MP Update – 18th December

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 18th December 2015

I was pleased to learn on Friday that Nottingham has been chosen by UNESCO to be a City of Literature. This is a huge honour for Nottingham, as there are only 20 Cities of Literature around the world. I hope that the accolade will be a catalyst for further development of the creative economy and culture already doing so well. It was a demanding bidding process, and all those involved can be proud of such a major achievement.

I was really glad that a large part of the bid process for the UNESCO award was aimed at boosting literacy, as well as holding events to celebrate Nottingham’s rich literary history. This is definitely the right moment to take stock of the overall state of literacy across the city.

Currently, nearly six out of ten Nottingham schoolchildren leave without five A* to C GCSE grades, including English and maths. We have to do better than this and we need to find ways to encourage reading and writing in the early years for local children both within and beyond the school environment. Some of today’s proposals from the Social Mobility Commission may be stark, but anything that incentivises the best teachers to have good morale, better terms and conditions and helps bring in high teaching skills into more deprived areas would be a good thing. In 2016 I want to focus more on what needs to be done to boost literacy and numeracy here in Nottingham and I’d be interested in any thoughts or suggestions you might have about how best we should do this.

NOTTINGHAM

  • On Thursday morning, I visited the local Royal Mail delivery office on Lower Parliament Street. It was great to meet Delivery Office Manager Andy Fox and the team to find out about the great work they do, particularly during the busy Christmas period.  Our postal workers put in a great deal of effort all year round, but they do a particularly important job at this time of year. The last posting dates for Christmas delivery are Saturday 19th (second class mail) and Monday 21st (first class mail).

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  • Yesterday I met with Andrew Redfern from the charity Framework for an update on their work on housing and homelessness around the city. Winter is a particularly tough time for those struggling to find permanent and safe shelter, and Christmas is a very busy time for the charity, who have been running street collections across the city and county throughout December. I spoke with the team from Framework’s Housing Crisis Service in the city centre, which provides help for people at immediate risk of becoming homeless, and there are a number of issues coming up in Parliament I am hoping to work with the supported housing sector on in the new year.
  • By now you will hopefully have received my Christmas e-card, with some outstanding artwork from local school children. This year’s fantastic winning design came from Jasmine Johal, a Year 6 pupil at Seely Primary School. Yesterday I visited the New Art Exchange on Gregory Boulevard, where they have a digital display of all of the shortlisted entries from the competition on show throughout the festive period. Do pop along and support this great local gallery if you get the chance – they have some exciting new plans for the next couple of years and their current exhibitions are extremely accessible and thought-provoking.
  • At my advice surgery in Asda Hyson Green yesterday it was great to meet constituents to discuss a wide range of issues including forthcoming changes to social security and migration issues arising from conflict in Africa. It is useful to hear a cross-section of views from local residents and if you see me out and about around the constituency please do say hello. My office at 12 Regent Street is open five days a week and my team are available to help with any problems or queries. And although the office will be closed for the short Christmas break, do email me at this email address over that time if there are any urgent issues you need to raise with me.

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PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Monday the Government made a Statement following the agreement reached at the UN climate talks (COP21) in Paris last week. For the first time, leaders from nearly every country in the world have come together to cut carbon pollution and set us on the path to a cleaner, greener future: to agree on a common goal of building a carbon-neutral global economy within a generation, to reduce pollution and to switch to cleaner energy and all countries have agreed to raise their ambition every five years until the job is done. I welcome the agreement which has been helped by a cross-party consensus that has existed since 2008. I also welcome the announcement that the developed world will do its fair share by providing at least $100 billion of finance to assist poorer and more vulnerable countries. We must be honest that the pledges made by each country do not add up to a commitment that will keep temperatures well below two degrees. However, the agreement does take us much closer to climate safety and sends a clear signal that the era of unchecked fossil fuel use is coming to an end. In recent months the Government have made a series of decisions that have reversed our progress on the road to climate safety. Ministers have attacked the cheapest options for achieving carbon targets, and household energy bills may rise again. Progress on carbon capture and storage has also been undermined, new wind farms have been blocked and the Government have made secret and short-sighted cuts in energy efficiency and solar power schemes. I will be pressing Ministers, therefore, to ensure UK policy matches the global commitments to which we are now signed up for.
  • On Wednesday the Foreign Secretary gave an update in the House of Commons on the campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria following the vote to extend airstrikes two weeks ago. The Foreign Secretary outlined how the UK is targeting Daesh’s finances, disrupting the flow of foreign fighters, fighting Daesh’s ideology and propaganda, and leading diplomatic efforts to deliver a political settlement to end the Syrian civil war. The RAF has struck wellheads in the Omar oil field, as well as conducting reconnaissance and surveillance missions. The RAF has already conducted over 400 strikes as part of more than 1,600 missions flown over Iraq since September 2014, and the Foreign Secretary stated that there has been no reports of civilian casualties as a result of UK airstrikes in either Iraq or Syria. Military action can, however, only be one part of a package of measures needed to defeat Daesh and end the wider Syrian civil war. Indeed, Britain should support a diplomatic agreement that unites those opposed to Daesh within Syria, and paves the way for the departure of Assad. To this end, the Foreign Secretary updated MPs on the diplomatic efforts to deliver a negotiated end to the civil war and a transitional government, noting the ongoing meetings of the International Syria Support Group, and highlighting the bringing together of over 100 representatives from a wide range of Syrian opposition groups in Riyadh by Saudi Arabia. I believe the key test for the Riyadh agreement will be whether it facilitates meaningful peace talks and a ceasefire. With so many different parties to the civil war in Syria, maintaining a ceasefire will be extremely complex, and so I would urge the Government to explore the possibility of a UN resolution reinforcing the outline agreement, including a ceasefire, agreed at the second Vienna conference.
  • Yesterday the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government gave a statement on the funding settlement for local councils, including Nottingham City Council. This settlement reduces the central Government grant to local councils by more than half and doesn’t acknowledge additional spending pressures amounting to at least £6.3 billion. The serious underfunding of social care is putting extraordinary pressure on local government and the NHS. Additionally, the Government recently announced in the Spending Review that the public health budget for local councils will be cut by 3.9% which will put vital preventative services at risk. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that local authorities in deprived areas have seen cuts of £220 a head while more affluent areas have seen cuts of £40 a head. I believe the Government needs to re-examine the unjust formula it uses to distribute funding to local councils and I will be working with the City Council locally to press Ministers for the best deal we can get from the Treasury.
  • On Monday the Transport Secretary made a statement to the House of Commons on Airport Capacity. In July 2015 the Airports Commission published its final report and the Prime Minister promised to make a decision by the end of the year. Last week this promise was broken when the Government announced, through a last-minute press release, that it would be delaying its long-awaited location decision to further consider measures to mitigate the impacts on local people and the environment. This shambolic response has been criticised by business and MPs from across the House of Commons. I support a new runway in the south-east but the environmental concerns have been known since July and the Government still cannot tell us basic information about the new environmental and mitigation work and what areas were not adequately covered by the Airports Commission. The Government must now address the uncertainty surrounding what I fear is a politically motivated delay.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

This week the Government used a non-debatable motion in the Commons, rather than a proper piece of legislation that could be debated, to pass new regulations on fracking. I voted against the regulations, but because Government MPs supported them, they were passed by a majority of 37.

Ministers had previously conceded that there should be the tougher safeguards that Labour has been calling for to protect drinking water sources and sensitive parts of our countryside like National Parks. Now they’ve abandoned those promises.

It is not unreasonable for the British public to ask for firmer reassurances making sure that shale gas extraction is safe and won’t present intolerable risks to our environment. In my view the Government is ignoring some legitimate concerns. In January Amber Rudd, now energy and climate change secretary, told Parliament: “We have agreed an outright ban on fracking in national parks [and] sites of special scientific interest”.  Yet Ministers have gone against their word on this. I received many emails this week on this issue, so I know that plenty of constituents feel very strongly about fracking. We do need to be guided by the scientific evidence and keep an open-mind to lower carbon energy sources than coal. However, we also need to take proper precautions and I’m not convinced the Government are doing this seriously enough. Which direction do you think the Government should be going with energy policy? Are they striking the right balance in the gradual move away from higher carbon-emitting fuels? Are we mindful enough of energy security and costs for consumers, as well as the environmental objectives? As always I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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MP Update – 11th December

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 11th December 2015

The two issues I’ve received most emails about this week have been on the environmental circumstances facing bees and other pollinators – and then the TTIP transatlantic trade deal (more of which in the Parliament section below).

But given that so many constituents have asked about the conditions we need to preserve a healthy stock of bees and pollinators, I thought it would be helpful to report back on the debate in Westminster Hall on the subject of neonicotinoids. Wild bee populations have declined in the last 50 years, and there are concerns that three neonicotinoid insecticides, developed in the 1980s and 1990s, are having a harmful impact on bee populations.

In 2012, following a European assessment, the European Commission decided to restrict the use of three common neonicotinoids (Imidacloprid, Thiamethoxam and Clothianidin), and they have been subject to a two year precautionary ban in the EU since December 2013. There is some debate about the scientific evidence, as there are differences between field and laboratory results.

Partly because of this, the UK Government say while there were not convinced about the restrictions, they have nevertheless implemented them in full. However, in July 2015, the UK Government granted an emergency authorisation for the use of restricted neonicotinoids on oil seed rape seeds after an application from the National Farmers’ Union. This applies for a time-limited period in four English counties and does not affect the overall ban.

A number of environmental groups have argued that the two year suspension is not enough to allow bee populations to recover, and in August, Friends of the Earth were denied an application for judicial review of the emergency authorisation.

I will try to monitor the decision-making process around this restriction closely as I know that there are significant environmental concerns at stake. It has been helpful to hear the views of so many people on this issue and I will take a close interest and press Ministers to be guided by the evidence and the precautionary principle on this.

NOTTINGHAM

  • On Friday, I was delighted to announce the winner of my 2015 Christmas Picture Competition at Seely Primary School in Sherwood. The winning entry came from 11-year old Jasmine Johal (pictured centre), a pupil at Seely, who was presented with a KindleFire tablet computer kindly donated by Experian. I was really impressed with all of the entries this year, and I want to thank all of the schools and children who took part. Thanks also to Bhavisha Kukadia (pictured right) and the team at New Art Exchange, who helped me judge. I will be sending out my Christmas e-card next week, which will feature the winning entry as well as all of the runners up.

