The big issue this week was the Trade Union Bill, which was debated on Monday. The Bill has drawn criticism from a wide range of individuals and groups from all ends of the political spectrum, including Liberty and the veteran Conservative MP, David Davis. This is because some of the measures represent a worrying attack on civil liberties; for example, if the Bill is passed in its current form, striking workers will have to tell their employers of all their plans to protest – including what they will post on Facebook and Twitter – two weeks before they strike.
Despite attempts by the government to portray trade union members as radicals or revolutionaries, they are just ordinary people who want to defend their rights at work. When I spoke in the debate, raised the example of the Vauxhall car plant, where the Unite union worked in partnership with the management in order to save the plant. The new Astra has about to be launched, securing the future of the plant for now, but the situation could have been very different. We have a factory there which we should all be proud of, providing many jobs and opportunities for people in the area.
This week Jeremy Corbyn also stood at the despatch box for his first Prime Ministers Questions and it was refreshing to see that his new approach was able to dampen to some extent the rowdy atmosphere that so many people dislike (myself included). I thought the idea of taking questions from the public was a good one and there is no doubt that many people are attracted to Jeremy Corbyn because he is not afraid to challenge the conventional views about how politicians should go about their business. Given the level of cynicism and disconnection with politicians of all persuasions Jeremy Corbyn’s Leadership could mark out a change in the way politics is done, for the better.
The House rose for another recess for the Party Conference season, so I was able to return to the constituency on Thursday, when I visited my kids old school, Sutton Green Primary. There I spoke about my role as an MP before taking a number of excellent questions on a wide range of subjects which showed the children have a really impressive grasp of current affairs. Finally, on Friday I was offered a Shadow Ministerial role in the Health team, which I was very pleased to accept. The NHS faces many challenges in the years ahead and will continue to be a major political issue.
The big issue this week was the Trade Union Bill, which was debated on Monday. The Bill has drawn criticism from a wide range of individuals and groups from all...
MPs last week debated the Assisted Dying Bill which has sharply divided opinion throughout the country. My own position on this subject was that I had an open mind and was sympathetic to the very difficult experiences people talked about when their own family members had died in pain. However, I always had concerns about the safeguards and whether they would be sufficient to prevent abuse of the rules with people coerced into agreeing to an assisted suicide. What I found as I heard more representations and speeches was that that the most compelling arguments against this Bill related to how this could change us as a society and our attitude to not only those who are terminally ill, but to anyone who is vulnerable. The hospice system does do great work and many people in receipt of palliative care have peaceful deaths, but it is not universally available, nor are all of the treatments that may cure or halt the progress of a disease. Only this year the Government have stopped some cancer drugs being available on the NHS and I personally fear that we could see a gradual creeping in of assisted suicide being seen as a cheaper option.
There were also many practical concerns about the Bill, it states that assisted dying would only be available when a condition cannot be reversed by treatment and the patient has less than six months to live. Such prognosis are incredibly hard to make accurately. Many Doctors will have differ in opinion on whether treatment is available and we all know of people who have been given a certain amount of time to live and have then lived for many years. Doctors are also required, under the Bill, to make judgements on non-clinical matters which I do not believe they have the time or skills to do, which may be why the majority of the medical profession are opposed to the Bill. I counted five separate matters of a non-clinical nature that a Doctor needs to be satisfied on including that the patient has a "settled intention" and is free from "duress".
Given the number of MPs who voted against the Bill it is unlikely that it will be made a law in the foreseeable future. That does not mean that the issues raised by the Bill, particularly in relation to our attitudes towards end of life treatment and care, will go away and I hope that MPs who argued in either side will reflect on some of the pressures that lead to people thinking death is the best option for them.
Last week I also visited the Embrace Contact Centre based in St Thomas’ & All Saints Church on Whitby Road. They provide a valuable service helping reunite parents with their children when families break up. With a closely supervised and relaxing environment I was hugely impressed with the facilities and commitment of the volunteers to enabling family contact to be retained in difficult times. If you know of someone who might benefit from this service please contact my office for further details.
MPs last week debated the Assisted Dying Bill which has sharply divided opinion throughout the country. My own position on this subject was that I had an open mind and...
