Category Archives: Alex in Parliament

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

Modern Slavery Debate

In the House of Commons today, I spoke during the Backbench Business debate on the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which I’m very grateful to Vernon Coaker, the Member of Parliament for Gedling, for securing as it’s an issue which is very important to me.

One of the biggest issues with Modern Slavery is a lack of awareness, with 1 of 10 not knowing what it is and 2 in 3 not knowing how to recognise it, so I talked about this and what we can do to improve the situation, and allow the Act to make the difference it intended. You can watch my contribution here.

Diversity in the Military

This afternoon I was drawn to ask a Parliamentary Question of Michael Fallon, the Secretary of State for Defence, and took my opportunity to hold the Government to account on the progress they are making on the implementation of their 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), and find out whether they are on track to meet their 2020 targets. You can watch the Minister’s response to that question here.

I used my given Supplementary Question to ask specifically about one element of the SDSR which I believe to be very important: BAME representation. SDSR 2015 aimed for at least 10% of Armed Forces personnel to be BAME yet currently only 2.4% of Regular Officers are from a BAME background, and none of these are of two- star rank or above. This is clearly not good enough, and certainly not in line with the target, so I asked the Minister to tell me when the Ministry of Defence will publish a new diversity strategy to get to grips with this challenge? You can watch me asking this, and the Minister’s response here.

 

Crime (Assaults on Emergency Staff) Bill

This morning my Labour colleague Chris Bryant, Member of Parliament for Rhondda, introduced his Private Members Bill in the House of Commons in an attempt to protect emergency workers from assaults while doing their jobs. The Bill would mean that, in the eye of the law, such assaults would be considered ‘aggravated’ and the possible sentence for perpetrators of such crimes would be doubled. It would also make an offence of those suspected of committing these crimes refusing to provide a DNA sample.

When people put themselves at risk to help others they deserve to be completely protected and go to work knowing that they are protected by the law. I therefore fully support this Bill and showed my support in the Chamber this morning by intervening as Chris introduced the Bill, as well as telling a short story of my own experience with the fire service on Wednesday morning. You can watch my intervention and Chris’s response to it here.

Access to Advice Services in Nottingham

Yesterday I was delighted to be able to discuss in Parliament an important issue which faces many of my constituents – access to advice services.

In Nottingham we have an incredibly wide range of organisations offering free advice on a variety of issues. Some provide a specific service across the city, some support a small locality or focus on a certain community, but what they have in common is their value to the people who rely upon them. I used my speech to highlight some of them and outline the services on offer, as well as address some of the challenges they’re facing, including the full roll-out of Universal Credit which begins in Nottingham next Summer, which threatens to derail the level of service that can be provided.

Thank you to everyone who offered their assistance while I prepared for this, and for the great work that’s being done in our city to provide these services to people that need them.

You can watch the debate here, or read the transcript here.

 

The EU Repeal Bill Debate

Last night Parliament voted in favour of moving the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill onto the Committee Stage. I spoke in the debate before voting against the Bill. You can watch my speech here.

I accept and respect the result of last year’s referendum and believe that the Government must now secure a good Brexit deal to safeguard jobs, security, and rights and protections. The Bill will repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and convert EU law into UK law so that there is certainty from the moment we leave the EU. This will then allow Parliament to repeal, amend or replace any EU-derived laws as necessary in the future. I do not underestimate this task and it is important that the Government get this vital legislation right.

However, in my view, the Government’s Bill as it stands now is not fit for purpose. Without significant changes in several areas of concern, I was unable to vote for the Bill last night.

Specifically, there are sweeping powers outlined in the Bill that allow Ministers to make changes to other laws. I believe these are powers that require effective oversight or accountability. However, such safeguards are currently lacking from the Bill. The Bill also lacks clear enforcement mechanisms.

 

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