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  • On Tuesday in Parliament I met a group of students from Nottingham Trent University (pictured below), who lobbied me as part of the National Union of Students #CutTheCosts week of action. We talked about the increasing debt that will burden this generation of students, and in particular the replacement of maintenance grants for poorer students with loans, announced in the July Budget. These grants support half a million students, who could now leave university with debts of up to £53,000. There is a real risk that the Conservatives’ plans could put off those from poorer backgrounds attending further education.

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  • Robin Hood Energy is a not-for-profit new energy supply company owned and controlled by Nottingham City Council. It was launched on 7 September 2015 to provide affordable energy to customers and to help tackle fuel poverty. It is the country’s first local authority owned energy supply company to be launched since nationalisation in 1948. Domestic customers in England, Scotland and Wales can switch to Robin Hood Energy to purchase their gas and electricity. Robin Hood Energy has this week launched a new pre-payment tariff for low income customers. The pay-as-you-go tariff allows customers to better manage their household budgets by tracking how much energy they’re using and better spread the cost of their energy usage throughout the year. More details at their website here https://www.robinhoodenergy.co.uk/
  • On Sunday 20th December, there will be a festive evening of live music and children’s activities in the Arboretum. The event takes place from 4-6pm and the meeting point is the Bandstand.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • Yesterday I was in the House of Commons for the debate on a motion on TTIP, the proposed transatlantic trade deal that is being negotiated between the EU and US – and on which I have received many emails this week. There have been several debates on this subject in the House of Commons over the past couple of years and I am sure that they have helped to shape the debate about TTIP and to influence the negotiations in a positive way. There is general cross-party support for trade, and for a good trade agreement, but there also some concerns too. I feel there are a number of tests we ought to watch out for on this negotiation. The first key test is the ability of the deal to deliver jobs and growth. The second is that it should be open and accountable. The third is the aim to achieve the highest possible standards regarding social and environmental concerns and, of course, wages. Fourthly, the agreement must allow enough space for national Governments to act in their own interests and according to their own democratic mandates. I believe it right that this important issue be debated in Parliament, and that the proposals receive proper scrutiny at UK and EU level. I support trade agreements that can bring significant benefits through boosting trade and growth, securing and creating jobs, and bringing down costs and extending choice for consumers. However, it was right to hold the Government to account on the legitimate concerns that have been raised.
  • On Monday the Government’s Cities and Local Government Bill returned to the House of Commons for its Report Stage and Third Reading. I have been watching this legislation closely because it has local implications on whether we see a ‘combined authority’ created covering our part of the East Midlands comprised of the city councils, district and county councils. I support real devolution to empower our communities, but have some concerns about the way the Government are pursuing a process of piecemeal deals that do not offer meaningful devolution to all areas of England. Nevertheless, I was particularly concerned that the Minister did not unwittingly cause problems for a Nottinghamshire deal by allowing smaller district councils to essentially veto arrangements agreed by the vast majority of other local authorities. I was pleased that, after interventions from my colleague Graham Allen, the Minister confirmed that any requests from district councils to ‘opt out’ would not be automatically accepted and that consensus was still the overriding objective.
  • On Monday the Environment Secretary made a statement in the House of Commons on the recent floods in the north of England. I am sure all of our thoughts are with communities in Cumbria and Lancashire that have once again been devastated by flooding. The immediate priority, of course, must be providing help for those who have been forced to evacuate their homes and businesses and I support a cross-party approach to try to ensure those affected are, wherever possible, back home and safe before Christmas. Extreme weather events are increasingly a feature of British weather and Government policy has to adapt accordingly. I am pleased the Government has agreed to look again at whether it has spent enough on flood defences.
  • The European Union Referendum Bill that will set out the rules for a referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union was debated on Tuesday. I support this Bill and its passage through Parliament as I believe the British people should have a say on the UK’s membership of the EU. The Bill had completed its House of Lords stages and the Lords’ amendments were considered by MPs. One of the amendments intended to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the referendum. My Shadow Frontbench colleagues pressed a similar amendment when the Bill was previously debated in the House of Commons.  However, on Tuesday the Government overturned the Lords amendment and struck it out of the Bill. I believe it would be better for the Government to allow young adults a say in the European referendum. Major constitutional referendums are a once-in-a-generation choice about the country’s future direction. Young people deserve a say in the decision.
  • On Wednesday the House of Commons debated a motion by the Opposition about women and the economy. Tax and benefit changes in the Summer Budget and Autumn Statement have disproportionately affected women and analysis from the Women’s Budget Group shows that lone parents and single female pensioners are set to lose most from the Spending Review decisions over this Parliament, having already lost most from cuts announced in the previous Parliament. Of the £82bn in tax increases and cuts in social security spending since 2010 that will be implemented over the course of this Parliament, 80% will come from women. Labour’s motion raised concern that the UK gender pay gap stands at 19.2 per cent, higher than the EU average, and that the Government’s introduction of tribunal fees means that women have to pay £1,200 in order to bring forward an equal pay claim, preventing many from pursuing legitimate claims. In addition, levels of maternity discrimination have almost doubled in recent years and there has been an alarming rate of closures of services supporting victims of domestic violence, particularly services for BME women.
  • On Wednesday Labour called a debate on Mental Health. One in four of us will have a mental illness at some point in our lives and I believe mental health should be treated with the same priority as physical health. However the Government have more to do to translate their rhetoric on mental health into reality on the ground. There has been an increase in the number of patients who report a poor experience of community mental health care. More patients have to travel hundreds of miles just to get a bed and the number of children being treated on adult wards has risen again this year. The number of people becoming so ill that they had to be detained under the Mental Health Acts has risen by 10% in the past year and the level of suicides, particularly among men under the age of 45, has been at its highest since 2001. I believe the right to psychological therapies should be enshrined in the NHS Constitution. Labour’s motion also called on the Government to reinstate the annual survey of investment in mental health services and to develop and implement in full a new strategy to improve the cross-departmental response to mental health. The Government opposed the motion and the vote was lost.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Yesterday was UN International Human Rights Day. One of the most worrying of Conservative plans for this Parliament is the repeal of the Human Rights Act (HRA), and its replacement by a supposedly ‘British’ Bill of Rights, though proposals are currently vague. Last week Justice Secretary Michael Gove announced that the Government had delayed plans to scrap the HRA until 2016.

Introduced in 1998 and coming into force in 2000, the Human Rights Act incorporated the basic values set out in the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law. This meant that the judiciary must take into account decisions by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg and that if an Act of Parliament cannot be interpreted to be compatible with ECHR rights British courts can issue a declaration of incompatibility (though the law remains valid, so Parliamentary sovereignty is maintained).

Although the Tory manifesto promised to “scrap the Human Rights Act, and introduce a British Bill of Rights”, Ministers seem to be struggling to set out exactly what they want. But with David Cameron and Michael Gove refusing to rule out withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, it appears they have painted themselves into a corner here.

Have you got strong opinions about the Human Rights Act? Is there a need for redrafting this legislation? Or is this issue more related to the backbench euroscepticism on the Government side?

I am interested for any thoughts about the current state of human rights in the UK and indeed around the world.

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MP Update – 4th December

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 4th December 2015

After a passionate and thorough debate in the House of Commons, I came to the view that the threat from ISIL Daesh is such that the UK has to play its part in degrading their safe haven not just in Iraq but also in Syria. The suffering of those living under the cruel and abusive Daesh regime and the threat to ourselves and other nations is just too much for me to ignore; the beheadings, throwing gay men off buildings, the discovery of mass graves, including of Yazidi women murdered because they were regarded as too elderly to be sold into sex slavery.

I am deeply conscious of the strongly held views of those who believe that war and military action must always be avoided, but sadly ISIL Daesh declared war against us long ago. They have killed British tourists, downed aeroplanes, bombed Turkey and the Lebanon and murdered 130 people in Paris. Knowing their plans and intentions, I feel it would be morally wrong and potentially dangerous to just step aside and refuse to act in self-defence, when I know that a British contribution would make a difference.

I have weighed up the many opinions expressed to me about the risks involved in targeting these jihadi assets as carefully as possible, but I must also consider the importance of weakening and reducing the power of Daesh when that opportunity presents itself. For instance, degrading Daesh controlled oil facilities will help cut off finance for terrorism and, following my vote in support of air strikes in Iraqi territory more than a year ago in September 2014, targets including fortified positions, suicide bomb vehicles, storage compounds and observation posts have been destroyed. It is possible to hamper and impede these jihadist operations. This recent vote was about whether to extend the current approval for airstrikes over Iraqi terrain across the now defunct Syrian border. When the United Nations have unanimously called on all countries that are able to take part in eradicating ISIL Daesh in Syria to do so, it seems to me irresponsible not to heed that call.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn expressed my view of this entirely when he said that we are now faced by fascists and just as Parliament was right to stand up against Hitler and Mussolini, so too we have a deep responsibility to stand up to the evil intentions of ISIL Daesh.

I respect those who hold opposing views on this question but if you want to understand my view and why I came to this decision in casting my vote in Parliament, then I strongly urge you to watch the full speech by Hilary Benn MP by clicking on the picture below, and also the speeches by Alan Johnson MP, Margaret Beckett MP and Pat McFadden MP (links below the picture) who sum up eloquently how I feel:

H Benn

The link to the speech by Margaret Beckett MP is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcrFa1vkzqk

The link to the speech by Alan Johnson MP is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODC5pdnyuJ8

The link to the speech by Pat McFadden MP is here http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/4e6d04ee-df49-4789-a54a-42f2c7be53b2?in=16:25:35&out=16:30:36