The Assisted Dying Bill was defeated by a vote of MP's following a four and a half hour debate. There were a great many contributions from MP's both for and against the Bill with many extremely knowledgable either from their own personal experiences from caring for loved ones or through their professional work in the health service. The quality of the debate was high and there was a great deal of sincerity from all those who spoke, the only disappointment was that because of time constraints not everyone was able to speak and some of those contributing were not able to say all that they wanted to.
My own position on this subject was that I had an open mind and was sympathetic to the very difficult experiences people talked about when their own families died in pain. However I always had concerns about the safeguards and whether they would be sufficient to prevent abuse of the rules with people coerced into agreeing to an assisted suicide. What I found as I heard more representations and speeches was that that the most compelling arguments against this Bill related to how this could change us as a society and our attitude to not only those who are terminally ill, but anyone who is vulnerable. The hospice system does great work and many people in receipt of palliative care have peaceful deaths, but it is not universally available, nor are all the treatments that may cure or halt a disease's progress. Only this year the Government have stopped some cancer drugs being available on the NHS and I fear we could see a gradual creeping in of assisted suicide being seen as a cheaper option. We should be focusing on making death as comfortable as possible if it is inevitable and trying to prolong life. I believe this Bill would see an irreversible shift in our focus.
There were many practical concerns about the Bill as well. It states that assisted dying would only be available when a condition cannot be reversed by treatment and the patient has less than six months to live. Such prognoses are incredibly hard to make accurately. Many Doctors will have a difference of opinion on whether treatment is available and we all know of people who have been given a certain amount of time to live and have then lived for many years. Doctors are also required under the Bill to make judgements on non-clinical matters which I do not think they have the time or skills to make, which may be why the majority of the medical profession are opposed to the Bill. I counted five separate matters of a non-clinical nature that a Doctor needs to be satisfied on including that the patient has a "settled intention" and is free from "duress".
Given the number of MP's who voted against the Bill it is unlikely that it would be made a law in the foreseeable future. That does not mean that the issues raised by the Bill go away and I hope that MP's who argued in either side will reflect on some of the pressures that lead to people thinking death is the best option for them.
The Assisted Dying Bill was defeated by a vote of MP's following a four and a half hour debate. There were a great many contributions from MP's both for and...
Of course the issue that has dominated in the last week has been our country’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis. As a country we have a long and proud history of taking in refugees in times of crisis but over the last few months we have stood by whilst an estimated 4 million Syrians have left their country. It has taken the image of a drowned child on the front pages for there finally to be some impetus to deal with the crisis. The Government’s response (however belated and partial it may seem) has been as a result of unprecedented pressure from the public, the media and other countries but I cant help thinking that this is an issue that we will have to return to year after year as there is no easy solution to resolve it but offering help to those in the most immediate need is a start.
Some will say that the only way to end the crisis is for there to be military intervention and the Government announcement on aid may well have sped up the possibility of that resurfacing. However, it would seem that some force is already being used with the statement by the Prime Minister that the UK Government’s drone strike on a British Isis fighter in Syria. This is thought to have been the first to have been conducted by British forces as a targeted assassination and was done without Parliamentary approval. We are told that this was done in self defence and that the Government had no other option but to act to stop terrorist attacks in this country. We will probably never know the detail of this and whether the Prime Minister was right to act as he did but it seems we are moving towards greater military intervention now.
On the first day back in Parliament we had a number of votes on the European Union Referendum. The most important one which resulted in a Government defeat saw Tory rebels and Labour vote to oppose changes to the rules that restrict government campaigning before an election. The concern many had was that the Government would abuse its position and use the machinery of Government to promote positive stories about the EU. This is a very important decision for the country and the outcome cannot be tainted by accusations of fixing by one side or the other. We shall all have to live with the result and the consequences of it so it is in everyone’s interests that there is as level a playing field as possible.
Of course the issue that has dominated in the last week has been our country’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis. As a country we have a long and proud...
