Don’t Give Up the Fight for Fairness

ParliamentI was delighted to meet WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaigners from the Easington constituency during today’s mass rally of Parliament.

I fully support their campaign the importance of which has even engendered some cross-party cooperation between the Labour Party and other opposition parties  – (The Strangeness of Parliamentary Procedure – State Pension Equalisation).

The issue is a simple one of fairness.

In 1995, the then Conservative Government brought forward legislation to equalise the State Pension Age between men and women. These issues are always sensitive due to the significant impact they can have on those affected, particularly as they are approaching retirement.

The 1995 plan would have seen the State Pension Age for women rise from 60 to 65 over a ten year period between 2010 and 2020.

The timescales were such that they gave sufficient time for people to plan for their new circumstances, and legislation was already in place that would have seen the equalised State Pension Age rise from 66 to 68 in gradual stages over the period 2024 to 2046.

The Government should have simply allowed the issue to rest as the UK had made the arrangements that kept the State Pension affordable and sustainable for the long term. There was also a clear timetable that allowed people to plan and make provisions if they were to wait longer for their pension.

However, in 2011, the decision by the Coalition Government to accelerate the increase in the women’s State Pension Age left many without sufficient notice of the changes to plan for their new circumstances, with the Government only writing to those affected in 2012 and 2013.

The previous Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith MP promised to look at transitional provisions to help those hardest hit by the State Pension changes. Five years later and we are still waiting for the Government to make good on this promise.

Labour have repeatedly called on the Government to deliver on its promise to look at transitional arrangements but they have failed to engage. Instead, the Government have took steps to stop this matter being reviewed further.  In March 2016 the Government announced that John Cridland would lead an independent review of the future of the state pension age, but refused to allow the review to consider the existing State Pension Age timetable up to April 2028, rather than using this opportunity to look again at what more could be done to help those women set to lose out.

This is an issue which affects everyone.

The Government have now legislated for periodic reviews of the State Pension Age to be carried out every five years.

If we don’t take a stand now and the Government are allowed to treat the WASPI campaigners in this way, what will stop them changing the rules for your State Pension at future reviews?

It is a system designed to create pension uncertainty and affect just enough people in every pension cohort to stop changes being opposed.

We cannot give up on this fight for fairness as it is a fight not only to protect the WASPI campaigners but each and every pensioner in the future.

Tax Justice: Labour Sets Out the case for Country by Country Reporting

Lab FB amendment photo 1

At some point you have to decide whether you want to stop tax avoidance, or just be seen to stop tax avoidance.

There are few better examples than the Government’s support for General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR). The GAAR is a limited measure which does nothing to stop the types of tax avoidance which has hit the headlines by companies such as Facebook, Starbucks and Google. However, it is a convenient piece of legislation for Ministers to point to in order that they can be seen to be taking action against tax avoidance.

A much more radical and comprehensive approach would be to adopt General Anti-Avoidance Principle which rather than targeting specific loopholes, it seeks to tackle all tax avoiding behaviour. However, Ministers refuse to take the comprehensive action we need and dismiss such suggestions when raised in Parliament – (When a Principle is better than a Rule).

The key to stopping tax avoidance is openness and transparency. When the Chancellor hailed the £130 million deal with Google, the taxpayer has no way of knowing whether this is a good deal.

I suspect it wasn’t in view that the French authorities are demanding £1.2 billion in back taxes, and have taken the matter seriously enough to raid the Google offices in France.

We need greater tax transparency.

I will be supporting an amendment to the Finance Bill, which is backed by organisations such as Oxfam, ActionAid, CAFOD, Christian Aid, campaign group Tax Justice Network and private business led Fair Tax Mark, calling for public country-by-country reporting (CBCR).

CBCR will be in operation in the UK as of this year, meaning multi-nationals of a particular size will have to provide information to HMRC. However, this information will remain confidential.

The simple ask is that CBCR information given to HMRC should be included in a multinational’s annual report to Companies House, thereby putting this information in the public domain.

The Government have stated they are not entirely opposed to the idea, but would prefer to introduce it multilaterally, rather than unilaterally.

This concerns me as such statements are usually code for not taking action. It allows the Minister to look supportive, while placing an insurmountable barrier to ever taking real action.