NOTTINGHAM

  • Nottingham City Council are currently reviewing arrangements for services to Nottingham City pregnant teenagers and teenage parents. It is proposed to close the Beckhampton Centre Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) on 30 June 2016. Although the public consultation has now concluded, I would be interested in any views you might have on this issue. Members of Nottingham City Council’s Executive Board will be making a final decision shortly.
  • Plans for the redevelopment of Broadmarsh and its surrounding areas have been unveiled by the City Council this week. The work will begin early next year, and includes redevelopment of the shopping centre and car park, as well as pedestrianising Collin Street and revamping shop fronts on Carrington Street. The City Council says that the plans will create nearly 3,000 new jobs, and I’m sure that many agree that the Broadmarsh area has long been overdue a makeover. You can read more about the plans on the Nottingham Post website here.
  • Plans have been approved to build 42 new two- and three-bedroom houses at the Stonebridge Park Estate in St Ann’s, adjacent to the Manor Gardens development. They represent part of the City Council’s plans to build 2,500 new homes, and will be an important addition to local housing. Read more about the plans on the Nottingham Post website here.
  • The Post Office have decided to relocate the Sherwood branch (currently at 566 Mansfield Road) to the Nisa shop on 607 Mansfield Road where they say it will operate as one of their new ‘main style’ Post Office branches. The Post Office say that although there were many who wrote in support of the change, some worries were voiced about congestion inside the new store and that it is further away along a gradient for them. They say they will try to address some of the space and congestion issues in the refurbishment process.
  • There’s a free entry weekend taking place at Nottingham Castle on the 12th and 13th The castle and grounds will be open 10am-3.30pm both days, and there will be a traditional Christmas gift fair in the grounds. On Saturday 12th December there will be Christmas Carols at Green’s Windmill in Sneinton. This free event in the Mill Yard includes carols, mince pies and mulled wine. You can find information about these and other festive events being held across the city here.
  • For the last decade Nottingham City Homes has been responsible for managing council houses across the city.  As part of the events planned to mark its tenth anniversary, NCH has chosen to take a reflective look at council housing across the city by launching the first ever book of its kind covering the history of Nottingham’s council houses called Homes and Places.  The book, which is now available to buy from Fives Leaves Bookshop priced £9.99, includes personal stories and memories from some of the city’s residents as well as photographs and planning documentation dating back as far as the 1800s.  Through the launch of the book, Nottingham City Homes aims to record the work of those who have contributed to providing homes for Nottingham’s residents over the years, covering key events which have impacted on housing including post-war rebuilding, high rise developments and Right to Buy. For more information on the book click here.


Nottm City Homes

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Tuesday at Treasury Questions in the House of Commons, I asked George Osborne about his approach to business and the productivity of the British economy, which has been revised down for three years from 2016 by the Office for Budget Responsibility. You can see our exchange here: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/65dcea9c-11b4-4e13-add0-cb143581a671?in=11:37:15&out=11:39:00
  • On Tuesday the Government’s Immigration Bill returned to the House of Commons for its Report Stage and Third Reading. This Bill covers a wide range of issues, including measures on illegal working, housing, access to public services, amongst other things. I share the Government’s goal of reducing illegal immigration and I support reasonable and proportionate measures to do so. However, whilst there are some proposals in the Bill that I support, I am very concerned that many of them will be counterproductive and harm community cohesion. I am particularly worried about the Bill’s proposals around a new offence of illegal working, the withdrawal of support for asylum seekers with children who have exhausted the appeals process, and changes around immigration detention. Indeed, I do not believe that there is any evidence that the measures overall in this Bill will work. The Shadow Frontbench tabled a number of amendments to the Bill at Report Stage, highlighting the strength and scope of the concerns around some of the proposals within it. These included amendments on summary evictions, reinstatement of appeal rights, the functions of the proposed Director of Labour Market Enforcement, and protections for landlords who take reasonable steps to evict tenants without the right to rent. Overall, I believe that the Immigration Bill falls far short of the comprehensive and coherent strategy that we need to bring greater controls and fairness to our immigration system. It is for these reasons that I voted against the Bill in its entirety at Third Reading. The Bill passed through the support of Government MPs and will now proceed to the House of Lords for further consideration, where I hope the Government will listen further to the many concerns that have been expressed and ensure that it is in a fit state before it becomes law.
  • On Monday the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, made a statement on the junior doctors contract and planned industrial action. Nobody wanted to see industrial action, not least the junior doctors and I welcome that action has been suspended. I also welcome that the Health Secretary finally agreed to talks with ACAS. However, I believe had Jeremy Hunt agreed to independent talks when it was first put to him, he could have avoided or at least mitigated any disruption to patients. Unfortunately, it was too late to rearrange the operations and appointments that had to be cancelled. As well as inconveniencing patients, this dispute has been deeply damaging to workforce morale.  I hope both sides can now negotiate a contract that is fair for junior doctors and safe for patients.

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Universal Credit (UC) is finally due to arrive in Nottingham from the middle of February – yet very few people are aware of how this fundamental change to the social security system will affect them. The Government’s aim with UC has been to merge the six main existing means tested benefits and tax credits into a single monthly payment, as well as to cut administration costs (although they’ve taken far longer to roll this out than at first planned). These six benefits are: Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit. Unlike some existing benefits that have a 100% withdrawal rate, the Universal Credit will be gradually tapered away, with the idea that people can take a part-time job and still be allowed to keep some of the money they receive. Conditions will be attached to UC, such as requirements to seek work, and there will be elements such as ‘child element’ and ‘childcare element’ to top up income depending on family circumstances. There will also be ineligibilities affecting the self-employed and homeowners.

The Spending Review went far too unnoticed last week – with people assuming that the Chancellor did a full ‘u-turn’ on his cuts to tax credits. But the reality is he’s instead shaved off billions from the money due to be paid out through Universal Credit. Just take a look at the chart below where the Resolution Foundation estimate who will lose out (figures in red), for instance, a couple with three children earning the legal minimum – or wage floor, as the Resolution Foundation refers to it in the accompanying table – with the main earner working 37.5 hours a week and the second earner working 20 hours could see their net household income reduce by £3,060 in 2020.
Universal Credit

I’d be very interested to know if you or your family expect to be affected by this introduction of Universal Credit in about ten weeks time. Have you calculated whether you will be better or worse off? What are the issues that we should be raising about this new system? I thought I should ‘flag up’ this change as it will be with us shortly.

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MP Update – 29th November

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 29th November 2015

The brutal attacks on Paris and the persistent threat from ISIL jihadists have ensured that national and international security remain at the forefront of all our minds. Few would argue that we can turn a blind eye to the continued menace of this brutal death cult any longer.

British Members of Parliament will in all likelihood be asked later this week to decide on whether our existing RAF air strikes on ISIL in Iraq should be allowed to extend over the border into ISIL safe haven terrain in Syrian territory.

So this weekend, as I make up my mind on how to vote, I am keen to look at the detailed evidence and listen to your views – and I am grateful to the many people who have already written to me already expressing their thoughts, both for and against targeted air strikes against ISIL’s headquarters. Nobody wants to deploy military force unless absolutely required. So I need to judge if targeted air strikes are indeed ‘absolutely required’. There are so many questions to weigh up here, and my thoughts on some of these questions – so far – are as follows:

Is ISIL an immediate threat which should be degraded and contained – or can we leave things for a while longer in hope for a more perfect strategy? It appears to me that the balance of risk suggests urgency is required.

Do we have a sufficiency of international consensus and authority from the United Nations to tackle the ISIL safe haven located in what were the borders of the Syrian state? Not only have the UN unanimously allowed ‘all necessary measures’ to be taken in resolution 2249, but they are actively calling on all members states to take such steps.

Is there a legal basis for extending the existing action in Iraq over the border into Syria? The British airstrikes on targets inside Iraqi territory have been conducted under international law at the request of the Iraqi government in support of their self-defence, and undoubtedly many of Iraq’s assailants are conducting operations from areas that used to be Syrian Government territory now occupied by ISIL.

Is there a direct risk from ISIL to us here in Britain? I am seeking further detailed briefings from the security authorities on this point over the coming days, but the Prime Minister reports that seven terrorist attacks by ISIL on the UK have, fortunately, be thwarted this year. Sadly the attacks on so many British citizens in Tunisia could not be prevented.

Is there an imperative to come to the aid of the French in their self-defence following the atrocities in Paris – or should we decline to assist? The request from the French President to each British Member of Parliament for solidarity with their approach is something I find difficult to ignore.

Could negotiations be a better means of addressing the ISIL threat? I would only agree to air strikes if I am convinced that every other realistic prospect of diplomacy has been exhausted.

Is there a credible alternative strategy that can eliminate ISIL’s safe haven in the near future? I want to see an international dialogue conducted in parallel with any intervention and addressing issues of funding and armament supplies for ISIL far more effectively – but this process on its own does not seem sufficient to tackle the immediate threat posed.

Would air strikes against ISIL in Syria ‘inflame’ the situation more than our current air strikes in Iraq? There is always a risk of further retaliation but I think ISIL already hate and despise us as much as is humanly possible. We should not infantilise those engaged in such heinous acts as they are adults capable of making their own minds up and shaping their own behaviour. The beheadings, mass murders, rapes, abuse of minorities, unspeakable atrocities towards Yazidi women and children, these are all active choices of grown men who are not doing so in ‘reaction’ to us.

Are we paying attention to lessons learned from past interventions? I have been publicly pressing the Prime Minister – twice this week – to listen to concerns about a stronger humanitarian component safeguarding refugees in any package of measures, and also a serious commitment to post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation. These are reassurances I have been seeking. Some British interventions in the past have not succeeded, but others have. I am not sure that the argument “everything is bound to fail so never take military action” is borne out by history.

If airstrikes are extended against ISIL in Syria, is there a guarantee that this will lead to a comprehensive solution to the problem? No, I don’t think we can be totally certain of this, given the competing objectives of some the countries who have nevertheless come together with a common goal of eradicating ISIL. There is much work to be done to develop the long-term plan and I expect there will be setbacks and diplomatic wrangles. Yet stepping away from the immediate international focus on ISIL could make that comprehensive solution less, rather than more likely. British involvement should depend on a push for that consensus on the ISIL targeted focus. But the need to degrade ISIL’s capabilities remains urgent and I worry that postponing any efforts here could cause them to be stronger over that long-term period.

There are other questions besides these – and I hope that whether you agree or disagree when I eventually cast my vote, by now you know I am committed to a regular ongoing dialogue (my apologies for going on at such length again!) as I try to keep an open-mind to the evidence, the arguments and alternative points of view. All I can do is try my best to be guided by what I judge to be in the best interests of all my constituents, our country and the wider international community as I come to a conclusion.

