Category Archives: Alex in Parliament

No Deal Brexit

Last night I voted in the House of Commons to take No Deal off the table. Many people have contacted me to question this, given that Nottingham North voted to leave the EU in 2016.

In 2017, I campaigned to represent this constituency on a manifesto that very straight-forwardly pledged ‘to reject ‘no deal’ as a viable option’. That is what I am now doing.

I respect the outcome of the 2016 referendum, but I do not believe that No Deal is what the majority of the UK voted for when voting to leave the European Union. The Vote Leave campaign themselves explicitly said there would be a deal.

I believe No Deal would be the worst possible outcome to this process, with severe consequences across many areas.

No Deal would mean an end to the frictionless and tariff-free trade with the EU that our manufacturers rely on. Many businesses, such as the car industry, have supply chains and productions processes interwoven throughout Europe. According to Government analysis, customs checks could cost businesses £13 billion a year. The impact of non-tariff barriers under No Deal would be greatest felt by our services sector, which makes up 80% of the UK economy.

Amongst other issues, No Deal also currently means no reciprocal deal on citizens’ rights, including those British citizens living, working and studying in EU countries. No Deal would also mean no agreement on how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

I also have serious concerns about the way the Government has handled Brexit. I believe the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, which has now been overwhelmingly rejected by Parliament twice, is deeply flawed and a bad deal for our country. It does not protect jobs, workplace rights or environmental standards, and it provides no certainty on our future relationship with the EU.

I have never accepted that Parliament’s choice must be between a bad deal or No Deal. Parliament has already rejected No Deal and the Government does not have the right to plunge our country into chaos because of its own failure to get a good deal. I believe all necessary steps must be therefore be taken to avoid such an outcome.

We are now at a point where unfortunately, due to the Prime Minister running down the clock with this unnecessary binary choice between a rock and a hard place, extending Article 50 is the best option. I will be voting tonight to request that European Union is asked for such an extension.

This is not an attempt to thwart Brexit from happening, but the only way that we can continue protecting our economy, our jobs, our workplace rights, our security, our environmental standards, and much more, that we are at risk of losing.

If that vote is successful, I hope that Parliament will finally be given the opportunity to present its own Brexit deal – one that can provide that which the Prime Minister’s deal and No Deal don’t, while also respecting the referendum result. This is what I will continue fighting for.

Alex

The MacPherson Report

On Monday evening, I led a debate to mark the 20th anniversary of the MacPherson Report. The report concluded that Stephen Lawrence’s brutal murder, on 22nd April 1993, was unequivocally motivated by racism and found the MET police to be institutionally racist.

The report highlighted necessary change in a number of related areas, making 70 recommendations for the Home Office, police forces and other public bodies.

After twenty years, we have seen a lot of change but there’s also been stagnation. One such area that I highlighted is the fact that across England and Wales, the proportion of officers from a BAME background, at 6.6%, remains significantly lower than the general population, which is 14% BAME.

It has been suggested that it will be 2052 before the police service represents the population it serves. There is also a dire lack of black female police officers. Indeed, 13 of 43 police forces in England and Wales have no black female officers. In fact, the total number of black female officers in the past ten years has only increased by 34. While there are efforts to recruit more BAME officers, these efforts are undermined by a culture that is still not embracing diversity.

Again, this is an exceptionally troubling picture. It fundamentally undermines the authority and legitimacy for police forces to fail to represent the communities they serve.

I also noted the important point that the Macpherson report criticised disproportionality in stop and search. Figures suggest that race this is actually worse now than it was twenty years ago. A black person is 9 ½ times more likely to be stopped and searched today than a white person.

Taken altogether, it points to a culture of institutional racism which must be tackled as a cross-party effort. It is an important challenge and I hope that colleagues on both sides of the House will join me in reflecting on the diversity of the communities we represent.

You can watch the full debate here, read a transcript here, or watch a few select clips here, here and here.

Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme

Yesterday I led a debate on the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme in Westminster Hall and the encroaching role of Modern Slavery within migrant agricultural work.

Since my election in 2017, I have been proud to play my part in combatting Modern Slavery. In the UK, the number of modern slavery cases rose by 35% from 2016-17, with agriculture as one of the worst sectors.

I called the debate on the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme to highlight the risks involved. The SAWS was announced last September by the Home Secretary and it offers fruit and vegetable farmers a route to alleviate labour shortages during peak production periods by employing migrant workers for up to 6 months. Whilst the scheme presents a major opportunity for a post-Brexit Britain to demonstrate its preservation of workers’ rights, it also carries the risk of exploitation.

