Here’s my fifth blog from New York – this time on clean energy access for women and girls. Also available here.
There’s a key ingredient to women’s equality that just hasn’t made it far enough up the agenda, yet could literally power development: energy access for women and girls.
So, this morning, I spoke at a meeting hosted by the Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves, of which I am a leadership council member, and Energia. I was also joined by Cathy Russell, US Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues. We were there to work out how to get clean energy access for women and girls firmly on the development agenda.
Women and girls’ limited access to clean energy has extremely negative consequences on their quality of life, as I’ve written before. Put simply, without energy access, women and girls in the developing world are even more time-poor – time spent collecting fuel and water is time not spent on education or on paid work. They are least safe when they are out collecting fuel and water. And smoke-related illnesses are one of the greatest causes of ill-health for women and children.
That is why I have launched a DFID campaign to improve the economic opportunities, safety and health of girls and women through clean and affordable energy. I am working closely with the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative – which took up my suggestion to focus the first two years of the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All on women and girls. And I am working to raise the profile of the women and girls’ limited access to clean energy, and to advocate for the international community to do more.
Research is an important first step to demonstrating the extent of the issue and developing and scaling up practical solutions. In May, DFID will be co-hosting a conference in London with the World Health Organisation and the Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves to bring together research on clean cooking. Just last week, research that DFID and the Alliance jointly conducted was commended by the UK Climate Week awards. This research supports the Alliance’s target to enable 100 million households to adopt clean and efficient cooking practices by 2020.
The energy and development communities are finally beginning to understand and respond to the gravity of this issue and the need for action. But there is a need to improve awareness and action more broadly, and to push the international community to recognise that energy is a critical element in building gender equality and improving women’s health and economic opportunities – one that really can power progress on development.
If you do not buy your meat at your local butcher you have to ask why not?
Support your local butchers, or you will lose them, however good they are. And the Blagdon Farm Shop butchers are truly exceptional. Try their sausages, in particular.
Last Saturday I agreed to debate tax cuts later in the evening with Danny Alexander on Five Live for about half an hour. As the evening wore on before the interview I was told it would be David Laws. He pulled out with a couple of minutes to spare. The BBC gave me a shorter interview as a result with no Lib Dem present to argue the case.
All that was most curious. It was the Saturday of the Lib Dem conference. Their big spin of the day was their gift of a higher tax threshold to the UK. Their false claim was the Conservatives did not want such a tax cut. Such a pity they would not come on and debate that question.
I do find the lie that we Conservatives did not want a tax cut almost unbelievable. A Conservative Chancellor has raised the tax threshold several times as a way of cutting taxes. Conservative MPs have voted for that tax cut. I do not recall any Conservative MP arguing against it or refusing to vote for it. I do recall many Conservative MPs voting against and speaking against EU matters which the Lib Dems and the system thrust upon us and whipped us to vote for, so it is not because we were whipped to vote for the tax cut that we voted for it.
Some Conservatives think raising the tax threshold is the best way to cut Income tax. Others think there may be better ways but will support raising the threshold if that is the only tax cut the Lib Dems will accept. Most other tax cuts have been blocked or argued against by the Lib Dems, including energy tax cuts.
Conservatives have wanted other tax cuts as well. Many of us think people at all levels of income are paying too much Income Tax, save for the rich who pay less than they might because the rate is uncompetitive. We also think energy taxes, capital gains and IHT are all too high, but the tax raising Lib Dems do not agree and will not support action. The Lib Dems are always going on about raising taxes, and want a Mansion or London flats tax.
It’s most odd that the Lib Dems argue for higher taxes most of the time, spin they fought through a tax cut against the Conservatives, then will not turn up to hear their assertion questioned.
What would you like to see in the budget?
Do you like music? I listen all the time. Thanks to Spotify, I've a playlist far bigger than any record or CD collection I ever owned.
But would you put up with it if I, an MP, was to decide for you what was on your playlist? Of course not. You would be appalled.
Even if you shared my taste in the Stereophonics or Shostakovich, you'd think it a bit of a cheek if I was to impose my preferences on you.
So why let people like me impose our preferences on you when it comes to education, or healthcare, or social protection? Having a tiny clique impose their preferences is pretty much the way we run the country.
Not so long ago it was how we did music, too. Most folk could only afford a few dozen records or tapes at best. So it was left to a radio DJ to select music for us. Sure, we had a bit of choice between stations, and some enterprising producers allowed the public to phone up for a "record request". But basically, we had to make do with what was chosen for us.
One of the reasons I am so optimistic about the future is because I see big changes happening round the corner. The digital technology that now allow us to select our own music is going to make self selection the norm over many other areas of our lives.
Instead of a national curriculum (a learning playlist, if you like), digital technology will allow us to hyper personalise learning. Each child will have a personalised curriculum designed for them.
Elite Ivy League type degree courses, once the preserve of a carefully chosen few, will be accessible to everyone.
Soon our digitalised medical records will be as secure and portable as our online bank details. Instead of patients being made to stand in line and wait at the convenience of the health care provider, those who wish to do so will have different health care providers queuing up in front of them.
The average English household stumps up an estimated £650,000 tax bill over the course of a lifetime. Imagine if you could allocate even a small portion of the £650,000 of taxes your household pays into a personalised account? A personalised education account?
A personalised health care account, perhaps? Or a personalised pension pot, which isn't funded by IOUs like the government run one today? What would have once seemed prohibitively bureaucratic will soon be simple.