Do we live in a democracy? Most people would probably agree that we do, albeit the system is far from perfect. However, because Parliament has evolved over centuries there are many anachronistic features of it that do not sit well with the concept of democracy, the House of Lords being the most obvious one. We know that they are unelected but did you know that there are several hundred more Peers (members of the House of Lords) than MP's with more being appointed on a regular basis. Once appointed you are there for life with the result that its composition never reflects the most recent election result. For example, UKIP and the SNP are significantly under-represented whereas we still have 26 Bishops and 92 Hereditary Peers (those who membership is inherited from their family, a title sometimes stretching back centuries). It doesn't sound like a particularly accurate reflection of the country and as recent research by the Electoral Reform Society showed can be open to abuse.
This study identified that some members of the House of Lords claimed £100,000 over the five-year period of the last Parliament without ever voting once. Peers can claim a daily allowance of £300 a day when they turn up, with no obligation to vote or speak, and as they have no constituency to represent I find it hard to see how so many Peers can be justified, particularly at a time when the number of MP's is expected to reduce. Despite this, the House of Lords do perform an important function as a revising chamber for all Government legislation, although at best they can delay rather than stop laws being passed. Wouldn't it be so much better if they had democratic legitimacy and more transparency? I think some sort of second chamber is necessary but it has to have a democratic mandate and its members should be accountable to the public. What form this takes has always been the stumbling block when attempts have been made at change in the past but with the current drive for devolution I believe some sort of Senate based upon regional representation may be the answer.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the latest Unite Learning Centre at Vauxhall Motors. The new centre, in conjunction with West Cheshire College provides opportunities for employees at Vauxhalls to further their education whilst remaining in work. From brushing up on English and Maths to obtaining much needed IT skills, it provides a great way to enhance an individuals skills later on in life. In a fast changing and highly competitive world it is an important resource that will help increase employability and confidence.
Do we live in a democracy? Most people would probably agree that we do, albeit the system is far from perfect. However, because Parliament has evolved over centuries there are...
This week Labour Party members and supporters will be receiving their ballot papers to vote for a new Leader and Deputy Leader. The contest has certainly been enlivened by the presence of Jeremy Corbyn who has gone from 100-1 outsider to odds on favourite within a few weeks. His rallies up and down the country are jam packed with people fervently in support of him, scenes that haven’t been seen in British politics for many years. So how has someone who has been in Parliament for over 30 years, a rank outsider who has never held a major Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet role managed to get into this position?
I suspect there are many reasons contributing to this but the fact that he isn’t part of the established political order may be a large part of the attraction. His willingness to say exactly what he thinks is seen as a breath of fresh air for those who have become tired of politicians carefully managing their statements in the media. Some of his policies are ones that haven’t been espoused by the Labour Party for some time and represent a clear difference to the established political orthodoxy. I have often heard people tell me on the doorstep that politicians are all the same and there is little to choose between the mainstream parties. Whilst I would strongly dispute that, someone like Jeremy Corbyn is able to clearly demonstrate with his track record that he represents something different to that which has gone before. In the context of a shock defeat at the General Election that is always going to hold some attraction and I know speaking to many party members locally he has significant support. Talk of lots of new members signing up just to vote for him is wide of the mark; many of his supporters have been party members for decades. What has happened is that we have had a massive increase in in new members and supporters since immediately after the election which has continued ever since. The totals nationally are now probably greater than every other political party combined which is a great boost to morale.
What all this tells me is there is a great appetite for change. Whilst Jeremy Corbyn is now the bookies favourite, just as many local party members have told me they will be voting for Andy Burnham as will be voting for Jeremy Corbyn. I believe Andy represents the best opportunity for the Labour Party to strike a radical note but also command sufficient support across the board to deliver a Labour Government. That is reflected in the few opinion polls that have been taken and by conversations I have had with constituents who are not party members. The desire to appeal to ordinary voters may be part of the reason why so many feel all politicians are clones of one another, but there are few who connect convincingly and with an authenticity that cannot be manufactured. When I knock on peoples doors I want a Leader who constituents feel has some understanding of the challenges and pressures they face but who is also able to convince them that they have some of the answers. To me that person is Andy Burnham but whoever wins the contest we have seen an incredible upsurge in membership and interest which will hopefully provide the successful candidate with a re-energised party ready to win the next election.