If you want to see the latest exchange between the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Government, a link to these detailed papers is here

NOTTINGHAM

  • Nottingham Hospitals Charity supports the work that takes place at our city’s hospitals, and donations are used to improve patient care, enable medical research, purchase specialist equipment and provide staff development programmes. Nottingham Hospitals Charity are this year launching their ‘Get Your Socks On’ Christmas campaign. On Wednesday 9th December, they are encouraging people to wear a pair of festive socks to school or work, and donate £1. If you are interested in registering your school or workplace to participate, full details are on the Nottingham Hospitals Charity website here: http://nottinghamhospitalscharity.org.uk/news/get-your-socks-on/
  • Those of you who have visited the city centre this week will have noticed that the ‘Winter Wonderland’ is open in Old Market Square. The ‘Winter Wonderland’ features a number of food and drink stalls, as well as gift stalls and an ice rink, and is open until 3rd Christmas lights are also being switched on in high streets across the constituency. Lights were switched on in Sherwood and Sneinton this week, and events are taking place in St Ann’s on 2nd December (4-8pm), Hyson Green on 3rd December (3.30-5pm) and Dales on 10th December (12-2pm and 6-8pm). Full details of the events are available on the City Council website here: http://www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/article/30468/Whats-on-in-Neighbourhoods-this-Christmas
  • Nottingham City Council have pledged to double the access to free Wi-Fi in the city centre before the end of the year. As many people now use smartphones to access the internet, I welcome this development as it will benefit residents when they are visiting the city centre.
  • On Saturday 5th December, the charity Nottingham Women for Change will be holding a Swap Shop event at Tennyson Street Playcentre, 34 Tennyson Street, NG7 4FU. The event is an opportunity for families reuse and recycle by swapping books, clothes and toys they no longer want or need. The event is free to attend, and there is no obligation to bring items or indeed take anything if you just want to donate some unused items. There will be children’s arts and crafts and food available on the day, and the event runs from 10am to 1pm.

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PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • I hope that people will not be distracted from the fact that in Wednesday’s Spending Review, George Osborne announced another £28bn of tax rises that will hit working people, families and businesses around Britain. As is so often the case, the Chancellor had a series of bold claims which began to unravel as soon as we saw the details in the Office for Budget Responsibility’s blue book. Of course, he claimed to have changed his mind on tax credits. But in reality when Universal Credit is introduced, notwithstanding its shambolic roll-out, many of these cuts will still hit working people hard. The independent OBR has made it quite clear that “the cost of the tax credit reversal is more than offset by cuts to a variety of other benefits”. On social security spending, the Chancellor’s couldn’t even pretend he had a story to tell of sound management. He was forced to admit that he will breach his self-imposed welfare cap – not just for one year, but for three successive years. The Conservatives illustrate how a crude ideological approach, rather than patient and careful reform, is failing to root out the massive costs of fraud and error.

Meanwhile the Resolution Foundation has found that working households on Universal Credit, the replacement for tax credits, will lose an average of £1,200 in 2020, and £1,300 for those with children. 

George Osborne has now carried out two Budgets and a Spending Review this year and we have had a different plan on each occasion. As he hastily rewrote his plans over the last few weeks his political allies have tried to hide the chaos by claiming he was in “listening mode” – but after Wednesday there will be many more problems to which the Chancellor will have to pay attention. Look at the detail of his announcements. With that extra £28bn of taxes and an additional £18bn of borrowing, he has veered wildly off the course he set himself.

After being forced to back down on some of his cuts to the police, George Osborne is still hacking away at public services, such as the budget for transport which shrinks by 37%.

By imposing major cuts on business development he will hold back, rather than help boost our economic prosperity. And local authorities have been hit for six with a combination of massive grant cuts and enforced council tax rises which will be harder to shoulder especially in less well-off communities.

The Chancellor’s announcements have already caused the OBR to downgrade disposable income by end of this Parliament, with the productivity rate revised down for three years from 2016 and average earnings also falling from 2016 onwards.

Together these changes show George Osborne has no long-term vision for sustainable growth in output and living standards. Add to this his now depressingly traditional practice of selling off more of the taxpayer’s assets on the cheap – with the Land Registry the latest public body under threat from a cut-price privatisation – and the picture emerges of a Chancellor who will do anything to try to achieve his fiscal targets at the beginning of the Parliament in order to boost his chances of being prime minister by the end of it.

In politics, changing your mind can sometimes be a sign of a strength. In the Spending Review on Wednesday, however, all we saw was short-termism from a man who might claim to be a modern conservative but delivered a very old-fashioned mixture of attacks on working families, spending cuts and typical Tory tax rises.

 

  • On Monday the Prime Minister made a statement in the House of Commons launching the Government’s National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). I pay tribute to the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces, and the defence of our country and protection of its citizens is the first duty of any Government. Britain needs a strong, modern military and security forces to keep us safe, and I support the increased expenditure to strengthen our security services. There are serious questions about the Government’s approach and I am glad that many Labour colleagues pressed on specific details. On Tuesday there was an Opposition Day debate on Trident, called by the SNP. The future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent is a matter of huge importance for our country, affecting our defence and security strategy for decades to come, as well as our global standing. I am very proud of the huge progress made under the previous Labour Government in nuclear disarmament through international frameworks. Indeed, the number of operationally available warheads almost halved, and the number of deployed warheads on each submarine was reduced. These efforts also resulted in the UK becoming the only recognised nuclear-armed Non-Proliferation Treaty country to possess just one nuclear system. I appreciate and respect that there are strongly held views on both sides of this crucial debate. The Opposition’s position, as stated in the manifesto I stood on at the last election, is to maintain a minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent, delivered through a continuous at-sea deterrent – and as such I opposed the SNP motion. I continue to believe that, in an unpredictable world, it is important for our NATO allies that the UK sends a message to those who threaten us that we will be resolute and trustworthy.

 

  • On Wednesday the House of Commons debated the Childcare Bill, which proposes to extend free childcare to 30 hours per week for working families with 3 and 4 year olds. I welcome the extending of free childcare, which builds on the pledge in the manifesto I stood on at the last election. However, over the last five years the Government has made it harder for parents to find the childcare hours they need – there are over 40,000 fewer childcare places since 2010 and six in ten councils do not have enough childcare available for working families. Families are now spending £1,533 more on childcare than they did in 2010, an increase of a third, and the Government’s flagship tax free childcare scheme has been delayed costing families thousands of pounds. I am also concerned that there might be a shortfall in Government funding that must be investigated further. I hope that the Government’s rhetoric on childcare will match reality as I do not want to see more broken promises for families with this scheme.

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

At the beginning of this email I asked, as I did in last week’s ‘MP Update’, for your further views on the proposal to extend airstrikes targeted at ISIL’s headquarters in Syrian territory, and clearly this is the central issue of the week ahead. But while this has been an incredibly busy week in Parliament – I don’t think it would be right to lose sight of the other crucial domestic issues. In particular, it would be a travesty if George Osborne’s Spending Review decisions went by unscrutinised. So if you have any views on the announcements the Chancellor made on Wednesday I’d be keen to know – because I remain determined to press him on his cuts to services, the tax rises he announced, and the threat to poorer households now looming when Universal Credit comes along.

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MP Update – 20th November

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 20th November 2015

On Wednesday the Chancellor will announce the public spending allocations for a wide range of services for the coming three years, including grants to Nottingham City Council, money for our NHS, schools and also for the Police. This is one of the most important statements affecting public services and we should be watching what the Government do extremely closely. George Osborne is already having to back down on his planned cuts to working tax credits – and so he should – but he may ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ and hit other budgets in doing so.

I am particularly worried about the squeeze facing our health and social care services, with our local NHS Hospitals Trust already in a deficit and with social services under intense pressure. And when I met with our local Police Commissioner Paddy Tipping and the Nottinghamshire Chief Constable Chris Eyre this week, we discussed the impact of a further relentless reduction in resources for community policing and frontline patrolling.

I believe that it’s vital for us to approach this challenge constructively and press Ministers to find resources from lower priority areas in order to protect frontline services and facilities. For example, I think that we should think about merging more of the back-office services from across the Police Authorities in the East Midlands to get money into police officer posts, something the Home Office are still resisting. And I think it’s appalling that £4.6billion is wasted at the Department for Work & Pensions in fraud, error and overpayments when that is the exact amount of money needed to avoid the cuts to working tax credits.

I am trying as hard as I can to press Ministers to think about sensible, constructive ways to save resource and prioritise vital public services. An ideological approach to public spending risks harming the community and it’s time we worked harder, looked in detail at where the money goes, to get through this tight financial period without causing so much damage.

NOTTINGHAM

  • On Thursday, Aldi opened its latest store on East Point Retail Park in Sneinton. The new store represents part of a wider regeneration of the area, and I welcome the more affordable choice that the supermarket offers for residents. The store has created 40 jobs for the area, with a further 80 jobs being created at other units in the retail park. In conjunction with the opening, Aldi made a donation to a local youth centre. The new retail park is a welcome boost to the area and residents were eager to try out the new store on Thursday – people were queuing from as early as 6.30am!
  • Small Business Saturday is taking place on Saturday 5th This annual event is a fantastic way to support local small businesses. It was great to see the Small Business Saturday Tour Bus in Nottingham on Monday, and the Small Biz 100 list has celebrated many small businesses including Nottingham-based Debbie Bryan and Shake Social Ltd. To find out more about what you can do to support local business, visit https://www.smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com/

SBS bus

  • East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) was inspected by the Care Quality Commission this week. I spoke a few weeks ago about my concerns that response times for the ambulance service had dropped from their eight minute target in the last couple of months and the EMAS Chief Executive welcomed the opportunity to show inspectors the care they offer as well as the challenges they face. I will be meeting with the EMAS Chief Executive in the New Year to discuss the challenges ahead.
  • In last week’s update, I talked about the outpouring of sympathy and solidarity with the French people following the attacks in Paris. That has been demonstrated in Nottingham this week with a number of vigils and events to show both our solidarity and that hate will not be tolerated in our diverse communities. One such event was organised by Nottingham Citizens, where a series of one-to-one conversations were held between people who had never met before at The Bridge Centre in Hyson Green on Wednesday. The event was organised in 48 hours, and over 100 people from different faiths and backgrounds attended the event to strengthen community relationships in the wake of the Paris attacks.
  • You may remember that I launched my annual Christmas Picture Competition last month. The competition is open to all primary school aged children in Nottingham East – all local schools have been invited to participate, but we accept individual entries too. This year’s theme is ‘Christmassy Books’. This is a final reminder as entries for the competition close on Friday 27th November, and prizes will be presented on 11th Entries should be A4 or smaller and please avoid using loose materials like glitter. Please remember to provide contact details and a return address. Please send the original artwork to my office, either by post (to 12 Regent Street, Nottingham, NG1 5BQ) or via email to suzi.clark@parliament.uk. Best of luck!