"But how will people know what is right for them?" you might ask. "It is all very well letting people chose their own music, but surely not their kid's education".
What makes you think MPs are better at spending your money than you are? For years, we've left it to politicos to spend zillions on our account – and not give us what we need or want.
If you aren't prepared to have politicians select your music playlist for you, why trust them with something really vital, like your child's education or your family's health care?
The future for the Conservatives, I suspect, lies in first refining – then articulating - this upbeat, optimistic vision of how things could be.
This week saw three All Party groups (Conception to age 2, Sure Start Children's Centres & Strengthening Couple Relationships) examining the issue of relationships, with a specific focus on the role that Children's Centres can play in poviding appropriate support services, and the importance of couple relationships to children's development during the earliest years of life.
The first part of the meeting focused on the delivery of relationship support services through Children's Centres with presentations from Honor Rhodes of the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, and Bev Miller from the charity Relate. In the second part of the session, the focus shifted to consider the importance of couple relationships during the conception to age two period with reflections from Samantha Callan of the Centre for Social Justice, and Jeszemma Garratt of the Fatherhood Institute.
As Chairman of two of the APPG groups I am passionate about ensuring that Children's Centres re-focus their delivery of services in the perinatal period. I would like to see more support for the strengthening of couple relationships in this period with Children's Services offering parenting classes to both parents, and further preparation for the couple in the antenatal period in preparation for the birth of their new baby.
All too often there is a lack of antenatal support and we are seeing an increase of antenatal depression in mothers, which has significant outcomes for the parent infant relationship. Strengthening couple relationships will, of course, significantly improve outcomes for babies and children.
What we need to see is a new focus on the importance of the conception to age two period in which every baby has the best possible start in life. Strengthening couple relationships for the wellbeing of their child by good antenatal care where parental support is a part of the programme, availability of couples counselling and early help and identification of at risk babies.
We have a wonderful window of opportunity in which to improve the social and economic wellbeing of the nation, through a more holistic approach to support for the crucial peri natal period.
A huge concern is that the country is facing economic collapse and Gazprom is threatening to cut off gas supplies. Before that point is reached - and millions of people's lives are thrown even further into turmoil - it seems sensible to me that the International Monetary Fund steps in.
I took this point to the Prime Minister yesterday in the House of Commons, and asked him what the Government and the European Union are doing to address Ukraine's urgent need for financial assistance with the IMF.
He said that there is a team over there looking at the sort of programme that could be put together to support Ukraine's economy and national finances and that, if necessary, the IMF can step in and act fast.
I sincerely hope this proves to be correct.
Mark Reckless MP has welcomed the announcement that a scheme which aims to regenerate and revitalise a significant stretch of Rochester and Chatham High Street is to receive a substantial government grant.
Medway Council has been successful in its bid to the Coastal Communities Fund for funding of £598,525 which should deliver a huge boost for the cultural and creative scene in Medway alongside potentially providing up to 140 new jobs.
The two key sites on which the scheme will be focusing are the disused railways arches at Bath Hard Lane, which will be transformed into a cultural hub with studio and performance spaces, and Sun Pier House, which will benefit from a new lift to improve access for the disabled.
Speaking after hearing news of the grant, Mark Reckless said:
“I welcome the announcement that Medway Council has been successful in its bid for funding. The lower end of the High Street which runs between Rochester and Chatham has long been a priority for investment. I look forward to seeing the improvements which are made and the jobs and training opportunities which are created as a result of this investment into my constituency and our historic High Street.
My congratulations to everyone involved in the successful bid.”
Cllr Andrew Mackness, Conservative member for River ward, added:
“This further investment in the development of the Riverside area and High Street areas of Chatham and Rochester is welcomed. It follows continued efforts by Cllr Mackinlay and myself to ensure that investment and the creation of jobs in River ward is at the forefront of the work of the Conservative administration in Medway .We will continue to challenge colleagues to build on the exciting opportunities which exist in Medway for all its residents.”
In particular, Sir Tony made the following contribution during the course of the debate:
Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I have left instructions for my body to be left to Oxford university medical school, partly because there is quite a lot of it, but also because I hope that, in that way, I can demonstrate that engraved on my heart are the words, “Keep the Horton General”. When the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) was Secretary of State for Health, my local general hospital was threatened with the downgrading of its maternity and children’s services. We went to the health overview and scrutiny committee, which referred matters to the independent reconfiguration panel. As a consequence, we now have consultant-delivered children’s services and a consultant-led maternity service. I, too, am slightly disappointed that the Secretary of State is not here to listen to the debate, because I am concerned about the proposals as someone who has had to contest the downgrading of hospital services.
I have some questions to put briefly to my hon. Friend the Minister. The “Dear colleague” letter circulated to us gives the impression that the powers in the proposals will be used only in exceptional circumstances, when services are clinically unsafe or when a trust is financially insolvent. However, hon. Members know that many trusts will end up with a deficit this year. I need the Minister’s assurance that the measures will be used in truly exceptional circumstances. They have been used only twice so far, in Mid Staffordshire and Lewisham. However, if TSAs are to be used simply if a trust moves into deficit, rather than going into a process of health overview and scrutiny committees and the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, that is a matter of great concern.
Dr Poulter: I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend on that now, before my closing remarks. The right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) did his best to conflate routine service reconfiguration, which should be clinically led in the best interests of patients, with those in extremis measures, which have been used only twice in five years. They were used only in circumstances of extreme hospital failure when patients’ lives were at risk. There is a clear distinction. I hope my hon. Friend finds that reassuring.