This week Labour Party members and supporters will be receiving their ballot papers to vote for a new Leader and Deputy Leader. The contest has certainly been enlivened by the...
I went to visit the British Heart Foundation shop in the Port Arcades who raise thousands of pounds every year for the charity through the sale of new and second hand goods in their shop. It was clearly a busy and well run shop with lots of volunteers. There was also an opportunity for me to look at their portable CPR training equipment which was a long way from the life size plastic bodies I recall seeing when I was younger. The BHF have an aim to have as many people in this country trained in CPR, the training takes just over an hour and could save somebody’s life in the future. They are keen that community groups have the opportunity to train on the equipment so anyone who would like to do so is asked to call Andrew at the shop on 0151 355 4069. They are also always keen to hear from more volunteers and donations of goods to sell.
I went to visit the British Heart Foundation shop in the Port Arcades who raise thousands of pounds every year for the charity through the sale of new and second...
One of the many positive things about being an MP is that you get to meet all sorts of people who you would not ordinarily come into contact with. As I am back in the constituency for the Summer recess I have met with a variety of different groups and companies and there are some great success stories out there that we should be proud of. For example, I met last week with two men from the Ellesmere Port area who are part of “Learnerverse” which is setting the education world alight with their online learning platform. They teach subjects online but also have careers advice and crucially for parents have a method of checking each child’s progress. I doubt it will completely replace classroom based teaching but is certainly an impressive way of getting extra learning in at each child’s convenience. They told me they have interest from some of the big US software companies so I am sure that we will hear more from them in years to come. We should be proud that a Company with local connections is doing so well.
I have also met various members of the public sector recently, including of course Cheshire West Council. I have also met with a high ranking civil servant from the Homes and Community Agency who I discussed the prospect of new housing, particularly affordable housing with. I explained my main concern was that in the town centre there is no shortage of land for housing and plenty of planning permissions in place. The challenge for us is getting those sites moving which I fear will be very difficult whilst there are much easier pickings for developers in places like Ledsham Rd. I also met with the Chair of Merseytravel and we discussed common causes such as plans to improve the services from Ellesmere Port out to Helsby and from Neston into Liverpool. Both of these things are achievable but the franchise system is such it may take some time to deliver them. I also enquired about the Government’s announcement in the run up to the election about making the Mersey tunnels free for people in Wirral. It came as no surprise to learn that as yet that no cash has followed to make it a reality. If it ever does happen we must make sure people in this area have the same entitlements as those on the Wirral.
It was a particular pleasure to have lunch with the staff and residents of Abbeyfield House which is adjacent to Morrisons. It is purpose built assisted living for the older generation and offers the security and services of a residential home but at the same time has individual private flats built into the site. I was lucky to have a delicious lunch with the residents which is available to them every day and it was good to see such a friendly atmosphere in the home. There are a few spaces available so is well worth considering for those who may be struggling a little at home but don’t want to give up their independence entirely.
One of the many positive things about being an MP is that you get to meet all sorts of people who you would not ordinarily come into contact with. As...
Parliament has now finished for the Summer but that does not mean I have got the next six weeks off. When you are down in London only spending weekends back in the constituency it is difficult to get round as much as you would like. As a newly elected MP there are many local businesses, charities and groups that I need to introduce myself to and so the Summer recess is a good opportunity to get to meet as many of these groups as possible. So in my first week back I was able to meet "the business doctor" and businesses who share Stanlaw Abbey with me as well as the local branch of Barclays. I was also able to visit Elton where I spoke to some members of the Parish Council and also visited Encirc, otherwise known as Quinn Glass. It was a very impressive facility and clearly a world leader in its field. It was also good to meet trade union representatives there who spoke of improving industrial relations with the the Company. Although the constituency is known as Ellesmere Port and Neston it is often overlooked that the constituency boundaries do stretch beyond the old Borough Council borders and that places like Elton, Mickle Trafford, Stoak and Wervin are included as well.