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • Following the Home Secretary’s statement on the Paris attacks, on Tuesday the Prime Minister made a statement in the House of Commons also covering the G20 summit that took place in Turkey over the weekend. In the face of the tragic events in Paris, it is right that we stand united with France in expressing our unequivocal condemnation of these atrocities and support the steps that are being taken to protect the people of this country and keep them safe. During the Statement I asked the Prime Minister to ensure that the police have full and necessary powers to keep our communities safe. The UK is currently working with our allies against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, training local forces, striking targets in Iraq and providing intelligence support. The Government also agreed at the G20 to base some British aircraft alongside other NATO allies at the airbase at Incirlik in an air defence role to support Turkey. It is important to work for a consensus in the international response to the attacks in Paris.
  • The Prime Minister also updated the House of Commons on the G20 discussions on global warming ahead of the UN Climate Summit in Paris. I believe the Government’s approach to renewable energy in this country run directly counter to its aims at the climate change talks and they must do more to combat climate change here in Britain, as well as pressing for international action. Thank you to those who replied to my question on this issue some weeks ago.
  • On Wednesday the House of Commons debated an Opposition motion on further education. Investment in 16-19 education is directly linked to a higher wage, higher skilled and more productive economy. You cannot build a 21st century economy on falling investment in education. However, over the last Parliament, the 16-19 education budget fell by 14% in real terms. Many colleges are reporting severe financial difficulties and are therefore no longer offering courses in subjects key for our country’s competitiveness. Furthermore, over 100 chairs of further education colleges have warned that further cuts to 16-19 funding will tip their colleges ‘over the precipice’. For the 2015 Spending Review, the Chancellor asked Departments to model two scenarios of 25% and 40% savings by 2019-20. Research by the House of Commons Library reveals that this could mean the budget for sixth form and further education colleges could fall by £1.6 billion. At the last election, I stood on a platform that promised to protect the entire education budget in real terms, including for post-16 and early years. Under this Government, good and outstanding sixth forms and further education colleges are under threat. In next week’s Spending Review, the Government must recognise the devastating impact that cuts of between 25% – 40% over this Parliament would have and protect the education budget from early years through to 19.

 

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Over the coming weeks I suspect that there will be an increasing debate in Parliament on a series of national security and defence issues, especially as the international community adjust to the indiscriminate threat from jihadi terrorism. Today’s attacks in Mali are sadly the latest such example.

There are debates due on the role of our security services, on the defence equipment and the nuclear deterrent, on how Britain should aid France in sharing their peacekeeping commitments worldwide, and of course on whether to be involved with action against ISIL in Syria. I’d be interested to hear any views that you have as the issues develop – and as ever please do email me your thoughts. Britain cannot cut itself off from the wider world community, and we have a fundamental duty to protect people and those who work to defend the country. And we also have to work locally recognising that good quality community policing is really important for the longer term as well.

 

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MP Update – 14th November

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 14th November 2015

As the news of the horrific attacks in Paris came through late last night, it was sadly clear this was becoming one of the worst terrorist incidents in Europe in modern times. It is staggering to comprehend the depravity that leads to such acts of evil and premeditation, going so far beyond any sane explanation, justification or rational cause.

There has been an outpouring of sympathy and solidarity from communities across the world for those affected and I’ve already had many Nottingham residents expressing their shock at the news. It is fitting that tonight so many landmarks across the UK will be lit in the colours of the French Tricolour to illustrate the UK’s fraternity.

There will clearly need to be a thorough analysis of these coordinated attacks and consideration will need to be given to what further steps if any the national authorities could possibly take to thwart or prevent the loss of so many lives. From my own time as the Minister for Civil Contingencies and Emergency Planning, I know that we place a great deal of expectation on the shoulders of our security services who do successfully impede terrorism in our country month by month – but it is of course impossible to always stop the determined suicide attacker. In the meantime it is important that the democratic world is not cowed or intimidated by those so clearly attempting to target our values, culture and way of life.

NOTTINGHAM

Ø  Yesterday evening I was delighted to attend the ninth annual NUHonours Awards at the East Midlands Conference Centre. The NUHonours Awards celebrate the contribution of nurses, doctors, porters and all the other staff and volunteers who work at Nottingham hospitals and go above and beyond the call of duty in their care of patients and their families. It was a real pleasure to meet with so many of the staff and charity volunteers who keep our local NHS going so strongly – and it was also nice to be seated with Barbara Cathcart (pictured below) who runs the Nottingham Hospitals Charity and which hosted the awards. The Charity raises millions of pounds and contributes towards all sorts of improved facilities for patients, including over £2million for the new cystic fibrosis centre. Donations and bequests are often left to the Nottingham Hospitals Charity and more information is available at their website here http://nottinghamhospitalscharity.org.uk/

NUHonours

Ø  A big shake-up has been announced by Ministers of HMRC tax offices across the country, with news of the closure of 137 centres and instead a consolidation into 13 new regional centres. While we have heard that the regional centre for the East Midlands will be based in Nottingham, the Government have yet to make clear how many job losses will result from the closure of the six offices currently operating in the region and whether there will be any other local impact from the change. There are some big questions arising from this reconfiguration, for taxpayers already finding it difficult in touch with HMRC, and of course for staff themselves. I will try to find out more about what exactly will be happening.

Ø  It’s ‘Small Business Saturday’ on December 6th and in the run up to this great event I want to encourage as many people to shop locally and support high street retailers in our area. On Friday I popped in to ‘Ideas On Paper’ in Cobden Chambers who retail magazines, journals, books and stationery. They have helped collaborate with the City Council, Experience Nottinghamshire and Nottingham Business Improvement District (BID) on a new ‘Creative Quarter’ handbook to be distributed free from local shops. It’s got some useful tips and ideas about local eateries, shopping and events – if you’re in town do pick one up.

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 PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

Ø  On Tuesday the Minister for Europe made a statement on the Government’s proposed renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the European Union. The Government set out the changes it wants to see in four areas: economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty, and welfare and immigration. The agenda raised important issues, including some which were in the manifesto I stood on at the general election such as protection for the rights of non-Eurozone countries and of national Parliaments. However, I was disappointed that there was so little about jobs and growth for the future. Britain is a more powerful, prosperous and secure country as a result of its membership of the EU.

The EU does need reform and especially in terms of democratic accountability, in my view. The Government also needs to guarantee that nothing in their agenda reduces the hard won employment rights which have been agreed at European level including rights to paid leave, rights for part time workers and fair pay for temporary and agency workers. There will now be a process of formal negotiation with the European institutions and all European partners, leading to discussion at the December European Council. The Government has said that it is progress in this renegotiation which will determine the timing of the referendum which will take place by the end of 2017.

The decision on whether or not the United Kingdom remains a member of the European Union is one of the biggest decisions this country will take for a generation. I want to see Britain playing a full role in shaping a reformed and better Europe which offers jobs and hope to its young people, uses its collective strength in trade with the rest of the world and stands together to face the urgent security problems we face.

Ø  On Tuesday the Government’s Trade Union Bill passed its Report Stage and Third Reading in the House of Commons. I oppose this Bill because it undermines the basic protections that trade unions provide for people at work. Labour tabled a number of amendments to the Bill, with much of the debate on Tuesday focusing on the three broad areas of devolution, e-balloting and picketing. Our amendments on devolution were designed to ensure that the Bill’s measures would not apply to services which are either wholly or partly devolved in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland or to English local councils or the Mayor of London. This would ensure that devolved administrations are able to decide how best they engage with their staff and trade unions. Unfortunately these amendments did not pass.

The Bill also introduces higher thresholds for strike ballots. The Government argues that this is aimed at boosting democracy in the workplace. In reality, I believe the proposals are designed to restrict workers’ voices and to prevent unions from effectively representing their members. If the Government was interested in boosting workplace democracy it would allow electronic workplace balloting which would help bring ballots into the twenty-first century.

Following significant scrutiny and pressure at Committee Stage, the Government tabled a number of amendments to loosen requirements on picketing – but these minor concessions do not go nearly far enough. Clause 9 of the Bill will still impose significant new restrictions on the ability of trade unions and their members to picket and protest peacefully, undermining civil liberties. Unfortunately an amendment removing this Clause was defeated.

The Bill now goes to the House of Lords for the final part of its legislative consideration.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

The terrorist attacks in Paris are clearly on the minds of the whole world this weekend – and there is much debate and speculation even at this early stage about lessons to be learned and the reaction that is likely to build. I’d be interested to hear any thoughts, anxieties or observations you might have at this time.

President Hollande of France has stated his conclusion that these were targeted attacks by ISIS and ISIS have also now claimed responsibility. There is an obvious and live threat here and I suspect there will be an urgent series of deliberations – most likely including a Commons statement on Monday – touching on the three questions of where else may be vulnerable, how more effective intelligence might foil attacks before they happen and ultimately how the threat should be removed.

History suggests that events may well move quite rapidly in the days ahead and I feel this is going to be a time for very careful leadership and thoughtful consideration for the bigger picture.

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MP Update – 8th November

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 8th November 2015

This morning I attended the Nottinghamshire Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Victoria Embankment and laid a wreath in memory of those who have fought and died in conflicts past and present. There was a very large turnout from many residents, friends of the Royal British Legion, and those who have served in our armed forces.

Decisions to enter into combat situations must never be taken lightly – and Britain has always played its part in peace-keeping, rescue missions and fighting against tyranny. I am deeply conscious that in today’s dangerous world there are times when it can become necessary to ask those serving in the forces to step into harm’s way and defend the values which we hold dear in society. We should never under-estimate the enormity of the tasks we require of our military and I know that the vast majority of residents in Nottingham East are proud to pay tribute to the men and women who have served and still serve in the army, navy and air force.

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NOTTINGHAM

  • Mental health is still stigmatised and mental healthcare is still on the fringes on the NHS. On a number of indicators, Nottingham suffers from a greater incidence of mental health problems and mental illness than the national average, so programmes like ‘Wellbeing+’ in Sherwood remain important sources of support for those with or at risk of developing mental health issues. I enjoyed meeting manager April Brown on Thursday, who explained to me how the project both supports those with mental health problems, and directs them towards services to help them get their lives back under control, from therapy to employment advice. With waiting lists of up to a year for therapy, Wellbeing+ fill the critical gap between diagnosis and treatment. They clearly provide indispensable support for the 800 people a year they work with.
  • On Thursday I was invited to Rosehill School in St Ann’s – a community special school for children from age 4 to 19 diagnosed with an autism spectrum learning disorder. It was great to have the chance to meet students and learn about the school’s new curriculum. Fenella Dowler, Cheryl Steele and all of the staff are involved in incredibly important work and doing what they can to enable students to be ready for independent living. The key challenge is now to get more support from the wider community to help students to access internships and work placements to ensure a smooth transition into adulthood. I was impressed with the tour I was given by some of the students themselves around the school’s outstanding facilities. With growing numbers and demand rising rapidly, Rosehill School is a key institution for the whole of the community and I believe by identifying the skills of their students in the longer term we can help build productive lives for these young people.