Sir Tony Baldry: I do find that reassuring, but I have a final question that I hope my hon. Friend will address when he winds up the debate. There has to be a trigger, but what will the trigger be for these extreme circumstances? In other words, what distinguishes a proposal for hospital reconfiguration, in which local people can go to the health overview and scrutiny committee and the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, from a crisis situation, such as occurred in Mid Staffordshire and may have occurred in Lewisham? We all have local hospitals and we all need to be able to explain to our constituents how we might find ourselves in the circumstances of these short-cut situations. We really need Ministers to make it clear to the House that these powers will be used in extremis, and I hope that my hon. Friend will address that point when he winds up.
The speech below made by Sir Tony’s Parliamentary colleague and near neighbour Steve Baker, the Member of Parliament for Wycombe is also a reminder that not all constituencies during the time of the last Government were as fortunate as Banbury in managing to protect and retain a consultant-delivered local children’s service and a consultant-led maternity service as well as a local A&E.
Steve Baker: I have listened with quiet astonishment as Opposition Members have suggested that the NHS previously offered meaningful accountability and public control.
In the manner in which the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) spoke to amendment 30, he viciously punched a raw and delicate bruise in Wycombe. As I indicated in my intervention, it was under the last Government that we lost A and E services, maternity services and paediatrics. Years later, all that people want is to have those services back. They want an emergency unit that is capable of accepting whoever turns up. To use the jargon, they want the treatment of undifferentiated emergency patients. The NHS should not be offering constant excuses for why that cannot be provided. God knows, we pay enough in tax and in salaries that people ought to be creative enough to figure out how to offer the treatment of undifferentiated emergency patients at local hospitals like the one in Wycombe. There is a proposal to do so, which I will return to another day,
I have found myself listening to some sort of exposition of a democratic utopia that has never existed. When considering how this has been positioned—the idea that it is about reconfiguration rather than urgent procedures when a trust is in extreme difficulty—will the Minister reassure me that the Government did not establish clinical commissioning groups and health and wellbeing boards, and the rest, just so that they could use this clause and power to override everything else they have put in place?
Dr Poulter: I am happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We believe in locally led commissioning and in listening to patients locally. That is what devising services locally is about. This clause is not to be conflated with normal procedures for designing and arranging local hospital services. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend and other hon. Members.
Steve Baker: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that reassurance because in my constituency there is really only one story: the loss of services, and, because of the way the clause has been presented by Labour Members, people are worried about that.
It has been said that these hospitals are categorically different because they exist in a broader health economy, but that is not why they are different. Any business exists as part of a wider economy with dependencies and so on—the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) suggested the example of Comet versus Currys. In private enterprise, if the administrator turned up and shut down our competitors when we failed, it would obviously be absurd, but the truth is that both sides of the House have made a positive decision to use the techniques of state socialism to provide health care. That choice has consequences, one of which is this clause.
The Minister’s comments at the close of the debate also made clear that “TSAs are for rare and extreme cases of failure” and “is not a power to be used to reconfigure services”. The full text of the Minister’s response can be found at the following link: 3. Care Bill Clause 119 – PUS Dan Poulter 110314.
Sir Tony has also made several points to those constituents who have got in touch with him:
Firstly, the Trust special administration regime was introduced by the last Government in 2009 primarily to deal with the situation at Mid-Staffs General Hospital.
Secondly it is worth noting the regime has been used only twice: in Mid Staffordshire and subsequently in South London.
Sir Tony went on to say:
“I think it is clear that there is no intention that this should in some way be a mainstream means of reconfiguring services but the Trust Special Administrator regime – as introduced by the last Government – is intended to be used only in extremis and “is a system of last resort”.”
To read a copy of Sir Tony’s speech last week on the Francis Report click here.
Following the recent floods across the UK including the storm damage caused to Wirral’s coastline, the Prime Minister, David Cameron has asked Wirral West Member of Parliament Esther McVey to take become the Ministerial Representative for Flood Recovery for the North West of England.
The role will include:
- Talking to local responders, business and communities to understand how the local floods response and recovery process has been delivered to date as well as expoloring any practical steps proposed over spring and summer to reduce the risk of damaging floods next winter.
- Assessing the effectiveness of multi-agency joint working at a local level.
- Exploring where this winter’s severe weather has exposed new or existing weaknesses in local flood defences and resilience, and how these weaknesses might be remedied in the future.
Ms McVey said, “following the tidal surge in Wirral in early December I have already met with the Council’s Chief Executive and his Health Safety and Resilience team and I will continue to work with them, and now other North West local Authorities and agencies to try to bring together a joined up approach to tackling the flooding issues.”
The Prime Minister has asked Ms McVey to keep him apprised of progress prior to presenting her views to the Flooding Cabinet Committee later in the Spring.
Redruth has really led the way in using civic events and celebrations of this sort to bring people into the town and to bring the community together. Together with the pasty festival, the Christmas lights procession and, of course, Murdoch Day, there is something every few months. It is really heartening to see so much support from the local schools and it's a vote of confidence in the future of the town. Children from Trewirgie Junior School were even going around completing questionnaires about the event to see how it could be improved in future years.
It is great to see such a steady and consistent revival of interest in Cornwall's unique culture and events like this are a really important way of celebrating what is distinct and special about Cornwall. Redruth is at the heart of Cornish history with the vast majority of the six million strong international Cornish diaspora tracing their roots back to our town. That is why Redruth was the natural home for the new Cornwall Archive Centre of Kresen Kernow which is currently going through the various stages of planning. It was a major breakthrough for the town to be designated as the chosen location and the project will regenerate the old brewery site and kick start the revival of the town.
Plans for the Kresen Kernow project were on display last Saturday and there are other events planned to get community feedback on the project. Like many others, I took a trip down memory lane watching some fascinating TV news archives about the final years of the old Devenish Brewery between 1986 and 1991. Growing up in the eighties in Cornwall, the familiar Devenish branding and those green Lorries were all around and, when I was older, I remember the famous Newquay Steam Bitter. Devenish was finally finished off by some sharp practice in the City by Whitbread and Boddingtons who were aiming to launch a hostile takeover bid. A management buyout followed by a further extended period under the current owner of the site, Horace Yao, gave the brewery a few more years, but in the end they couldn't continue. The Trevithick Society were there too having rescued some final cans of the beer (now very out of date!) along with beer mats and other branding which they are preserving.
George Eustice can be contacted at email@example.com or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.
One of the main reasons given to this House in 2001 for our involvement in Afghanistan was that 90% of the heroin consumed in Britain came from Afghanistan. Thirteen years later, and after the tragic deaths of 447 of our brave soldiers, 90% of the heroin on the streets of Britain is still coming from Afghanistan, where the heroin crop is at a record level. Helmand is controlled by the Taliban. Can this be described as “mission accomplished”?
The hon. Gentleman is right that the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan remains a very serious problem that has not been defeated, but of course many other things have been achieved in Afghanistan, and he is losing sight of that in his question. Terrorist bases that were operating for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan have been destroyed, the threat to the world from terrorism originating in Afghanistan is now much less than it was in 2001, and the Afghan people have been able to make enormous progress in other ways—so that is only one dimension on which we should measure the operations in Afghanistan.
For many years the majority of the delegates to the Council of Europe from this Parliament have been members of the same group as Putin’s Russian party and Yanukovych’s Ukrainian party, and have collaborated with them closely on a number of reactionary policies. Can we take it that the breach with the European Democrat Group is permanent, and that the Conservatives in the Council of Europe will be joining their natural allies in the Christian Democratic Group?
The hon. Gentleman will have heard what was said earlier by Conservative members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe who made clear their departure from the previous arrangements. However, I believe that for all this time members of the so-called Liberal Democratic party—an extremely nationalistic party from Russia—have sat in the Socialist Group, so some attention needs to be given to the issue on the other side of the House as well.
I have written a column for The Times tomorrow on the subject here.
Councillors in Carmarthenshire today gathered for an Extraordinary meeting of the Council to discuss the two Wales Audit Office reports which branded council decisions to be ‘unlawful.
Councillors voted to “note” the report on the libel indemnity costs of the Chief Executive, Mr James, and to “accept” the report on the pay supplement award to the Chief Executive. Both of these decisions, branded ‘unlawful’ by the Wales Audit Office, have resulted in over £55,000 of taxpayers’ money being used for the benefit of the Council’s most senior officer.
Responding to today’s events, Jonathan Edwards MP said the Labour party and its councillors will be judged at the ballot box for their votes today.
Carmarthen East & Dinefwr Member of Parliament Jonathan Edwards said:
“When the Wales Audit Office reports were published almost a month ago, the Labour and Independent executive were intent on challenging the report findings and disputing the lawfulness of granting an indemnity to the Chief Executive.
“Today, having been dragged kicking and screaming, the Council has voted to remove the indemnity from its constitution. This is something both I and Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM have pushed in Westminster and the Assembly for the best part of four years, and we’re very pleased with that achievement.
“The Council did not, however, vote to withdraw the indemnity already granted to the Chief Executive. I believe the Council could still be liable for any costs which may not be recovered.
“The people of Carmarthenshire will find it deeply regrettable that the Labour and Independent councillors have shown no remorse today on their decision to spend the best part of £30,000 of taxpayers’ money for the benefit of the chief executive’s legal costs.
“It was clear during the meeting that Councillors didn’t vote with their conscience, but along party lines. They have not represented their electorate today. Members of the public, who are absolutely furious with the council leadership for these unlawful decisions, will not forgive the 41 councillors for how they voted.
“Particular attention should be paid to the way in which Councillor Peter Hughes Griffiths – leader of the opposition group on the council – has conducted himself throughout this process. He has demonstrated strong leadership in standing up for county taxpayers.
“The council is bereft of leadership and Plaid Cymru can have no confidence in an administration that spends tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money unlawfully and shows no remorse. The Labour party and their councillors will be judged at the ballot box for their actions today in defending these unlawful decisions.”
Very interested in your Sun column today and your arguments about why your party can claim to be the party of workers and should stop bashing trade unions, etc.
Just wondered how serious, if at all, you are about the name change and discount cards, and what kind of reaction you’ve had from party colleagues? Also (off record if necessary) – do you sympathise with colleagues complaining in the FT that David Cameron’s manifesto-writing team is too posh?
Thanks so much
(Dep Pol Ed Daily Express)
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Jeremy Hunt MP visits constituents affected by flooding
Following visits to the area between Christmas and New Year Jeremy Hunt MP for South West Surrey made a another visit this Friday to talk with some of residents of Catteshall Road, Godalming who have been particularly hard hit by flooding as a result of the recent severe weather.
I have been liaising with them about the works on behalf of residents so it was good to meet the people making it happen.
Afterwards I visited DLS Foods on the Teesside Industrial Estate.