It seems to be just the latest example of the Government wanting to be seen to be stopping tax avoidance, rather than supporting the changes needed that would actually stop tax avoidance.

Ending China’s Yulin Dog Meat Festival

YulinThis week I joined animal welfare campaigners calling for the end of the notorious Yulin Dog Meat Festival.

A petition with over 11 million signatures from around the world was presented to the Chinese Embassy in London, urging them the stop the mass slaughter and consumption of dogs at the Yulin festival due to be held on the summer solstice (21st/22nd June).

Every year up to 20 million dogs, including stolen family pets, are killed for human consumption.

There are many dog markets and slaughter houses across China, but the annual meat festival in Yulin in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, has come to symbolise the immense cruelty of this trade.

This is not an issue about cultural differences.

The Yulin dog meat festival has no historical or cultural tradition. The festival was launched in 2010 by Yulin’s dog meat traders as a commercial event to boost flagging sales.

Yulin officials originally endorsed the event, expecting it to attract tourists, however, it has instead been a PR disaster, earning domestic and international condemnation for the mass slaughter of dogs.

The barbaric festival starts much earlier than the summer solstice, with thousands of dogs poisoned or grabbed off the streets. They are then transported, in some cases over thousands of miles in crammed wire cages, denied food, water and comfort. This excruciatingly painful journey results in many of the dogs dying during transportation from illness, dehydration and heat stroke.

Those dogs stacked at the bottom of the truck become drenched in urine and faeces, while those piled in the middle of the cargo can suffocate to death.

Conditions worsen for those who survive the journey, with dogs unloaded violently and routinely thrown around the truck leading to bodily injury. At the slaughterhouse, the animals are beaten to death in view of each other, due to a misguided belief that a painful, anxiety ridden death means better tasting, adrenaline-rich meat.

Across China, most people don’t eat dogs, and the issue has become increasingly controversial, with violent clashes between dog thieves and angry dog owners. In 2015, nearly 2 million Chinese citizens registered their support calling for a legislative proposal to ban dog and cat slaughter for meat.

This trade is cruel, not cultural, and I will stand with all those from across the world and in China who want to see the end of the Yulin festival and the abhorrent abuse of dogs which such events condone.

Reflections on a Queen’s Speech Over Shadowed by the EU Referendum

ParliamentThe pomp and circumstance of the State Opening of Parliament has quickly receded. In less than a week the focus has returned to the EU referendum and many Tory backbenchers seem more focused on the impending leadership election rather than their legislative agenda for the year ahead.

In what must be a rare occasion, the Prime Minister didn’t even attend the first PMQs of the Parliamentary session to defend his Queen’s Speech and instead left it to a nervous George Osborne.

He need not have worried, as there were surprisingly few questions about the Government’s legislative agenda with the focus of the session turning once again to Europe.

Tory Party naval gazing means they are failing to address the issues we face as a country. As PMQs showed, they not only have the wrong answers but are simply asking the wrong questions to put our country back on track. A Government in total paralysis, they have nothing to do, nothing to say and think nothing, was the verdict of former Tory grandee Michael Portillo.

The Tories refuse to address the issues facing our economy, from falling productivity, a lack of investment in skills and infrastructure, a collapse of key industry like construction and manufacturing as well as widening regional economic inequalities.

The Tories are ignoring the housing crisis, rents are soaring, homeownership is falling and house-building is at its lowest levels since the 1920’s, however all the Chancellor can promise is more austerity and debt.

The talk of a “Northern Powerhouse” is little more than meaningless rhetoric as our region is starved of investment for skills and infrastructure.

The Tory solution to a housing crisis has been to scrap affordable housing for rent and replace it with starter homes costing up to £450,000. This isn’t a hand up for young first time buyers, but a personal debt trap which is unaffordable for most and unsustainable in the short, medium and long term.

There are a number of Bills in the Queen’s Speech which require closer scrutiny.

On the surface, a Local Growth and Jobs Bill should be universally supported. However, this Bill comes after six years of a Tory Government slashing local government finance particularly in deprived communities, with our own County Durham losing over a quarter of a billion pounds. The retention of business rates has been welcomed by more affluent Tory controlled Authorities however, the government will have to explain how this can be done fairly and how it will not widen existing regional economic inequalities.