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  • I received a briefing this week informing me that Nottingham City is amongst the worst affected places in the country for pneumonia amongst the over-65s. If you are aged over 65 or have a long-term health condition you are eligible for a ‘pneumo jab’ on the NHS; give your GP a call before NHS comes under pressure through the winter.
  • This week I caught up with Pete McGavin, the newly appointed Interim Chief Executive of Healthwatch Nottingham, an independent organisation that endeavours to give a voice to people’s views on health and social care. We discussed some of their forthcoming investigations and inquiries and my long-held view that we need to have strategic oversight of the massive £800million NHS budget spent in Nottingham. I’m glad that Healthwatch are building their profil and able to provide some accountability for the NHS locally.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • On Thursday the Transport Secretary made a statement in the House of Commons regarding the suspension of flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. The Minister stated that the Government are reaching the view that a bomb on board may be the probable cause of the loss of the Russian Metrojet flight and hundreds of deaths on Saturday 31st October, and all UK operated flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh have subsequently been suspended. There is no question that the safety of British people must be the highest priority and I support the action that has been taken. The Government has stated that interim arrangements will be put in place so that people can return home, although there are clearly logistical issues arising in Egypt with this. An estimated 20,000 British citizens and nationals are currently in Sharm el-Sheikh, and it will be important that arrangements are put in place to provide those affected with regular and prompt updates, as well as a simple process for seeking official assistance.
  • On Monday the House of Commons debated the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill. There are parts of the Bill which I welcome such as measures that would restrict the operation of rogue private landlords and letting agents. However, there are also parts of the Bill I cannot support and I am concerned the Bill will not help most people struggling to buy their own homes, will mean a severe loss of affordable homes, and will weaken the obligation of private developers to contribute towards the building of new affordable homes. The Bill extends right-to-buy to housing associations funded by the forced sale of affordable council homes. I believe this is unworkable and wrong and would lead to a severe and irreversible loss of affordable homes across England at a time when they are most needed. The Bill also contains measures for ‘starter homes’. While I support the aim of ‘starter homes’ – to make home ownership more accessible – I am concerned that under the Government’s plans they will be unaffordable for most young people and families on ordinary incomes. We are facing a housing crisis in this country – many people cannot afford a home, can barely afford their rents and, in the worst cases, are sleeping rough. Home-ownership has fallen every year since 2010, last year there were the fewest affordable homes built in over two decades, and there has been a 36% increase in homelessness. While I support help for more people, particularly young people, to own their own homes, the Bill does nothing to correct the causes of the Government’s failure on housing and in many areas will make the housing crisis much worse. I therefore voted against the Bill on Monday.
  • On Wednesday the House of Commons debated an Opposition motion on policing. The Prime Minister promised to protect frontline policing but 17,000 police officers have been lost since 2010, of which 12,000 were from the operational frontline, and neighbourhood policing has been particularly badly hit. I am very concerned by reports that the police budget could be cut by up to 25 per cent in the Comprehensive Spending Review later this month. Cuts of this scale could leave England and Wales with many fewer officers. We could see the disappearance of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and the end of visible neighbourhood policing as we have known it. Frontline policing has already been cut over the past five years which has had a real impact on the police’s ability to do their job. Moreover, crime is changing and moving away from traditional forms such as burglary and car theft and is increasingly being replaced by cyber crime. While of course I support sensible savings and senior police chiefs and the Police Federation acknowledge further efficiency savings are possible. Efficiency savings of 5 to 10 per cent would be difficult but doable through greater collaboration between forces and an overhaul of policing technology. I am concerned that cuts of over ten per cent, however, could put public safety at risk. I supported the Opposition motion on Wednesday which called on the Government to secure a funding settlement for the police that maintains frontline services and does not compromise public safety. Unfortunately, the Government opposed the motion on this vital issue and it was defeated.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

You may have seen on the news that the Home Office published a draft Bill to consolidate and update the investigatory powers available to law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies. There have been huge changes in technology which have left our laws outdated, and made the job of the police and security services in keeping us safe harder. I’m conscious that many people are sceptical about whether government agencies should have certain rights to examine data and communications, which is why I wanted to ask your opinion about how best to strike the right balance.

It’s obvious that we now face growing threats, internationally and domestically, and we therefore cannot leave the police and security services with any blind spots when it comes to tackling terrorism, child exploitation, serious online fraud, and the location of missing people. However, I believe that strong powers must be offset by strong safeguards for the public to protect privacy and long-held liberties.

The previous draft Bill in 2012 caused serious misgivings but it does appear that the Government have backed down on some of those aspects, with this new draft Bill including much stronger safeguards and a new two-stage process for authorising interception warrants, requiring formal approval from a judge. This warrant process seems to have the merits of both providing public and political accountability, as well as the independence that is needed to build trust in the system.

Do you think that the draft Investigatory Powers Bill is a “snooper’s charter” and paves the way for mass surveillance? Or do you believe the proposals that have been brought forward in this draft Bill have broadly got a difficult balance right and taken into account legitimate concerns?

I’m going to look at the detail of the draft Bill and listen to the views on both sides of the argument. The proposals will now go forward for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament before the Government proceed any further with them. In the meantime, any views you might have would be very welcome.

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MP Update – 31st October

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 31st October 2015

We can’t run a decent NHS without an efficient, modern ambulance service. Emergency treatment for critical illness and injury is vital and for some conditions – heart attacks and stroke for instance – a rapid response can mean the difference between life and death. So I was disappointed to learn about East Midlands Ambulance Service response times falling back from their eight minute key targets in the past couple of months, as reported in this week’s Nottingham Post.

I’ve asked for an early meeting with the Ambulance Service chief executive to discuss why timeliness has been slipping. As I said in my remarks to BBC Radio Nottingham on Friday there are many obstacles that paramedics face, including busy traffic, but in the 21st century we need to be managing the service better than 15 minute responses to Red1 and Red2 call outs. Financial pressures are undoubtedly part of this equation. There has also been a changing strategy at the ambulance service, making plans to reconfigure buildings and key locations and then changing those again.

We need the best quality hospitals and primary care in Nottingham, but we also need patients to be able to access treatment quickly when it is urgently needed. It would be deeply regrettable if somehow the ambulance service didn’t receive the same high priority for investment and modernisation as the rest of the NHS.

NOTTINGHAM

  • I was very pleased to hear that Djanogly Academy on Gregory Boulevard has been taken out of “special measures” following an Ofsted inspection. The school is steadily improving under headteacher Dave Hooker and posted an increase in the number of students getting five GCSEs, including maths and English. They still have some way to go but, as the inspectors said, Mr Hooker is turning the school around. You can read the full story in the Nottingham Post here: http://www.nottinghampost.com/Djanogly-City-Academy-lifted-special-measures/story-28041255-detail/story.html#ixzz3pVsNVA3U
  • 9 out of 10 people with learning disabilities have experienced a hate incident over the last year. On Thursday I was invited to Nottingham Mencap to visit ‘Smile! Stop Hate Crime’, a project for people with learning disabilities working to tackle disability hate crime in Nottingham. Their coordinators, Denise Hickman and Karen Aspley, told me about their new scheme, Safe Places, which works with local public premises (e.g. shops, pubs) to provide a ‘Safe Place’ for vulnerable people. If a vulnerable member of the community needs support they can go to a certified ‘Safe Place’ (which will have a badge in the window), and the staff will know how to help them and who to contact. It is a great project, and the Mencap day care services are much valued – and I even had the chance to join them for lunch!

31 Oct 1

  • In September Virgin Media announced that Nottingham would potentially benefit from £25 million investment in ultrafast broadband over the next four years, which could affect up to 50,000 premises. I requested a meeting with Virgin Media in Nottingham on Thursday to discuss this planned extension, and they are asking residents interested in the service to say whether they want to have cable access or not (their survey link is here). Over two hundred people work at the Virgin Media headquarters in Nottingham and it was interesting to look around and see for myself how the company is organised.
  • The problem with the clocks going back means it is very dark quite early now – which has a number of downsides to it, including making it slightly more challenging to knock on doors in the evening to talk with local residents about the issues that concern you most! Undeterred by the rain, we were out in Edwards Lane this week (pictured below) and a number of questions came up including the need for better playground facilities, tax credit changes, and support for the work of our armed forces.

31 Oct 2

 

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • This week the Government suffered two humiliating defeats in the House of Lords over their plan to cut tax credits. Peers voted that the Chancellor should not go ahead with the changes – which take an average of £1,300 a year from three million working families – until he has laid out extra support for those affected for the next three years. Since losing the vote the Tories have tried to manufacture a “constitutional crisis” on the basis that the Lords defied the Commons on a financial matter – but this argument was shattered when one of their own ministers confirmed this was a benefits matter, rather than a tax one, so the Lords had not broken any conventions.
  • The reality is that David Cameron and George Osborne do not have permission from voters to cut tax credits and during the election they repeatedly ducked the question of where exactly their social security cuts could fall. So on Tuesday, at Treasury Questions, I asked the Chancellor directly to point to the sentence in the Tory manifesto which outlined this specific tax credit cut. It was a simple question – but of course he could not answer. You can watch the exchange here: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/289f1a84-8d7c-4ac8-b8e4-aa3192094b70?in=11:44:29&out=11:45:15
  • On Tuesday the Government’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill returned to the House of Commons for its Report Stage and Third Reading. I voted against the third reading of this legislation because attempts to amend away the worse elements were all rejected by Ministers. I was particularly disappointed that the Government refuse to maintain a duty on the Government to report on child poverty targets. I also supported amendments which would have prevented the abolition of the Work-Related Activity Group component of ESA and prevented the cut being transferred to Universal Credit. I believe it is unjust and unfair to cut social security support for disabled people and those with serious health conditions who have been assessed as not fit for work and placed in the work-related activity group.  Unfortunately the Government defeated these amendments as well
  • On Wednesday there was a debate in the House of Commons on junior doctors’ contracts. Junior doctors are the lifeblood of the NHS and the Government’s handling of the junior doctors’ contract has caused unnecessary anger across the country and is now a real threat to the recruitment and retention of NHS staff. It is vital the new contract is safe for patients and fair to junior doctors and I am concerned that the current proposals remove the safeguards that penalise hospitals who routinely force junior doctors to work in excess of their contracted hours, and cuts pay for those doctors that currently work evenings and weekends putting delivery of a 7-day NHS at risk. The Opposition motion urged the Government to protect junior doctors in the new contract and return to negotiations with the BMA. Unfortunately the Government voted against the Opposition’s motion and it did not pass.
  • The first of the two Opposition Day debates on Wednesday called on the Government to take immediate action to protect the steel industry. Thousands of jobs have been lost in the sector over the last few weeks, with more at risk. The steel industry is of vital importance to those local communities it serves, yet it has taken these many job losses before the Government has even talked about action. I supported the Opposition’s motion, which called on the Government to implement immediately the Energy Intensive Industry Compensation Package, to address the high energy costs the sector faces.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

It’s alarming how the issue of carbon reduction and global warming has been on the wane with the media in recent years. Some argue that the economic downturn placed financial matters more to the fore in people’s minds. But we remain in urgent need of a worldwide solution to sustained and high carbon emissions – which is why I want to press the UK Government to take the Paris Conference in December far more seriously.

The United Nations have compiled a survey of what they call ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCs), measuring the promised commitments of now 146 countries to cut emissions. While this is four times the number of countries committed since the Kyoto protocol, and if kept would lead to a 9% cut in emissions by 2030, I am still concerned it will see global temperatures rise by 2.7 degrees Celsius about pre-industrial levels.

I’d be interested to know whether you also sense these questions have fallen down the political agenda – and what could be done to raise interest again? I’m pleased that the Paris Conference looks likely to cover 86% of global emissions but it’s the developing world and the large industrialising nations like China, India and Indonesia we need to encourage to do more. Any thoughts or observations always gratefully received.

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MP Update – 25th October

 NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 25th October 2015

Next month the Chancellor George Osborne will stand up in Parliament to announce how much money has been allocated to public services for the coming three year period in his ‘Spending Review’. So we will see, over the coming weeks, various campaigns starting to build pressures for more resources. There are already some big needs which the Chancellor should address – including revisiting his cuts to the working tax credits which will hit some of the lowest paid working people.

But following my meeting on Friday with the management team at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, I am increasingly worried about the financial crisis facing our health service – and whether the Government are taking this seriously. A few figures brought this to life for me; despite growing demand and workload pressures, higher clinical negligence insurance costs and agency nursing fees, our local hospitals actually received a £6million CUT in the cash they received from the clinical commissioning group this year. Cutting the cash for QMC and City Hospital through this local CCG contract means that, in turn, a whole series of equipment improvements we need at the hospitals have been put on ice, including planned upgrades for radiology imaging equipment.

The hospitals budget needs £848million just to stand still, but there is only £755million of income and grants – leaving a whopping £93million shortfall. The Trust plan to make some of this shortfall up with a further £44million of ‘savings’, but that would still leave them £49million short. These are big figures, it is a dangerous deficit, and the numbers paint a picture sadly replicated in other hospital trusts across the rest of the country.

The Chancellor’s spending review has got to address this NHS financial crisis or the pressures we see in winter months especially in the Emergency Department will get worse and worse. They were elected on a promise to meet NHS funding needs, and the Spending Review must now come up with the goods – and that’s just to preserve the existing services we have, let alone to fund new improvements.

NOTTINGHAM

  • Sickle cell disorder affects between 12,500 and 15,000 people in the UK, making it the most common inherited disease in the country. Abnormal blood cells getting stuck in the blood vessels can produce a ‘sickle cell crisis’ – episodes of severe pain in the bones, joints, stomach or chest. Although good medical treatment is available, often social support is not, and awareness is low. That is why OSCAR Nottingham, a charity founded by parents of sufferers in 1983, is so valuable. It was great to speak at the opening of their Health & Wellbeing Day and talked to chairman Paul Pryce (pictured) about the important work they do. This includes raising awareness of how the disease is passed on and support for young sufferers (e.g. help with difficulties at school, counselling, health advice). It is clear that they offer vital social support for sufferers that otherwise would not be available.

25 Oct 1

  • On Friday afternoon I visited Runnymede Court in Portland Road, a 60 unit retirement complex where over 78 residents live. I was given a warm welcome by their staff and residents, and enjoyed hearing about the support the estate offers and discussed some of the concerns and issues of those living in the complex (pictured below).

25 Oct 2

  • 19th October marked the first day of the extended franchise for Stagecoach to run East Midlands Trains, which runs until March 2018. As part of the £150 million deal, Stagecoach are launching a £13million investment programme, which they say will bring a number of improvements to the service, including 22 additional services from Nottingham to Newark Castle. I will be keeping a close watch on how this franchise progresses as it is important to hold these services to account.
  • Are you registered to vote? Changes in the system introduced by this Government mean around one million people will be taken off the electoral register this year. You can make sure you’re not one of them by registering to vote at gov.uk/register-to-vote . It is quick and easy, and only takes three minute. You will need your National Insurance number so do have it to hand. There are significant elections coming up in the coming year and don’t forget, if you don’t register there could be an £80 fine and you may find it harder to get a credit card or mobile phone contract. Nottingham City Council’s electoral registration team have been trying to ensure the register is up to date in our area but I am concerned that there are some pockets of our neighbourhoods where registration isn’t high.
  • October is almost over and Christmas adverts are probably soon to follow. I launched my annual Christmas Picture Competition last week, so this is just a reminder to keep sending entries in. It is open to all primary school aged children living in Nottingham East. All local schools have been invited to participate, but we accept individual entries too. The theme is “Christmassy Books”.  The closing date for entries is the 27th November and prizes will be presented around 11th December. Entries should be A4 or smaller and please avoid using loose materials like glitter. Please remember to provide contact details and a return address. Please send the original artwork to my office, either by post (to 12 Regent Street, Nottingham, NG1 5BQ) or via email to josie.tanvir@parliament.uk. Best of luck!

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • The fight to persuade the Chancellor to change his working tax credits proposal is reaching a crunch point, with a vote in the Lords tomorrow and possibly more opportunities for opposition during the rest of the week. My suspicion is that he will use Tuesday’s Treasury Questions to announce a ‘tweak’ to the plan – but whether this is enough to end the penalty for those in work remains to be seen. On Tuesday I supported the Opposition Motion calling on the government to drop the plans and even some Conservative MPs voiced their concerns.
  • On Tuesday there was an Urgent Question on the future of the steel industry following the announcement of nearly 1,200 job losses at the Tata Steel plants in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire, and Caparo Industries entering administration. The ongoing crisis in our steel industry is a tragedy for all those affected. I understand the real and difficult problems facing the steel industry. However, I am concerned that the Government have been so reluctant to defend the industry when it is so important to our strategic national interests. A steel summit was held last Friday and I believe the Government should immediately carry out the emergency actions which the industry called for. With each passing day there is a new blow to the steel industry. We need action from the Government including working with the European Commission and the Chinese Government to relieve the pressure on the industry. Coming so soon after the closure of the Redcar steelworks, I hope the Government can work with every agency and jurisdiction to support the individuals, families and communities who are being affected by these job losses.
  • This week the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill started its Committee Stage in the House of Commons and a range of amendments were debated. I support real devolution to empower our communities. However, I fear this Bill is a top-down process of piecemeal deals that do not offer meaningful devolution to all areas of England. I supported a number of amendments on Tuesday including on fair funding, and for the provision for a multi-year funding agreement which would allow combined authorities the resources and time needed to build financial stability and allow them to best protect themselves against unfair funding settlements delivered by central government.
  • In the next few weeks I expect that George Osborne will have negotiated a joint proposal with council leaders across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire on how a combined authority for our part of the East Midlands might look, with Osborne insisting on the proviso of an elected mayor across this area. Until we see what is on offer, the jury is out. My concerns are whether this extra layer of local government is justified by the powers and resources vested more locally. I will keep you posted when we hear more detail.
  • I was sorry to learn this week that my colleague Michael Meacher died at the age of 75. He was a Minister in the previous Labour Government on environmental issues and was a great fighter for social justice and equal opportunities.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Should we have English votes for English laws (‘EVEL’) in the House of Commons? Clearly there is a need to address the anomaly where Scottish and Welsh MPs have a say on English issues, but English MPs cannot take part in decisions which are devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.

But the Government’s solution this week may make matters worse, rather than resolve these tensions. The so-called ‘EVEL’ reforms will now mean that the Speaker has the tricky job of certifying if a piece of legislation relates only to England and, if so, English MPs alone will have to grant their ‘consent’ for the Bill to proceed. The trouble is, whether a Bill is purely ‘English’ is not always clear cut. For instance, does a third runway at Heathrow only relate to England? Or are the Scots affected if Heathrow does or doesn’t expand routes to different parts of the UK?

There should have been far more in-depth thinking about the major constitutional ramifications of this change, rather than the rushed changes to the House of Commons standing orders pushed through on Thursday afternoon. I think the UK is strongest if we find ways to bind the nations together, not plant the seeds of disunity and animosity with a sense that there are ‘two classes’ of MPs sitting in the same Parliament.

I’d be interested to know your views and whether you think there are better solutions.

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MP Update – 18th October

NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 18th October 2015

 

The severe cuts to working tax credits due from next April will mean that people in employment but on modest levels of pay could lose more than £1000 a year. And because these losses won’t be made up for by the rise in the national minimum wage, it is now clear that the Government are going to come under intense pressure to rethink this plan.

In the hours after George Osborne made this announcement, I was clear that it would be the most pernicious aspect of his Summer Budget – which is why I called the change a ‘work penalty’, penalising people trying their hardest to do the right thing and go out to work. Because tax credits are complex and calculated for different individuals depending on their own circumstances, it is easy to see how for many people the impact of the changes in April might be a bit unclear. But the two major changes will together be a major disincentive for people to go out and earn a living – cutting the threshold at which the full allowance of working tax credit begins to be payable and then tapering away the tax credit more steeply for every pound earned through work.

I would predict that George Osborne is already planning to back down in his ‘Autumn Statement’ on November 25th, but it is quite important that MPs speak up to keep the pressure on the Chancellor. If you are likely to be affected and depend on working tax credit to make ends meet, I’d be interested to hear your story. With Labour out of government now we can only hope that Conservative Ministers respond to public pressure – so if you want to write to the Chancellor about these changes do so at HM Treasury, 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ.