I also held meetings throughout the day with constituents and a surgery in Yarm library in the afternoon. In the evening I was pleased to visit Stephenson College of Durham University, which is in Thornaby, to speak to students about my work and an MP and attend their formal dinner.
I was pleased to hear about Helen Grant’s praise for the local project Herts at War which is being run within the constituency. As Minister for the First World War Centenary, Helen was quoted as exclaiming “how quite a modest grant, coupled with the passion and determination of volunteers can create something that will be valuable for generations to come.” This initiative which I’ve spoken about before is an excellent idea and I am pleased to note that has also just received Heritage Lottery Funding until 2015 which will support its good work. It is looking for volunteers to take the project’s work forward in the areas of archival research, exhibition design, online web-editing and social networking, more details about which can be found on the Herts at War website. I understand that there will also be two Herts at War Volunteer Days where prospective volunteers can go along and speak to current project staff. The first of these is on Saturday 22 February in Letchworth Garden City and the second on Saturday 1 March at a venue to be confirmed.
During an unprovoked outbreak of telling it like it is, I'm afraid I did just that... what it's actually like being an MP.
But the whole point is, however odd the House of Commons and our Parliamentary system may be, being an MP does give you the opportunity to actually change things. Not everything, but some things.
"If you find a job you love, you never have to work again" someone once said. I love my job, there's so much more to change, and so I am pretty determined still to be doing it come June 2015!
Halesowen & Rowley Regis MP James Morris has published a new edition of his booklet on saving money on heating and electricity bills, following on from the popular guides that he published in 2012 and 2013.
The third edition of the guide updates the practical advice contained in the previous booklets on how families can make sure that they are not paying more than they need to for energy and how they can make their home more energy efficient and so save money on their heating bills. read more »
Today I attended the national event to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. On the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz the gathering at Westminster’s Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre heard readings and testimonies from survivors of the holocaust in Nazi occupied Europe. I met Mrs Aaronson, who survived the evacuation of the Lodz ghetto by being forced to clear up the area by the SS. She was sixteen and had lived in the ghetto for four years. Now she visits schools for the Holocaust Education Trust, telling her story to today’s teenagers.
We also heard from survivors of subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Among the other speakers was Ed Miliband, who spoke movingly of the local people who saved his father’s family in Belgium and his mother in Poland. The theme of the 2014 commemoration is “journeys” and each contribution was followed by someone carrying a traditional leather suitcase onto the stage. I was reminded of the pile of discarded suitcases I saw on my visit to Auschwitz 21 years ago.
I walked over to the conference centre with Dr Azmi, the Chairman of the Remembering Srebrenica project. The Department of Communities and Local Government has funded the project to enable visits to Bosnia, the scene of the most atrocious massacres in Europe since 1945. We also fund the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and I sit on its advisory board. Parliament also marks Holocaust Memorial Day each year and I gave the speech on behalf of the government. Here is what I said:
“I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) for leading us in this debate. Many of his remarks had a profound effect on me. To summarise, he said that although the holocaust is in many ways a story of hopelessness and humiliation, it also provides many examples of courage, stoicism and, ultimately, the triumph of the human spirit.
I echo my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown)—she is my hon. Friend—in saying that it has been a privilege to listen to all the speeches that have been made in this debate. That is not always our experience in this Chamber, but everyone has listened intently to every word that has been said today. I have been moved by many of the remarks that colleagues have made. We have shared our different experiences, the ways in which we have encountered the holocaust and how we have responded individually. Perhaps more importantly, we have resolved to act together.
The British mainland escaped the horrors of Nazi occupation. Although some European Jews were able to flee here, most notably through the Kindertransport, for most of us the holocaust is not a family experience. I note that it is for some Members who have spoken. For most of us, our witness and understanding has come through history, literature and perhaps film.
My first knowledge of the holocaust was as a 13-year-old watching the TV series “Holocaust” in the late 1970s. That spurred me to read the only book about the holocaust that I could find at the time, which was “Scourge of the Swastika” by Lord Russell of Liverpool, who was involved in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. I have never forgotten the table of categorisation in that book for the Nazis’ targets for imprisonment and murder. We are all familiar with the yellow star and the armband, but less often mentioned are the colours and symbols that were used for Gypsies, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the disabled. I was most alarmed by the pink triangle for homosexuals, because at that age I was just coming to terms with what I was.
The first reason to remember the holocaust is to understand that minorities are our friends, our neighbours and our work colleagues. In the twisted minds of those who hold a prejudice, the minority could be ourselves. That is why we should be thankful that we live in a society in which human rights are upheld and in which minorities are our fellow citizens, not outsiders who are confined to legal or physical ghettos.
In recent years, mass knowledge of the holocaust has come through the films with which we are all familiar, but literature and celluloid are no substitutes for real-life experience and testimony. We have all mentioned speeches and visits to museums and monuments. I first went to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1992, when frankly it was not usual to do so, during a visit to Poland while inter-railing. I will never forget it. There were very few visitors at that time, and when we followed the line to Birkenau, I climbed the gatehouse tower and looked at the scale of the camp. To those who have not yet been there I say that that is the memory that will live with them; the scale and the industrialisation of mass murder. I was there entirely on my own—no one else—visiting on a hot summer’s day in 1992, and it gave me my own time of quiet contemplation. It is not a visit I have ever wanted to repeat, but like the shadow Minister, I think it is perhaps something I should now do.
