassign fifty young offenders should help to relieve pressure from this institution that has been at maximum capacity for such a prolonged period.
I have also called repeatedly for action to address the smuggling of drugs back into the prison from offenders let out on licence who then re-offend to carry contraband back in. While I am pleased that at the promise of enhanced security for those recalled to custody, I would still like the Ministry of Justice to consider randomising the prisons to which reoffenders are assigned after breach of licence.
Nevertheless, I hope that the ‘safety audit’ to be undertaken by the national prison safety taskforce and the introduction of a rigorous case management procedure for prisoners will begin to improve conditions and reduce the levels of violence and poor communications. With the announcement of an additional £200,000 for mental health provision, it is now time for this institution to focus more effectively on the rehabilitation of offenders, not simply the mechanics of incarceration.
- In concerning news the total number of unemployed claimants in Nottingham East has increased for the last month and the last year as a whole. The figure for January 2018 was 155 higher than January 2017 and 90 higher than December 2017. However in slightly better news the number of claimants aged 18-24 in January 2018 has decreased by 35 since January 2017. I will continue for fight for Nottingham to have a fair share of investment and work with other bodies ranging from local businesses to the City Council to increase employment opportunities for Nottingham residents.
- A report by compiled by housing firm BRE Group has found that around 19 per cent of homes in the private sector in Nottingham city (which is around 19,413 houses locally) are thought likely to have ‘Category One’ hazards including exposed wiring, leaking roofs, dangerous boilers etc. Ensuring that all housing is fit for human habitation and capable of supporting a decent standard of living has to be a greater priority – whether in public, private or housing association ownership. Nottingham City Council has recently been granted permission for its scheme to introduce mandatory licencing for private landlords, a scheme designed to help to address housing quality issues and other problems which renters in the private sector may face.
- Earlier this week plans to redevelop Nottingham’s Sneinton Market were given the green light by Nottingham City Council’s planning committee. Leonard Design Architects, who have been appointed to provide design concepts, have released updated sketches showing the transformation of vacant buildings on Avenues D and E which are adjacent to the market.
- On Friday it was fascinating to be invited around the Tarmac asphalt plant off Daleside Road, to see first-hand how some of the commodities we use in local roads, bridges and properties are processed and distributed. They are a very efficient plant taking great pride in health and safety on site, supplying the construction industry in our region with vital materials that we all take for granted. They sell asphalt in large and small volumes to big building firms and even to retail customers too; quite an impressive operation! Here I am pictured below being shown around by Regional Manager Ian Goodwin:
- On Friday I was also invited to cut the ribbon at the opening of the new Barclays Bank offices in the city centre where their corporate finance team have now co-located with the rest of their small business and retail operations. Supplying lines of credit and financial support to local businesses helps keep jobs and bring in investment to Nottingham and I was pleased to hear of some of the positive economic activity taking place around the East Midlands supported from this new office.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- On Tuesday we heard a statement from new Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley on the lack of agreement to restart devolved government at Stormont. Direct rule from Westminster is not at all ideal and would put pressure on the accord between different sides which has lasted so well since the Good Friday Agreement signed twenty years ago. I have been shocked in recent weeks to hear hard Brexiteer MPs such as Owen Paterson or Daniel Hannan MEP claim that the Good Friday Agreement has ‘failed’ or ‘outlived its use’. In their pursuit of arguments that a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic isn’t such a bad thing after all (a likely consequence of their ‘clean break’ plan for UK-EU relations), they will let nothing get in the way of their ideology – including this carefully balanced peace settlement. That’s why I called on the Secretary of State to reiterate the Government’s 100% commitment to the Good Friday Agreement, and am pleased that she gave that assurance.
- You may recall that a few weeks ago I tabled some amendments together with Anna Soubry MP and Ken Clarke MP in support of the UK participating in the Customs Union. I’m glad to report that it looks as though Labour’s frontbench have been persuaded to support this, which is a good thing, although preventing a Brexit disaster – and the austerity this entails – requires more than the Customs Union alone.
So for the benefit of those who still need convincing, yesterday I set out on ‘Twitter’ my top 10 reasons why I believe it’s still essential for the UK to participate in the Single Market (other than the famous ‘four freedoms’):
- Yes a Customs Union is needed. It helps 20% of our economy. For the other 80% (and growing!) of our economy, which is in ‘services’, we need the Single Market. The right to export UK service expertise is vital.
- With 11% of our tax revenues coming from the UK financial services sector (£66bn), we need the Single Market so it can trade on the same basis as financial firms from the other 27 countries. We can’t pay for our NHS, schools, welfare support without this revenue.
- Single Market is needed to help trade in goods too. For instance, medicines produced in Britain can be sold across the continent without the need for recertification in each country. That’s the Single Market. Many ‘goods’ have ‘services’ aspects that need more than the Customs Union alone to be traded in the EU.
- Car manufacturers need both Customs Union and Single Market. The Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders say: “By not being part of a common automotive regulatory framework there is a longer-term risk of increasing burdens from non-tariff barriers where regulatory regimes may diverge and create additional costs”
- The Single Market protects you as a consumer, ensuring that customers have safe products, can access information, have rights of redress and where problems arise there can be cross-border enforcement. Consumer rights are at risk if we leave the Single Market.
- Don’t ignore the importance of the mutual recognition of professional qualifications between EU countries. If you’re qualified to trade in the UK, you’re qualified across the whole of Europe. We risk losing this outside Single Market.
- Single Market freedom to establish a company in another EU country is crucial for UK innovators, service providers and businesses. The Government have no plan at all to secure the cooperation agreements we have (via the EU) to allow UK firms to trade in the other 27 countries.
- Employment rights flow from the right to be ‘established’ and participate in economic life on a stable and continuous basis. Our involvement in the Single Market stops a Conservative government undercutting EU employment rights. These are vital protections!
- The freedom to provide and receive services in an EU country other than the one where a company or consumer is established underpins 21st century free trade. And the evolving ‘digital single market’ is potential game-changer for UK tech innovators.
- If we want to preserve the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a hard border between Republic & Northern Ireland, we need the Single Market’s full regulatory alignment. Otherwise we are bound to have checks, inspections, limited border crossings, ie, no free movement.
There’s no mandate for the Prime Minister’s ‘red line’ on the Single Market. As leading Brexiteer and Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan himself said before the referendum: “Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market”. That is why I will be arguing Parliament needs to overrule the Prime Minister and ensure the UK stays part of the Single Market.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I’m pleased that yesterday a proposal from my colleague Geoffrey Robinson MP to change the rules on organ donation consent was given initial approval in the Commons. He is proposing a Private Member’s Bill (which usually needs Government support to have any chance of progressing) that would move from an ‘opt-in’ to an ‘opt-out’ system, where it is presumed consent is granted for organ donation unless an individual expresses otherwise. I am generally supportive of this change because it is calculated it could save up to 500 lives a year, but I appreciate that this is a sensitive issue for some people and so I wanted to consult and get your views about this proposal. Are sufficient safeguards in place? Should we publicise the current organ donation arrangements more effectively and how could this be done? Sadly we tend not to think about these subjects unless faced with a catastrophe or personal loss. But it is the job of legislators to address these sort of issues and I don’t think we can shy away from it.
Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham East