Category Archives: Alex in Parliament

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

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.

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