I have since been to Amsterdam and the Anne Frank House, and I have also seen the pink triangle memorial in that city—the only known monument to gay people who were murdered by the Nazis. In 2012, I went to Yad Vashem with the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, and I was familiar with many of the historical displays there. My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire said that he was profoundly affected by the children’s memorial, and no one could not be. What most affected me was the hall of names, where one looks up at a cone of photographs—hundreds, perhaps thousands, of photographs of people who were wiped out by the Nazis, reflected in a dark pit below. I really could not hold it together on that occasion.
The holocaust is a unique event and must be remembered and understood, particularly by young people for whom it is an historical event that took place long before they were born. It is right for the Government to support that, and many hon. Members have mentioned that they work with the Holocaust Education Trust, led by Karen Pollock. It facilitates school visits to Auschwitz, as well as talks in schools, such as those that took place in my constituency, to give young people a vivid account and an unforgettable memory. Of course the most powerful testimony comes from holocaust survivors, such as Auschwitz survivor Freddie Knoller, who is still speaking in schools at the age of 92.
Last Monday I joined several other people now in the Chamber—the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) mentioned this—at the Holocaust Educational Trust annual Merlyn Rees memorial lecture, to listen to Thomas Harding tell the fascinating story of his Uncle Hanns and the arrest of the Auschwitz commandant, Rudolf Höss. Thomas Harding discussed how people can turn from being loving fathers to murderous monsters. We are all familiar with the phrase from that time and the excuse that was often used about following orders, but he said that that was perhaps better described as people surrendering their capacity to think to others.
In more recent massacres and genocides we have seen how easy it can still be for people in advanced societies to slip from civilised values into thoughtless barbarity, whether in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, or the current horrific scenes in Syria, where reporters are using the holocaust as a context in which to explain a tragedy unfolding before our eyes. People can still all too easily be led into acts of cruelty and murder.
That is why it is right that this Government—as did the previous Government—support the work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, led by Olivia Marks-Woldman. Its annual act of remembrance on 27 January, the date of the liberation of Auschwitz, will be marked around the country on Monday. This year’s theme is journeys, and those of us who have seen at Auschwitz the pile of leather suitcases will certainly appreciate the resonance. Next year will be the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The Prime Minister has set up the Holocaust Commission, chaired by Mick Davis, president of the Jewish Leadership Council. That is because real-life memories are fading as people who remember the holocaust or who were told stories by their parents die. The work of the commission will be to consider how we can keep that testimony live and real, and ensure that those of the next generation comprehend the history, and also learn how to shape their future.
Next year will also be the 20th anniversary of another horrific episode in the history of Europe: the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. I was particularly struck by the two interventions from my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who served with NATO in Bosnia. Last year, my Department supported Ummah Help’s Remembering Srebrenica project. We will continue that support in the next year.
History is not just a moment in time studied for curiosity or even for leisure; it also gives us lessons we should learn. Not learning those lessons is a warning about the future. I will end my remarks by quoting a survivor of Buchenwald and Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel, who went on to win the Nobel peace prize:
If you want to read all twelve speeches (and they were all excellent) you can do so here http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140123/debtext/140123-0003.htm#14012382000002
Its important for democracy that campaigning in elections is transparent and properly accounted for. Fundamentally, this Bill contains reforms to bring greater transparency and accountability to the political system. The measures in the Bill do not affect organisations who do not seek directly to influence the outcome of elections.
During its passage through the Commons, the Gov't made many concesions to meet the concerns of MPs on all sides. The bill sent to the Lords was much changed. In addition, during passage through the Lords Government made amendments which address the concerns raised about the potential impact of the Bill and existing rules on non-party campaigning at elections. These changes have been welcomed by charities and other groups.
Fundamental to the amendments was the raising of the registration rates to £20,000 for England and £10,000 in each of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This will effectively exempt most campaigning groups and charities who are either small or undertake limited political campaigning from the requirement to register as a third party, and the associated reporting requirements that entails.
Other key Government amendments to which the House agreed were:
• Increasing the spending limits in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from the levels originally set out in the Bill, giving an uplift of £20,000 to each nation.
• Removing all burdens from low-spending participants in a campaigning coalition by allowing larger campaigners to provide a single report on their behalf.
• Removing the requirement for a return, or a nil return, in relation to spending returns, donations reports and statement of accounts, if a recognised third party has not spent above the registration threshold.
• A review of the effects of the provisions of Part 2 to report following the 2015 UK Parliamentary General Election, to ensure the regulatory system remains effective and proportionate.
• Reducing the length of the 2014/2015 regulated period for non-party campaigning. It will now commence the day after the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September 2014.
• An exemption for the costs of translating material from and into Welsh, and for campaign costs relating to disability and security.
My view is that the Lobbying and Transparency Bill is now much better than it was, and that a lot of my concerns have been met. On balance I am now willing to support it. The Bill does not prevent third parties from campaigning, but it does require that they be upfront about their spending, and not be allowed to overwhelm and outspend candidates and parties.
It remains the case that there remain some constituents that disagree with me, and I'm sorry about that, particularly bearing in mind the work I've put in. I do have to add that some of the tactics employed by an organisation named 38 Degrees have been extremely non transparent and have not been at all helpful to anyone. I sense that the Bill has now reached its final form, and will go as it is foward to Royal Assent.
