I was delighted that Labour was able to defeat the Government in its plans to drive a coach and horse through current Sunday trading regulations. I understand the arguments about modern times, Internet shopping and so on. But I still believe that we are better off in keeping Sunday Special.
With Nisa - the biggest supplier to independent stores - headquartered locally I was pleased that MPs listened to the arguments from the Association of Convenience Stores as well as those set out powerfully by faith groups and USDAW, the shopworkers' Union. This was the first defeat for the Government this year so I was disappointed to miss the vote. I was with three other MP colleagues on an inter-parliamentary union visit to Bolivia! As we were 2 Labour and 2 pro Sunday Trading Conservatives we were paired and our non votes cancelled each other out.
The purpose of our visit was to increase mutual awareness between the parliaments of Bolivia and the United Kingdom. Having little knowledge of Bolivia prior to the visit I can honestly say my awareness is now greatly enhanced! The current charismatic President, Evo Morales was first elected in 2005 since when there has been a commodities driven economic boom. There have been significant advances in the rights of indigenous people, women and other minority groups. But our visit coincided with a sense that Morales' and Bolivia's fortunes are confronting more difficult times. The collapse in the gas price means a period of falling tax revenues representing a significant challenge to the Government's spending plans. A referendum to change the constitution so that Evo could stand again in 2019 was lost and the President himself is now embroiled in various public scandals relating to his private life.
We met Bolivian MPs, the Bolivian Foreign Minister, the Speaker or their Assembly, the Bolivian Ambassador to the UK, the UK ambassador to Bolivia, the U.S. Representative and the EU Representative as well as a host of other people. We visited a school and a coco farming area, diversifying into honey and coffee. It was fascinating. This is a very poor country but receives no direct UK Aid because the progress it has made means it is no longer eligible, which is a good thing. There remain significant challenges particularly on fighting drugs, especially cocaine, getting the justice system on to some sort of footing and making progress in health and education.
One of the things that surprised me was how well respected the EU was. With the government having kicked the U.S. Ambassador out citing imperialist interference in their affairs (!) the EU is the partner with a strong, constructive relationship. The EU representative is not averse to giving hard messages to the Bolivian government. The project we visited on the edge of the Amazon jungle was designed to regulate coco leaf growing whilst getting the farmers to diversify into other crops like coffee, chocolate and honey. In its natural form the coco leaf is not an hallucinogenic and is used in coco tea (good for altitude sickness in this highest of countries!) and a range of medicinal products. So the EU had commissioned the UN to do a study using surveillance and other calculations to determine how much coco cultivation is appropriate for legitimate domestic consumption. We were told the coco grown in the area we visited was highly regulated and policed. Indeed we saw the controls at the checkpoints in and out of the area. And we heard from the police about their successes in the battle against drugs. As well as doing all they can to tackle supply the Bolivians challenged us to do more to reduce demand. A very fair point. I wonder if the people who take cocaine in the UK realise how it is contributing to the violence, poverty and repression in places like Bolivia? It reminded me how we live in a global world with the west's failure to sort out it's drugs problem compounding the difficulties faced by countries like Bolivia.
As well as the beautiful colour of the traditional dress one of the things I will take away from the visit is the hope and energy of the children attending the amusingly named Commandante Ernesto Che Guevara School. Amongst the things they try to instil into their children the Head Teacher said was 'revolutionary fervour'!
I was delighted that Labour was able to defeat the Government in its plans to drive a coach and horse through current Sunday trading regulations. I understand the arguments about...
Another week, another steel debate! It was useful that I bumped into local Community Union leaders on the train down to Westminster. They updated me on how things are on the works. In summary it's pretty tough as the reduction in the workforce, including the cross-matching is being driven forward. The process of due diligence with Greybull Capital scrutinising everything about Tata's Long Products business is progressing on a timely basis but has inevitably led to all sort of difficult questions needing examination. So tough times, but a sense that progress is being made in the right direction.
Likewise the local Steel Task Force continues to do everything it can to provide appropriate support. So Monday's Steel debate was a great opportunity for steel MPs to put further pressure on the Conservative Government to deliver the support for this key strategic industry that it's long promised. We are particularly frustrated that the UK Government has been obstructing the EU Commission from taking tougher action against Chinese dumping.