The scheme risks labour abuse and exploitation, with a possible escalation to modern slavery and human trafficking. In particular, workers on this scheme are at risk of debt bondage, a form of modern slavery where an individual is forced to work to pay off an inflated or artificial debt. When seeking low paying jobs in the UK, such as agricultural work, migrants are often forced to seek loans from unreliable lenders at the risk of intimidation and violence.

Around half of victims of forced labour in the private economy are in debt bondage. Further, under the previous iteration of the SAWS which ended in 2013, workers were subject to abuse and reported utter deprivation – because of low hours, bad weather affecting work and instances of being paid less than minimum wage. Therefore, it is crucial to highlight the risks of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme in order to avoid the mistakes of the old scheme and to ensure that no system, plan or pilot perpetuates exploitation against migrant workers.

The Government needs to ensure that workers on the scheme will have access to public funds to ensure that workers are not charged for accommodation and fuel if their paid hours fall below an acceptable limit per week. Also, I argued that we need meaningful enforcement and that the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority must be properly resourced in order to ensure that this scheme does not lead to modern slavery.

As our country faces a major turning point, we must set ourselves to a high bar where we lead by example and close the gaps in the system that allow abuse to prevail.

You can watch a clip from this debate here or the whole debate here.

Quizzing the PM on Modern Slavery

On 15th December 2017, the National Audit Office released a report, ‘Reducing Modern Slavery’, which found that the government’s Modern Slavery Strategy was not working effectively, and the Home Office did not know how much money is being spent. Furthermore, the Home Office hasn’t set out how a reduction in modern slavery will be measured, doesn’t set clear anti-slavery activity, doesn’t know what activity is going on across government and isn’t monitoring business compliance with the Modern Slavery Act.

We’re now in the third year since the Modern Slavery Act came into law, announced with great fanfare by the Tory government, but they have failed to implement it fully and effectively. The Conservative Minister who introduced the Bill said it would be sending the strongest possible message to criminals involved in this disgusting trade, but this is clearly just not happening.

The HMIC report on modern day slavery in October was a damning indictment of this Tory government’s unwillingness to properly resource our police and border forces, and this new report from the National Audit Office shows that the problems go even deeper into the Home Office. It isn’t good enough.

That’s why I’ve taken this opportunity to ask the Prime Minister what she’s going to do about it; the Government cannot leave their legislation to go stale while victims are being forced into work, sex, domestic servitude; suffering inhumane and degrading treatment for long periods of time, and being subjected to threats or violence.

This is not the first time that I have raised the issue of Modern Slavery in Parliament, having spoken during the Backbench Business Debate on the Modern Slavery Act on 26th October 2017, and questioning the Home Secretary on 20th November 2017.

 

You can watch my question and the Prime Minister’s answer here.

The NAO report can be found here.

The HMIC report can be found here.

And my previous contributions on Modern Slavery can be found here.

My first Question to the Prime Minister – on Women’s Refuges

On Wednesday, I had my first chance to directly question the Prime Minister. I used this chance to highlight the threats to Domestic Violence refuges that Women’s Aid say are a likely result of the Government’s proposed changes to short-term housing support.

Nottingham has four refuges for those who need them in their darkest times, and having heard Women’s Aid’s call for support I have tried to raise this any way that I can. First I spoke about this in a Parliamentary debate on Tuesday and on Wednesday I questioned the Prime Minister but she refused to take action – I will continue to raise this.

There are two flaws in the current plans:

Firstly, grouping refuge provision with other short-term housing services. Refuges fulfil a completely different function to these other services  – such as for those with substance abuse issue or care leavers. Aggregating refuges with other such services risks them disappearing from proper commissioning processes and getting lost.

Secondly, local devolution of the funding for these services. I am a big fan of devolution. I believe that decisions should be taken at their lowest appropriate level. However, the lowest appropriate level for a national network of refuges is not at the local authority. As much as domestic violence services are a complex local ecosystem they have a significant impact on each other across local boundaries. For a woman in Nottingham fleeing a violent relationship, the safest place for her may well be Birmingham. If we devolve funding to a local level we will break the national network and create a postcode lottery.

You can watch the PMQ here: https://goo.gl/Uv5QiA or my speech in Tuesday’s debate here: http://bit.ly/2xMplr5.