While County Durham collected £111 million in business rates, Westminster Council collected £1.8 billion. The Government must therefore explain how they will support areas with lower tax bases in order to ensure they do not entrench inequality and deprive areas with the greatest needs of vital public services.

On Housing, another area of my responsibility as a Labour Whip, the Government have introduced a Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill. However, this will do little to address the damage caused by the appalling  Housing and Planning Act passed in the last parliament which will cut the supply of affordable housing for rent to be replaced in part by unaffordable starter homes.

This Bill is also another example of how the Government’s rhetoric on devolution does not match the reality on the ground. In another power grab, the Government will restrict and introduce new limits on the conditions councils can attach to a development. These conditions often support and fund affordable housing, new amenities and services which are required by local people in and around new housing developments.

The Bill also fails to address housing needs in the North, as not only do we require more housing, we also need regeneration and housing renewal in areas where properties no longer meet the needs of the community. In East Durham, we have a specific issue in Horden due to the withdrawal of Accent Housing who allowed their properties to fall into a state of disrepair and dilapidation before abandoning the community though selling the properties at auction. Similar problems with an unregulated and increasingly dilapidated private rented sector in Easington Colliery cannot be allowed to continue without intervention from government.

How can the Government address housing issues such as those in Horden and Easington Colliery when they will not recognise that a problem exists or that there is an urgent need for a housing renewal and regeneration policy.

Transport is another key issue in East Durham.

It will not be until the end of this Parliament at the earliest that the much maligned ancient Pacer Trains which connect Middlesborough Hartlepool Sunderland Newcastle and Hexham on Northern Rail lines will be taken out of service and the Government have so far offered little in the way of an assurance that finance for improved services and  much needed new stations in East Durham will be made available.

A lack of infrastructure and services has been further compounded by the Government indifference to rising costs for commuters.

Since 2010 the cost of rail and bus fares has increased by a quarter, and the Department for Transport has imposed rail fare rises on commuter routes in the North of up to 162% for a worse service.

Transport networks are becoming less and less reliable with rail punctuality falling to a ten year low. Local roads face a pothole crisis after six years of the Tories, with a £12 billion road maintenance backlog as local maintenance budgets have fallen 27% in real terms.

Urgent action is required to address these concerns, however, the Queen’s Speech was devoid of any long term transport strategy.

While I do welcome the Bus Services Bill, which is needed to address the long term decline of bus services which followed Tory de-regulation in the 1980s I am keen to understand the detail of this Bill.

This is on the face of it an important U-turn by the present Government which opposed Labour’s calls for re-regulation in the last parliament.

As with the majority of Government Bills, the devil is in the detail, and we must secure some important safeguards to protect safety critical staff who may be transferred to a new company following a tender award. We also need assures that all areas will receive new powers and not just those who sign up to devolution deals.

A Bus Services Bill which fully empowers local authorities to set routes, exercise greater control and to manage bus services would be welcome, however, if history has taught us anything over the last six years the Government are good at rhetoric but are often reluctant to devolve real power to local communities.

In the year ahead, while the Tories look inwards, consumed by Europe and the departure of David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party needs to speak to the country.

We need to outline our vision for a fairer economy. A Labour alternative which delivers long term growth through supporting skills and training, protecting vital public service and industries as well as investing in our national infrastructure, in transport, housing and education, all of which will help to secure a modern economy where everyone including my constituents in East Durham have the opportunity to succeed.

Take action against dog fighting

It might shock you to know that a dog fight is taking place every day in the UK. The League Against Cruel Sports recent investigation, Project Bloodline, made headlines exposing a worrying resurgence in this brutal bloodsport. 

Dog fighting is absolutely brutal. Dogs are slammed into walls to toughen them up for fighting, cats and dogs are used as ‘bait’ to train fighting dogs, and dead dogs are being dumped in the countryside – these are just some of the horrors uncovered during the investigation.

As a result of this investigation the League Against Cruel Sports is calling on the Government to implement a national dog fighting action plan which would see: the formation of a National Task Force to tackle dog fighting across the country; a national register with details of individuals banned from keeping dogs; tougher penalties for convicted dog fighters; and for the Dangerous Dogs Act to be reviewed as a matter of urgency, as the breed specific legislation is fundamentally flawed. It is the deed, not the breed that is the problem.

It is vital that the Government knows there is public support to tackle dog fighting. If you can do one thing for animals today, please sign the petition calling on the UK Government to take action.

The wording of the petition is as follows: “We the undersigned call on the UK Government to introduce stronger sentences for dog fighting and support the League Against Cruel Sports plan of action to tackle dog fighting”.

Click here to sign the petition

Dog fighting is barbaric and we cannot allow it to be part of a modern society. Please sign the petition.

Easington MP joins call for tougher penalties for dog fighting

Reception at The Churchill Room, House of Lords.

Reception at The Churchill Room, House of Lords.

On Tuesday, Grahame Morris MP attended a reception at the Houses of Parliament held by animal welfare campaigners League Against Cruel Sports, highlighting the horrific reality of dog fighting.

He heard about Cupcake, a Staffordshire bull terrier, who has become the ‘poster dog’ for a campaign which is calling for tougher sentencing and a national register to tackle the scourge of dog fighting across the UK.

Before she was rescued, Cupcake was subjected to horrific abuse by her dog fighting owners. Used as bait to train other dogs to fight, her teeth were broken with pliers to remove her only defence. She had sustained multiple injuries and scars including a head trauma from being slammed against walls or punched, which may lead to her losing an eye. She was also overbred to provide puppies which would either be trained to fight or used as bait themselves.

A dog fight takes place every day somewhere in the UK. Dog fighting is not purely a matter of animal welfare. Evidence from the UK and abroad points to the activity being a ‘gateway’ crime to serious and organised offences, such as drug and gun crime. In the United States dog fighting is recognised as a Grade A felony by the FBI and the practice of tackling dog fighting to prevent other crimes is well established.

Grahame Morris MP said:

“There are thousands of dog owners in my constituency and they will be shocked to hear how animals in the dog fighting world are abused.

“We are a nation of animal lovers, so we need to treat our pets with the respect they deserve. Further action is needed to tackle this sadistic bloodsport – including stiffer sentences as a deterrent to those who force dogs to fight one another.”

The event brought together celebrities, animal welfare groups, and MPs from across Party lines to condemn dog fighting and call on the Government to act.

The League Against Cruel Sports has started a petition calling for the Government to more effectively tackle dog fighting, including increasing sentences for convicted dog fighters. The petition can be signed at www.league.org.uk/dogfighting

Bite the Ballot – Missing Millions Report

Easington MP Grahame Morris has backed the recommendations of a report by Bite the Ballot which highlights the crisis in voter registration, with millions of people missing from the electoral register.

The Missing Millions report calls on the Government to do more to encourage people to engage in politics and join the electoral register with recommendations for changes to modernise, streamline and simplify voter registration.

In 2014, 7.5 million eligible voters were missing from the electoral register, a figure which has risen following the transition to Individual Voter Registration. 16 to 24 year olds remain the largest group missing from the electoral register, and Grahame Morris MP is supporting efforts to register voters in advance of the EU referendum.

Grahame Morris MP, said:

“The Missing Millions report is an important document analysing the challenges to our democracy and setting out clear recommendations about how we can engage, register and encourage more people to participate in civic society and vote.

A complete and accurate electoral register is fundamental to our democracy. Our parliament is shaped by the electoral register with representation linked to levels of voter registration.

In the 21st Century we need to make it easier for people to access their democratic rights and we need to increase the opportunities for people to register. From enrolling at college or university, to receiving your national insurance number, or when accessing government services people should be given an option to register.

There should be no circumstances in which someone eligible to vote is turned away from the polling station and we should use examples of best practice from around the world to introduce a system of Election Day registration in the UK to ensure that every vote is counted.

I hope in the months ahead the Government will work with organisations such as Bite the Ballot and follow the recommendations in the Missing Millions report that seek to increase voter registration and strengthen our democracy.”

The Missing Million’s report and recommendations are available online here

You can register to vote online at gov.uk/register-to-vote

Make Money One Less Worry – Financial Support from Macmillan

Being diagnosed with cancer can be very expensive. Four out of five people living with cancer are on average £570 a month worse off.

Over a third of people with cancer didn’t realise when being diagnosed that cancer would have such a financial impact. Many people face a twofold financial blow – their income drops, just at a time when expenses, such as hospital parking charges, heating bills, and new clothing and wigs are increasing.