I also visited Dice in the town centre this week who have provided disability advice services to Ellesmere Port for many years as well as mobility scooters. They are based by the bus station and are looking for volunteers, advisers and board members. If you are interested in helping Dice out in any of these ways please call Carol or Steve on 355 1420 to find out more.
My last meeting of Parliament before the recess was the first of a new select committee. There are over 20 select committees in Parliament which are often based on Government Departments, such as Culture, Media and Sport, or Defence, or Education. Perhaps the most well known in the last few years was the Public Accounts Committee which spent considerable time looking at the tax affairs of major multinational companies. The committees consist of MP's across all parties and reflect the composition of the House of Commons, so there is always a Conservative majority.
I have become a member of the Petition Committee which is a new Committee and has been set up to deal with petitions that are submitted through the Government website and will consider them once they reach 100,000 signatures. The Committee has wide discretion to decide how to deal with petitions including referring them on to another select committee, arranging a debate in The House of Commons or dealing with the petition itself, including taking evidence and representations from interested parties. As its a new Committee there is no set formula to follow but already there are two petitions that have reached the threshold for consideration. One is calling for the sacking of Jeremy Hunt the Health Secretary, the other for the legalisation of cannabis. They should make for interesting debates and will hopefully be a good way of getting issues debated in Parliament that might otherwise not be.
Parliament has now finished for the Summer but that does not mean I have got the next six weeks off. When you are down in London only spending weekends back...
As I've mentioned in the past, there is an awful lot of activity that goes on in the House of Commons outside the main chamber. There are select committees, all party parliamentary groups and debates scheduled most days in Westminster Hall and last week my colleague Chris Matheson and I were successful in securing one on the future of the car industry with the impending decision by the police to purchase a number of vehicles from Peugeot rather than local manufacturers like Vauxhall. The flaw with this process is that the Police Authorities who are making this decision are not there to be challenged but at least we have flagged the matter up with the relevant Minister and other MP's from other parts of the country who may have car manufacturers in their area but weren't necessarily aware of this issue.
Another aspect of Parliament outside the Chamber are the All Party Parliamentary Groups which as the name suggests consist of Mp's and Lords from across all parties who are interested in a particular subject. There are 100's of these groups covering just about everything imaginable and whilst some are for things like beer, most are on a particular issue of importance that Parliamentarians agree need a platform from such a group. I am a number of these groups as wide ranging as autism and aerospace and I have also been made Chair of one, on social mobility. What is social mobility? Well for me it's about challenging the probability that your far more likely to be a high ranking civil servant, a lawyer or a doctor if you're from Surrey rather than Stanney. I don't believe kids from places like ours get the same opportunities as those from other parts of the country. They're no less talented but there is something in the "system" or society that inhibits an equal chance of success. I hope that the group will be able to challenge some of the institutions that I believe hold back our brightest and best.
I have been asked recently about the voting procedure in the Commons and one of the things I have quickly discovered is that it is an awfully lot more cumbersome than it should be. The act of voting itself involves walking through a door (the lobby) depending upon which way you want to vote which can take up to 15 minutes for each vote. The way that Parliamentary procedure is set up means that a Bill (what an Act is called before it becomes law) can come before Parliament up to five times as well as the House of Lords. The early stages are about the principle of the Bill and can be amended (usually amounting to a rejection of all or part of the Bill) and amendments can be moved by any member, although the more members support an amendment the more chance there is that it will be debated and thereafter voted on. The Bill is usually then passed to a Committee which will consist of representatives of most parties who have the opportunity to move amendments to individual parts of the Bill which is usually where any changes can be made. The Bill them returns to the House of Commons where in its final form it is either approved or not. This means that there is plenty of opportunity to challenge a Bill but at each stage the Government has a majority of those eligible to vote.
When I was back in the constituency over the weekend I had the pleasure of visiting some old friends at Naylor Court residential home on Rossmore Road as well as visiting the Westminster Food Action Group who held their Summer BBQ. I would be delighted to come and visit any local community groups or residential homes in the constituency and would ask you to contact my office on 355 2234 should you wish to arrange a visit.
As I've mentioned in the past, there is an awful lot of activity that goes on in the House of Commons outside the main chamber. There are select committees, all...