I also called on the Government to do more to ensure its new public procurement guidelines result in a high level local UK steel content in Dong Energy's North Sea wind farms. That way British tax payers and British energy bill payers will be supporting British Steel. Treasury Questions was an opportunity for me to follow up with questions to the Chancellor - has the UK steel industry got a better future inside or outside the EU and what actions he is taking to support UK steel? He was clear about the EU - best in - and made the right sounds about supporting steel. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating! With the Budget next week act now to support our steel industry Mr Osbourne!
Humber MPs had two productive meetings with Ministers this week. The first was with the Environment Minister about issues causing difficulty for Phillips 66. It was positive to see that as a result of us getting a meeting the right discussions had taken place and the problem seemed resolved.
We also met with the Energy and Skills Ministers to argue the case for the National Wind College to come to the Humber. This would draw on our strong FE and HE provision and add to the offer to energy businesses looking to invest in the region. Having the Humber LEP in the meeting helped us get a very positive hearing from both Ministers. On the subject of innovative sources of energy I was pleased to join Ralph Day from Merlin Renewables at a Commons reception for Anaerobic Digestion plants. This was a reminder of how innovation is diversifying farming and making a real difference to our lives.
We had the first meeting of Labour's Education Commission which was an interesting insight into how we develop policy drawing on the expertise, ideas and experience of the membership.
Finally I asked the Euro Sceptic Culture Secretary why he is spending his time arguing for Brexit when his department says there is over £300 billion to be made by UK businesses out of a unified EU digital market. There was laughter across the Chamber!
Another week, another steel debate! It was useful that I bumped into local Community Union leaders on the train down to Westminster. They updated me on how things are on...
The week began with a fanfare as the PM addressed the House of Commons giving the case for the UK to remain in the EU. After more than two hours 'trying to catch the Speaker's eye' I asked my question on the impact on the steel industry. The PM confirmed these are challenging times for steel but those challenges would be better met by staying inside the EU.
This was certainly the overwhelming view of EEF: The Manufacturers' Organisation who I joined for their conference just after they'd voted by 82% in favour of remaining in the EU. And at the Hull and Humber Chamber Dinner, the businesses I spoke to were of like mind. Better In than Out!
When I met with local employer BOC they pointed me to their website which makes clear that their business will be disadvantaged if the UK leaves the EU. My own survey of local businesses has had more mixed feedback. Although many have been strongly in favour of remaining in the EU some have been against and most are asking for more information. This very much chimes with the view on the doorsteps where people appear overwhelmingly uncertain of which way to vote and are asking for more information. Well there's plenty of that coming!!!!
I responded for the Labour Opposition to the debate on the Education and Adoption Bill as it went through its final parliamentary stages. I pointed out the ridiculousness of the Tory Government's obsession with structures at a time they are presiding over crises in teacher supply and school places. This Bill does nothing to tackle either problem but takes powers away from parents to be involved in their schools which I think is appalling.
On a positive note it was good to see a demonstration of the raspberry pi computer that all Year 7 students should be getting shortly as part of a focus on teaching programming. A very positive initiative.
Locally it was great to join students and staff for the new Skills Centre plus being opened on Hebden Road.
I've continued to campaign for a fair State Pension deal for women born in the fifties, taking part in the debate on the issue and asking a question of the relevant Minister. I also spoke in the debate about the attack on the funding of Community Pharmacies by this government that risks jeopardising access to this important front line community health service.
I met with the Big Lottery to see what can be done to ensure our area begins to get closer to its fair share of funding and I joined Bottesford Town councillors and the local community for Bottesford Civic Service at St Peter's.
Finally it was good to stand in the Doncaster Road end and see a late equaliser form Karl Wooton salvage a point against Oldham.
The week began with a fanfare as the PM addressed the House of Commons giving the case for the UK to remain in the EU. After more than two hours...
We're off! The PM has fired the starting gun for the EU Referendum - we now know it will be on 23rd June. Everybody will have a vote of equal value. So it's important to make sure you're registered so you have a voice. The Government's new registration system has meant a lot of people think they're registered when they're not! That's why I've been writing to people locally who are only partially registered to let them know what they need to do to complete the registration. If you're not sure about whether you are the best thing to do is to log onto https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
Chatting to local people I've been surprised how many have no strong feelings either way on EU membership. It's a reminder that compared to politicians and other EU obsessives most people simply get on with their daily lives and don't worry too much about these issues. They now know they need to get the information to make that informed decision that they realise will affect them but they don't yet know how.