Macmillan can help and they offer a range of support, including benefits advice and financial guidance through their support line; there is an online financial support tool; grants; and local face to face services.

If people with cancer don’t get early help, their money worries can get out of control, causing anxiety or affecting people’s ability to recover.

To find out more about how Macmillan Cancer Support can help, please visit macmillan.org.uk/moneyworries

Easington MP backs calls to save the NHS bursary

Easington MP Grahame Morris has today backed calls for the Tories to ditch their plans to scrap NHS bursaries for student nurses, midwives and other allied health professionals.

Under plans announced by the Chancellor in November, bursaries for student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals will be scrapped from 2017. The move, which has been criticised by UNISON and the Royal College of Nursing, risks leaving the next generation of frontline NHS staff with thousands of pounds worth of debt after they graduate, and could lead to even greater staff shortages in the NHS.

On Wednesday 4 May, Labour held an Opposition Day debate calling on the Government to “drop its plans to remove NHS bursaries” and consult on how best to fund and support the future healthcare workforce. The debate was based on a cross-party motion signed by 139 MPs, including the Tory MP and former nurse Maria Caulfield.

The Royal College of Nursing has supported calls for the Government to rethink its plan for student nurse funding and go “back to the drawing board.”

The debate comes as new analysis from the House of Commons Library, commissioned by the Labour Party, shows that the number of nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff working in the NHS has fallen from 6,786 per million people in November 2009 to 6,645 in November 2015.

Grahame Morris MP said:

“NHS staff are the lifeblood of our national health service. However, this Tory government is letting them down.

“The decision of Ministers to cut nurse training places during the last Parliament has left hospital wards dangerously understaffed and patient care at risk, with important tasks being left undone.

“This situation is only going to get worse if Ministers press ahead with their misguided plan to scrap student NHS bursaries and discourage the next generation of frontline NHS staff.

“It’s time Ministers stood up for the NHS, rather than standing by and allowing the staffing crisis to get worse.”

Local MP calls for a public awareness campaign on sepsis

Grahame Morris UK Sepsis TrustGrahame Morris MP for Easington attended a Parliamentary event to raise awareness of Sepsis. A life threatening and relatively unknown condition, which claims the lives of 44,000 people – including 1,000 children – every year in the UK. The event hosted by the APPG on Sepsis and the UK Sepsis Trust was attend by over 40 MPs and Peers, along with a number of patients and their families who have been personally affected by sepsis.

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that can affect anyone. Young and old, fit and healthy. It arises when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs. It can lead to shock, multiple organ failure, and death, especially if it is not recognised early and treated promptly.

In a bid to reduce deaths like these, the UK Sepsis Trust (UKST) and the Sepsis APPG are calling for both the public and healthcare professionals to be more aware of this ‘silent killer’. They are calling for the Department of Health to commit to a public awareness campaign, aimed at both adults and children solely on sepsis.

The UK Sepsis Trust, founded in 2010, brings together leading experts, grass roots health professionals, survivors and persons bereaved; to raise public and professional awareness of sepsis, and provide support for those affected by this terrible condition.

Dr Ron Daniels, Chief Executive of the UK Sepsis Trust, said:

“We hope that the event will allow MPs to learn more about sepsis and take the message back to their colleagues and constituents.”

“An awareness campaign is something we’ve been calling for a long time. It is an absolute necessity that this campaign is dedicated on sepsis and aimed at a both adults and children. A campaign of course is only a part of what is needed. We need to make sure that healthcare professional education is robust and is mandated. We need to have a better measure of outcomes and we have to have some resources available that reward excellent care.”

Grahame Morris MP stated:

“While sepsis is a condition which may not hit the headlines, it is deadly. It is a little known life threatening illness that claims the lives of 44,000 people in the UK every year, including 1,000 children. If timely interventions proposed by the UK Sepsis Trust were adopted across the NHS it could save up to 12,500 lives a year and the NHS money.”

“I was keen to show my support for efforts to tackle the disease and save lives. I want to see sepsis viewed as a medical emergency and have a higher profile among medical professionals and the public. The easiest and most of effective way of doing this is the government committing to a dedicated public awareness campaign for the general population.”