Today (22 January) the coalition government's controversial 'Lobbying Bill' returns to the House of Commons after it has been debated and amended in the House of Lords. The government has been forced to make concessions in response to the strength and breadth of opposition. It is nevertheless likely that the Government will seek to overturn at least some of the amendments made in the House of Lords which have gone some way to improve this ill-considered Bill.It has already had to drop its proposals to cut the total that charities are allowed to spend on campaigning in the run-up to a general election and concede that the election period is specified as the period from the day after the referendum here in Scotland rather than a full 12 months.These changes are welcome but they simply make a bad bill slightly better. So far, the Government has refused to accept other amendments such as the one excluding background staff costs from the spending limits and requiring lobbying of special advisers to be included on the statutory register.I was pleased to see that both of these were passed in the House of Lords despite the Government’s opposition and I and my Labour colleagues will be voting to keep these two Amendments in the Bill if the Government seeks to overturn them.Charities are already forbidden to campaign in a partisan way by existing legislation on the way they operate and as a spokesperson for the Electoral Reform Society Scotland has pointed out, it is hard to see the problem that this Bill is seeking to solve.
There are many other things wrong with the Bill. It would have been even better if the
government had dropped it entirely and rethought its proposals after proper consultation
with charities, NGOs, and trade unions, but the Commons does at least have the chance
to make it a little better today.
The ‘Stop Deportations’ web site carries “Top Secret and Personal” documents purporting to come from the National Archives and recently made public under the 30 year rule for Cabinet papers. The claim that the British Government colluded with the government of India over Operation Blue Star, the raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, will cause huge upset and offence to many British Sikhs.
I’ve only seen the documents this morning and am told there are others that have been withheld. This is not good enough. It is not unreasonable to ask for an explanation about the extent of British military collusion with the government of Indira Gandhi.
In the year when Sikhs commemorate their role in the centenary of World War I and mourn for loved ones lost in the events of 1984, this latest revelation will be deeply felt.
I am writing to the Foreign Secretary about this matter and will raise it in the House of Commons. I expect a full explanation.
Why does Penrith not have a central memorial commemorating the First World War? Indeed why is there so little sculpture at all? The old First World War memorials are almost completely hidden and forgotten. The only really first-rate sculpture is the Giant’s Tomb in St. Andrew’s Square. It is wonderful – raw hogback stones, soaring […]
Amnesty have launched a new action today to keep the campaign for a comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty in the political spotlight as we enter a crucial phase in the negotiations. Last July I attended the first couple of days of the month-long UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty in New York: a frustrating couple of days in which very little progress was made, but useful in that it gave me a real insight into the complexities of trying to bring countries with very different agendas to a state of consensus.
I met David Grimason on that trip, who lost his two year old son to a stray bullet when a gunfight broke out in a Turkish cafe nearly ten years ago. Since then David has campaigned for arms controls, and particularly for tougher controls on small arms, which are responsible for many deaths and maiming, and also for the sexual assaults and rapes at gunpoint to which women and girls across the world are being subjected in ever increasing numbers.
On returning to the UK I kept a close eye on what was going on in New York, with regular updates from Amnesty and others from the global Control Arms campaign. At times things looked to be moving in the right direction, with real hope of progress being made. But at the final hurdle the talks collapsed.
We are now 21 days away from the talks resuming. The UK Government is in theory committed to securing a comprehensive ATT, but that is not enough. The idea of an ATT was first floated by senior figures during the last Labour Government, and over those years a real sense of momentum developed as other countries signed up in spirit to the concept. It now needs real political will and strong leadership from the current UK Government to seal the deal, and get as many countries as possible to commit not just in spirit but with their actual signatures on the treaty.
Amnesty’s action is designed to show William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, and Alistair Burt, the FCO Minister with direct responsibility for the ATT, that the public wants and expects them to show leadership in March. It’s not enough for the UK to turn up to the talks as spectators, or semi-engaged participants. Now is not the time for a half-hearted approach. This could be an historic moment, which will benefit millions of people across the globe by protecting them from the devastating impact of living in countries where arms are freely available and gun violence is a part of everyday life.
I would urge all of you to sign up to Amnesty’s action, and to watch their video – and get your MP to watch it too!
In addition, the subject of MPs' accommodation arrangements in London continues to be the focus of some attention, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to provide an update on my own arrangements.
When first elected in 1997 I rented a room for a short period but it quickly became apparent that in the longer-term it would be cheaper to have a mortgage and claim the interest. Over the years I have stayed overnight and claimed mortgage interest on a bedsit or one-bedroom flat in Westminster.
Under the rules of the scheme, I would be entitled to retain any profit made from increases in the value of such property prior to the 2010 General Election. But I have made it clear that in my view the purpose of the scheme is simply to give MPs somewhere to live whilst in London and not to provide a profit. I have therefore said for some years that when I no longer owned a property in Westminster I would return any profit to the taxpayer. I am now making arrangements to do this.
In October this year I sold my London flat and am now renting (and ceased claiming for mortgage interest in July). I estimate that I made a profit, net of capital gains tax and legal fees etc. of around £22,000 through increases in the value of the properties on which I have claimed. I have therefore written to IPSA confirming that I wish to return this sum and asking for details of how I can return this amount to the taxpayer.
Speaking on the day that Greenpeace and NUTFA (the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association) launched their Manifesto For Fair Fisheries, Tom called on the government to take the lead in supporting small fishing communities. He said the case had now been made for a “radical overhaul” of the way fishing quotas are allocated within the UK.
Smaller “inland” fishing vessels make up three quarters of the UK’s fishing fleet and employ nearly two thirds of all full-time workers. But they are restricted from catching more than four per cent of the UK fishing quota, with 96 per cent being allocated to the larger industrial fleet.