Women’s refuge centres are under threat due to Government plans

Today I have spoken in Parliament to oppose the proposed changes to the way the Government is funding women’s refuge centres.

For the six years before coming to Parliament I held a number of Special Responsibilities on Nottingham City Council – one of which was the commissioning of Nottingham’s excellent, well-run domestic violence services. Whether it’s Equation and their nation-leading prevention services they offer, Women’s Aid with their advocacy and survivor support, our Sexual Violence Support Service who only ever one call away for survivors whatever the time, whatever the day or the Women’s Centre who act as a fulcrum for these critical services we have an excellent range of services. I rose today to speak up for them. I rose to speak, too, for the 15,000 domestic violence survivors Nottingham City Council believe live in my constituency.

There are two flaws in the current plan proposed by the Minister.

Firstly, grouping refuge provision with other short-term housing services. Refuges fulfil a completely different function to these other services  – such as for those with substance abuse issue or care leavers. Aggregating refuges with other such services risks them disappearing from proper commissioning processes and getting lost.

Secondly, local devolution of the funding for these services. I am a big fan of devolution. I believe that decisions should be taken at their lowest appropriate level. However, the lowest appropriate level for refuge provision is not at the local authority. As much as domestic violence services are a complex local ecosystem they have a significant impact on each other across local boundaries. For a woman in Nottingham fleeing a violent relationship, the safest place for her may well be Birmingham. Again this is completely different to the rest of the services in that local devolution plan.

And it’s not just local authority funded refuge provision that I fear for. We have a fourth refuge that is funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government. We know that DCLG have committed to £40m of supported funding between 2016 and 2020 for organisations such as this and Nottingham Central Women’s Aid benefited from this. What we don’t know is what happens with the next element of funding. I understand that the DCLG do not want to allocate the 18-20 funding until they have evaluated or audited the previous funding round. And that’s a sensible idea. But why haven’t they done that already? The NWCA is at a cliff edge – when will Ministers be able to let them know if they will stay open?

I know that some things take long time to change. However, what we’re talking about today doesn’t take time to change. Publishing funding decisions could be done this week. Moving away from this dangerous new model of funding could be done on the 23rd of January. I strongly encouraged ministers to do so – the cost of not doing so is so great.

You can see my whole speech here: http://bit.ly/2xMplr5

From Athens to Aspley

I have raised an important issue of voter registration in my constituency in Parliament today during a Westminster Hall debate.

Our free and fair democracy is at the very root of what has made our nation a special one. Voter registration ought to be of interest to all of us and I sought this debate for a reason. It was to publicly state a belief of mine that we should introduce a system of automatic registration.

The House of Commons Library estimates that there are about 6 million people missing from the register across the UK. However, no comparable data exists for local authorities and/or constituencies and therefore, it is not fully known the scale of the problem. Something which has been acknowledged by the Government Minister in today’s debate.

Every year local authorities write to every citizen in order to maintain their voter register. This is a lengthy process which cost around £65 million and puts a huge administrative burden on the local authority. However, only about 74.5% of people respond to Nottingham Council to confirm their address.

The annual canvass is too expensive, doesn’t produce fully accurate registers, and needs changing. I was pleased to see that the Minister agreed with me on that.

Registration rates remain particularly low amongst young people, recent homeowners and those living in privately rented accommodation. Only 76% of 18-19 year olds and 70% of 20-24 year olds are registered to vote compared with 95% of over 65s. The difference is even starker when you look at housing tenure: only 63% of private renters are registered, far from the 94% of those who own their own homes.

Automatic voter registration would make two transformative, yet simple, changes to voter registration: Eligible citizens who interact with government agencies would be registered to vote unless they decline. Secondly, agencies could transfer voter registration information electronically to election officials.

These two changes would create a seamless process that is more convenient and less error-prone for both voters and government officials. This policy would boost registration rates, clean up the rolls, make voting more convenient, and reduce the potential for voter fraud, all while lowering costs.

The end game is achieving full participation in our democracy – and an accurate system that is easier to administer.

The minister agreed with me that the voter registration system needs changing and that the Government will be bringing forward legislation to change it. However, he disagreed that automatic registration should be implemented. Although, he did not list a single reason against automatic registration apart from his personal belief that it shouldn’t be implemented.

You can watch the debate in full here: https://goo.gl/Aukc7x

Or you can read the transcript here: https://goo.gl/CspDY6

« Older Entries