NOTTINGHAM

  • Seventy years ago in October 1945 the United Nations was formed after the end of the second world war, out of the lessons of the failures of the old ‘League of Nations’, the global forum for diplomacy aiming for a more peaceful and sustainable planet. Here in Nottingham we have a very welcome branch of the United Nations Association, which met in the Council House on Friday morning to hand over a commemorative copy of the UN Charter to the Sheriff of Nottingham (pictured below) – and to discuss future ideas for UN reform. It is incredibly frustrating that action is often thwarted by the unanimous requirements of the UN constitutions, but at least we have 139 countries signed up to talking and dialogue, albeit many of whom still shun notions of democracy. We sometimes take for granted the obvious – but we should acknowledge that the UN is a vital forum we continue to need in an insecure world.

18 Oct 1

  • Well done to the team at Green’s Mill in Sneinton for the transformation of their new garden, led by Rachael Hemmings who gave me a tour of their newly built facilities and greenhouse last week (see pictured below). Next Friday they’ll be hosting a Family Grow & Cook taster session from 10am until 1pm and I’d recommend popping along – just walk up to the mill and the garden is situated through the mill yard. Book at rachaelhemmings@hotmail.com if you want to go along.

18 Oct 2

  • When young people are at risk of school exclusion or find that the school environment isn’t working for them, the education system has developed a series of ‘alternative learning’ centres to ensure continuity of schooling. But the range of alternative education providers is varied and it’s up to schools to find the right one. So it was heartening to have the chance to visit the new ‘Pheonix Aspirational Learning’ in Liddington Street, Basford recently. They have come together from the staff of the former Wheelbase Centre which sadly closed last year – and the new team (pictured) are determined to help young people develop practical skills including plumbing, gardening, woodwork, arts and crafts as well as business skills, Maths and English. I was really impressed with the dedication of the team, who have personally taken a big leap to set the new facility up with very little financial backing, and it’s really great that they’ve had loads of donations and offers of help from across the community. They still need donations of tools for their workshop so if anyone knows of spares they could donate, do email me to let me know.

18 Oct 3

  • Happy 21st birthday to health food shop Roots Natural Foods in Sherwood – it was really nice to catch up with Ken Dyke and the team and ‘cut the cake’ especially as they’ve been supporting the local charity NUH Jimma Link as they work to exchange medical staff with a hospital in Addis Ababa.

18 Oct 4

  • Assisting constituents with individual cases and problems are a really important part of being an MP and also a good way to hear about local concerns first hand; that’s why I was in Asda in Hyson Green chatting to local residents about schools, council matters and national politics last week. If you don’t have an issue you’d like me to pursue please still let me know what you think of the news of the day – so if you see me out and about, come and say hello!

18 Oct 5

  • As October continues and autumn starts to bite, few of us have even started to think about the festive season. However, the time has come to launch this year’s edition of my annual Christmas Picture Competition, open to all primary school aged children living in Nottingham East. All local schools have been invited to participate, but we accept individual entries too. The theme for this year’s competition is “Christmassy Books”.  The closing date for entries is the 27th November and prizes will be presented around 11th December. Entries should be A4 or smaller and please avoid using loose materials like glitter. Please remember to provide contact details and a return address. Please send the original artwork to my office, either by post (to 12 Regent Street, Nottingham, NG1 5BQ) or via email to josie.tanvir@parliament.uk   Best of luck!
  • Denewood and Unity Pupil Referral Unit on Forest Road West was judged “inadequate” and requiring urgent improvement by Ofsted last December. Due to the amount of improvement still required, I gather that the Secretary of State for Education is considering enforcing a temporary change of management in the school. I am trying to find out more about this situation and am keeping an eye on developments.
  • The Jobs Fair is coming to Nottingham on the 13th November. The Fair, being held at Nottingham Arena, will feature 20+ local businesses and employers actively looking for new workers. The event itself is running from 10am to 2pm and is suitable for all types of companies and jobseekers. More information can be found here.

PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS

  • The big debate in Parliament this week revolved around the Government’s proposal for a ‘Charter for Fiscal Responsibility’ which sets out the goal for there to be more revenue coming in to the Treasury than public expenditure going out by 2019/20, and in ‘normal times’ thereafter for a surplus to be achieved, to begin the process of reducing the UK’s £1.5trillion of debt.This was a surprise, not just because it seemed at odds with John’s views about public spending, but because over the summer I had been carefully crafting an approach to avoid this trap, instead planning to table Labour’s own separate motion in the Commons on an Opposition Day with our preferred version of fiscal rules, and to ignore the Osborne political game-playing by abstaining on the Government’s version. Far better to offer the country our own free-standing approach, which would have also aimed for a surplus but with more safeguards including a series of ‘tests’ to protect the viability of public services, the NHS and national security, and to protect the needs of the most vulnerable in society.Having argued throughout the summer that we shouldn’t engage with Osborne’s silly game-playing, my judgement was to abstain on the vote on Wednesday. As John himself now admits, this has been an embarrassing situation for the frontbench, but to be fair it is a complex issue which was designed to ensnare and tarnish Labour. I am quite sure that lessons will be learned.
  • So when I spoke with John McDonnell last Sunday, I advised him not to vote in favour of the Osborne charter as he planned, but to stay out of the fray that the Chancellor was trying to entangle him in. On Monday, John announced a u-turn on his plans, saying he would no longer back the Osborne plan, but would now vote against it. Unfortunately this leap from one extreme to the other sent the signal that Labour would actively oppose a surplus, which I believe is not where the majority of the public think a sensible alternative government should be.
  • It has been quite clear to everyone for many months that this was a giant political ‘trap’ designed by George Osborne to tarnish the Labour Party as somehow ‘addicted to borrowing forever’, enticing Labour to vote against the measure and thereby allow him to label us as ‘deficit deniers’. Indeed, Labour’s new Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said he recognised as much himself – and surprised us all during the Party conference in September by saying Labour MPs would be whipped to actually vote in favour of this Fiscal Charter.
  • This week the Shadow Health Secretary asked an Urgent Question on NHS financial performance following the recent figures which show the NHS overspent by £930 million in three months and could be on course for an annual deficit of £2 billion this financial year. The figures show that the deficit for the first three months of this financial year was larger than the deficit for the whole of 2014-15. It is unclear how the Government expect to fund more services spread over seven days. I am also concerned by reports that the health regulator, Monitor, was “leaned on” to delay the publication of these figures. The pressures faced by the NHS are a direct result of the decisions taken by this Government, with a significant reduction in social care provision, staff shortages which are forcing hospitals to recruit from overseas or hire expensive agency staff, and a damaging top-down reorganisation. Hospitals across the country and here in Nottingham are being faced with the stark choice between balancing the books and delivering safe care, with a further £22 billion of ‘efficiency savings’ threatening staff cuts and service closures. People across the country depend on NHS services and I fear the Government has no plan to tackle the financial crisis facing our NHS.
  • On Tuesday the House of Commons debated the Government’s Immigration Bill. I believe that there should be firm and fair controls on illegal immigration, and there are measures in this Bill which I support, such as the strengthening of sanctions on employers of illegal workers and the establishment of a Director of Labour Market Enforcement. However, the Bill contains a number of highly problematic measures, some of which I fear could leave families and children homeless. I am particularly concerned about the Bill’s proposals on housing which will require checking of the immigration status of potential tenants through the ‘Right to Rent’ scheme. An independent study into a pilot of these proposals resulted in extremely troubling findings, notably that checks are not being undertaken uniformly for all tenants, and are being directed at individuals who appear ‘foreign’. I am therefore concerned that if the Government proceed with this scheme as it stands, it could lead to widespread, indirect discrimination.
  • In its current form, I do not believe that this Bill will decrease illegal immigration, but instead will reduce social cohesion and punish the children of illegal immigrants. That is why I voted for an Opposition ‘Reasoned Amendment’ which highlighted the elements of the Bill I support and those measures I oppose. This amendment did not pass, however, and so given the strength of my objection to some of the proposed measures, I voted against the Bill in its entirety.
  • On Wednesday the House of Commons debated the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. I support devolution to empower communities across the regions and cities of this country. While this Bill is a step in the right direction, I am concerned that the Bill is a top down process of piecemeal deals that do not offer meaningful devolution to all areas of England. The Bill imposes mayors without consultation or referenda as a condition of devolution. I do not agree that elected mayors should be a pre-condition for further devolution of powers to combined authorities. Indeed, if the Government are serious about devolution, they should let local areas choose their own model of governance. The Bill also does not offer a fair funding settlement which I fear threatens the financial stability of local government.The Government’s Bill was passed on Wednesday. However, I hope the Government can be persuaded to go further and faster in delivering real devolution to the country as the Bill continues its passage through Parliament.
  • We need to look at the constitutional and political issues facing our country but it is clear the Government still do not have a real vision for what a more devolved Britain might be. I would like to see a constitutional convention that could reach into every part of the country to test the arguments about a new settlement for Britain.
  • This week my colleagues Anna Turley and Tom Blenkinsop asked Urgent Questions in the House of Commons following the closure of the Redcar steelworks, which is likely to directly affect 2,200 jobs and many more in the supply chain and local community. This closure is a tragedy for the families of those affected, for the town of Redcar – where at least 50% of those employed at the ovens and blast furnace live – and for a community with a proud steel-making history. It also shows the Government’s lack of strategic vision for Britain’s economic and industrial future. The Government still hav    e a number of questions to answer, including why they have been so passive about saving the steel industry in this country when it is so strategically important, and about the level of support that will be provided for those affected in Redcar and beyond.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Ministers are shortly to bring forward proposals that could radically change the Sunday trading arrangements. They plan to give the power to local councils to decide on whether larger retailers should be able to open beyond the current nationally restricted Sunday hours. I’d be interested to know how you think I should vote on this when the issue comes before the Commons in the next couple of weeks.

On the one hand, some people do find the restricted hours troublesome and shopping on a Sunday is often convenient and popular – and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to running my own Sunday errands.

On the other hand, I am concerned that shop workers may be forced into having less time off and less flexibility if Sunday becomes just another retail day, as the shopworkers’ union USDAW has been arguing. I also sympathise with the idea that Sunday should be a ‘special’ day to allow space for family time.

Should local authorities be the ones to decide these things? The case for ‘localism’ is always a powerful one. Or should this remain a national policy to protect the nature of Sundays as they are.

I can see both sides of this issue and would be grateful for any thoughts you might have.

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