Myself? I'm strongly of the view that leaving the EU is a massive risk with people's jobs and security. There is enough uncertainty about the future of our steelworks without adding more doubt. And with Russia flexing its muscle in the Middle East and Ukraine there are dark clouds hovering on the edge of Europe.
There is strength in the unity of the EU - that's why it's contributed so much to the longest period of peace, freedom and prosperity in the continent's history. Why take the gamble with our futures (and those of our children and grandchildren) that leaving would represent?
As well as asking people their views on the EU when knocking on doors I've been able to introduce Labour's candidate for Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner - the excellent Keith Hunter. Keith is a local man with experience, not only in local policing but also of security systems across the world. At a time when Humberside Police has been struggling to deliver the sort of service people rightly expect, Keith would bring new focus and energy to leading the force. The PCC Election is on the 5th May - another good reason to make sure you're registered!!!!
I was pleased to meet up with a great group of local women campaigning against the changes the government has made in their pensions. This is an issue I've spoken out against since the changes were put forward by the Conservative Government in 2011. Everyone is in favour of equalising the state pension age and recognises that, as we are living longer, we will be older when we get our pension but women born in the 1950s have been particularly badly affected. The Women Against State Pension Injustice, or WASPIs, deserve to be listened to and action taken on their behalf. That's why I will continue to shout out for them.
Despite all these local things going on I spent a large part of last week on a fascinating parliamentary visit to Palestine/Israel. The injustices I witnessed there were unlike any I've seen elsewhere in the world. Like all intractable problems it's complex but in simple terms the Israeli Occupying Power was making the lives of ordinary Palestinians extremely difficult and ignoring their obligations under international law. I will write a separate piece on what I learnt during my visit.
We're off! The PM has fired the starting gun for the EU Referendum - we now know it will be on 23rd June. Everybody will have a vote of equal...
There is no let-up in the campaign for a better deal for the steel industry from the Conservative government. Steel MPs cross party heard from the Head of UK Steel that there is still an urgent need to level the playing field. In particular he warned that every effort should be taken to tackle the dumping of steel from Communist China.
I was very disappointed in the Prime Minister's response to me when I asked him why the UK government is blocking the EU Commission from increasing the tariffs on dumped steel from China and elsewhere.
We also need to make sure that the UK government's changed procurement guidelines result in a high percentage of UK content in contacts subsidised by the UK government. If they don't they won’t be worth the paper they are written on! A good first test of this will be to see if the blades and mono-piles built for the huge Hornsea offshore windfarm being developed by Dong Energy are manufactured in the UK with UK steel.
Martin Vickers MP's adjournment debate on the subject was well attended by Humber MPs presenting a strong, united front to the government. Both Martin and I repeated our “asks” of the Government at Energy Questions later in the week. We both got the sense that there is a determination to make sure that British tax payers and British energy bill payers money helps create British jobs. If that happens it will be good news for northern Lincolnshire - it should see the Able UK site being invested in and developed.
In my Shadow Schools brief I spoke at the EMFEC conference in Nottingham and visited a London school to see school based counselling in action as part of Children's Mental Health Week.
Just before the Commons broke for recess the government sneaked out the decision to close 68 Magistrates and Family Courts, including ours in Scunthorpe. I interrupted Commons Business to make a point of order bemoaning both what was being done and the way it was being done. The groans from the Government side showed that it's not just Labour MPs that see this as an attack on local access to justice.
I spoke in a debate highlighting the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan. Britain is rightly proud of its tradition of religious tolerance and we should use our influence in the world to stick up for minorities and defend them against discrimination.
Finally I had an excellent meeting with the National Farmers' Union meeting at the Pink Pig, a very busy surgery at Sainsbury's and useful feedback from people in Ashby from my Saturday doorstep session.
There is no let-up in the campaign for a better deal for the steel industry from the Conservative government. Steel MPs cross party heard from the Head of UK Steel...