Tom added: “Labour wants reform that tackles vested interests and rewards those who fish more sustainably and selectively, with less impact on the environment. It is unacceptable that fleets representing the smaller, sustainable end of the industry, and which employ nearly two thirds of full-time workers, should have to survive on just four per cent of the UK fishing quota.
“The Government should be taking a lead in supporting our small fishing communities that are the lifeblood of many coastal areas.
“The case has now been made for a radical overhaul of the way fishing quotas are allocated within the UK. The Government needs to issue a definitive list of who exactly owns the rights to UK quota, and begin urgent talks on significantly increasing the percentage quota allocated to the Under Ten fleet.”
Prior to the meeting, I had already been in touch with Network Rail, to strongly urge them to deal with some of the key issues around the station. Network Rail confirmed at the meeting that, as a result of my request, they had immediate plans in place now to paint the station, address the rodent problem, board up unused windows and clear graffiti They had also requested additional litter bins from Hounslow Council. At the meeting, St George's highlighted the work they had been doing too to clear up graffiti in the local area.
I am very pleased that Network Rail responded so well and are giving Kew Bridge Station a 'facelift,' which will help local residents. It will make the station seem cleaner and safer and I welcome their efforts to improve it for passengers. As a group, we are also in discussion regarding the future of the station building at Kew Bridge. As it is a Listed Building, it is obviously of architectural importance. It would be excellent if it could be restored to its former glory and put to good use.
The group is going to meet again within the next month to review progress and discuss next steps.
Maria said: “This new legislation will make a real difference to how local matters are decided. The Community Rights measures, for example, will give new rights to local community and voluntary groups to protect, improve and even run important frontline services that might otherwise close down, such as local shops, pubs and libraries,.”
Maria added: “This Bill offers great opportunities for Basingstoke. Among other things, it will radically reform the planning system so that local people have a greater say and influence over what Basingstoke looks like in the future. Giving local people the opportunity to shape the development of the communities in which they live is something that I have long campaigned for, and I am delighted to see it being enshrined in law.
“The Borough Council’s current consultation on the number of new homes needed in Basingstoke is part of this process of taking local people’s views into consideration in developing a vision for the future. I would urge all residents to let the Council have their views on this before the end of the consultation on 14 January.”
The long parliamentary recess has started - weeks without time being spent in the weekly grindingly boring train ride to London and back. Mind you its a hectic pace back at Southport but you can control your agenda better.
Yesterday I found a little time for light exercise the odd game of table tennis and a workout with heavy weights.
I've done the latter all my adult life and it has a slight addictive quality. If you don't do it for a while you actually feel muscle cramps only relieved by putting the old system under pressure.
Constraints of time often mean I forego all the warm ups and warm downs etc. So there I was on Tuesday doing a few front squats in excess of 300lb. I finished, replacing the barbell on the shoulder-high squat stand or so I thought. The stand was not aligned right .It tilted sideways as I released the weight and as the weight crashed to the floor the stand was pulled rapidly down by it pausing on its way to hit the stooping me on the head and catching me on the hand.
If you wanted to dramatise it , it might be compared to being hit on the head by a 20 stone man with an iron bar from a short distance. I thought I'd better take a break. We've had enough by- elections recently
When the family saw me with a lump as though a tennis ball had been buried in my scalp I was advised to pop into A&E. So clutching a plastic bag filled with ice cubes to my temple and bleeding from my finger I was run there and tested by some very nice jolly staff who established so far as we could tell that there was no skull or brain damage.At any rate I could still recall who the Prime Minister and reigning monarch was. I left a wiser man with a determination to avoid photo opportunities for a few days.
This will be enough for the amnesty to achieve its real objective - photos of a smiling Minister in front of an impressive looking array of guns claiming that the government have "taken action".
But make no mistake the serious criminals will continue to roam the streets without any fear of being stopped and searched, (human rights) and knowing that even if by some chance they are found in poossession of a gun or knife the sentence will be minimal.
The toll of death will continue to rise.
Today, I spoke in the debate on the Health and Social Care Bill in Parliament as I co-sponsored a key amendment to the Bill.
A clause in the Bill would give central government administrators powers to dismantle local hospital services undemocratically.
If passed, this clause will allow Ministers to close successful services that communities want and need without any kind of local scrutiny and democracy.
This is a major issue for people in Brighton and Hove and for anyone who cares about the NHS, or local democracy. Decisions about health service provision must be clinically led and made locally.
Clause 119 would increase the powers of Trust Special Administrators, who are brought in to take over NHS organisations deemed to be failing. The Clause would allow them to impose changes on a neighbouring organisation.
As well as being profoundly undemocratic, this measure is completely counterproductive.
Any Government that tries to use this process to impose sweeping changes without proper local engagement will face a barrage of opposition. Changes to health service provision need to be driven by clinical arguments, that bring communities with them, not imposed top-down.
Last year, the Appeal Court ruled that the Health Secretary acted illegally when he tried to implement cuts to Accident and Emergency and maternity services in Lewisham to save a neighbouring trust that went into administration.
Matthew Kershaw, the Trust Special Administrator that decided to close Lewisham Hospital’s maternity and accident and emergency departments is now the chief executive of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust which runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital.
It’s disappointing that the Government is still trying to smuggle through changes in the Care Bill after its legal failure over cuts at Lewisham Hospital. People absolutely have to have a say on changes that threaten the services they rely on.
This is a dangerous and undemocratic change which will make it much easier for popular and successful services to be closed.