Parliament returned this week to debate matters of local and global importance such as Neighbourhood Planning, Syria and Brexit. The Unlawful Killing (Recovery of Remains) Bill– or Helen’s Law –perhaps got less attention. I put my name to the Bill because I believe it’s an important measure which has widespread public support.
Helen McCourt was just 22 when she was murdered by Ian Simms in 1988. Her body was never found. Simms was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum tariff of 16 years. It was only the third trial in Britain since the Second World War without a body. The conviction was secured on overwhelming DNA evidence.
To this day however Simms has refused to reveal how he disposed of Helen’s body or where her remains are. As the law stands murderers do not have to show any remorse or compassion by revealing where their victims are. The decision for release on parole is that they are unlikely to commit further crime or be a danger to the public.
This Bill would change the law by denying parole to those who refuse to cooperate with the Police regarding the location of their victims.
We debate the great issues of the day in Parliament but it’s equally important to remember the very human stories and the simple rights of people like being able to bury a loved one. I very much hope Helen’s Law passes and makes a difference.
Parliament returned this week to debate matters of local and global importance such as Neighbourhood Planning, Syria and Brexit. The Unlawful Killing (Recovery of Remains) Bill– or Helen’s Law –perhaps...
Parliament returned for two weeks in September with important matters to consider including the state of the NHS and the proposed return of grammar schools. Members could be forgiven however if their minds drifted elsewhere with the Boundary Commission publishing initial plans to cut the number of MP’s.
After the 2010 election the Coalition committed to fewer and equal sized constituencies. Equal electoral districts were an objective of the Chartists 150 years ago but they’ve proven more difficult to achieve in practice. The motivation for the Conservatives this time is that Labour stands to lose most seats.
The Conservatives claim that they are making democracy fairer and saving money. But by rushing in the way they are they are excluding more than 2 million new voters who signed up to vote in the EU Referendum, many of them young people. As for cutting costs, the plan aims to save £12 million but ignores the fact that David Cameron created 260 new Lords at a cost of £34 million, on top of spending £45 million on Special Advisers. And with MEP’s going, the workload for MP’s can only increase.
There’s a wider point as well. By cutting the number of MP’s but not the number of Ministers the Executive faces even less scrutiny. There is a case for saving money and for real political reform but this is more about the narrow interest of the Conservatives and deserves to be opposed.
Parliament returned for two weeks in September with important matters to consider including the state of the NHS and the proposed return of grammar schools. Members could be forgiven however...
Every year MP's are asked what their summer reading will be. This year mine included a book about Harold Wilson, Prime Minister in the 1960's and '70's and for whom 2016 is the centenary of his birth. Wilson's career is long overdue a revision not least because many of his achievements have been forgotten.
Wilson set up the Open University and Polytechnics to challenge the University establishment and widen access. So in sending congratulations to this years A level students many of whom will be off to University it's worth remembering Wilson's success in opening up access for children from ordinary backgrounds.
Studying for A levels seems like a marathon and on that note well done to our Olympic athletes who did our nation proud at Rio. Here again Wilson's legacy is interesting. It was his Government which set up the Sports Council and shifted sport to a more professional approach. The investment he began was built on by John Major and Tony Blair and may have played a part in later success.
Harold Wilson understood the need to invest in a modern economy and he understood the importance of winning. He's regarded as a manager and fixer rather than a leader of principle. In fact he was both, never forgetting that to actually change things you have to be able to win power. It's a lesson we forget at our peril.
Every year MP's are asked what their summer reading will be. This year mine included a book about Harold Wilson, Prime Minister in the 1960's and '70's and for whom...
Our coast has some of the most beautiful, cleanest beaches in the country. That’s important for tourism but also for those of us who live here. In the last 25 years there’s been a massive improvement in the state of our bathing waters and our beaches. In 1990 just 27% of our bathing waters met minimum standards, by 2014 that had risen to 99.2%. Part of the reason was our membership of the EU which insisted on higher standards. The EU has had an enormous and positive impact on our environment. It showed that global challenges on environmental matters and climate change require international cooperation. Crucially it helped to bind successive Governments into positive action. Now that the UK has voted to Brexit we cannot afford to backslide. Progress through EU Nature Directives protecting our most threatened species in our protected sites must be enshrined in any post Brexit programme. There must also be continued improvement in animal welfare and water quality. It’s worrying that one of the first acts of the new Conservative Government was to get rid of the Department for Climate Change and that so many climate change sceptics are at the heart of the new administration. Campaigners are already mobilising to hold the government to account including animal welfare groups arguing for an Animal Protection Commission and groups like Surfers Against Sewage, determined to ensure that legislation is strengthened and not weakened. Good luck to them!
Our coast has some of the most beautiful, cleanest beaches in the country. That’s important for tourism but also for those of us who live here. In the last 25...
It’s claimed the falling pound, after the post Brexit vote, will be a boost to the number of tourists coming to Britain. I imagine most of the people coming to the Coast, whenever the sun shone in recent weeks, are more likely to be home grown but it's great to see so many.
As Parliament rose for its summer recess I met the Mayor and senior council officers for an update on regeneration. I agreed to lobby Ministers for help to secure the funding necessary to redevelop the northern promenade in Whitley Bay, which I have duly done. I also went away with a lasting impression of our Elected Mayor Norma Redfearn’s steely determination to see the regeneration completed soon.
I helped to set up the Seaside Group of Labour MP's in Parliament to draw attention, for the first time, to the decline of seaside and coastal communities. Since then, successive Governments have instructed their departments, when making decisions, to consider the needs of seaside and coastal towns including regeneration. It makes political sense to do so since there are around 20 to 30 seaside seats whose votes could determine the outcome of an election.
Looking forward, I've pencilled in a September meeting with the New Economic Foundation to discuss their New Deal initiative, the centre piece of which is delivering new jobs for coastal communities through a healthier coastal and marine environment. The campaign goes on.
It’s claimed the falling pound, after the post Brexit vote, will be a boost to the number of tourists coming to Britain. I imagine most of the people coming to...
I don’t agree with the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, on many things but I do agree with her when she says it is the primary responsibility of Government to defend our country. An opportunity to demonstrate that came earlier this week when the Government held a long awaited vote on renewing Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
For all of my lifetime Britain has relied upon nuclear weapons as the ultimate weapon of last resort. First air dropped bombs and then missiles launched from submarines signalled to potential enemies that any invasion of Britain or our NATO allies would unleash a response too costly for any gain they would hope to make.
The decision to develop a nuclear deterrent was made by the Post-war Labour Government and continued by successive governments since. Our party policy is to maintain a credible minimum nuclear deterrent because that has helped maintain peace in Europe.
This decision was about renewing the current submarines and whether we order four successor submarines, allowing a continuous presence at sea. The two big unions Unite and GMB recognised the importance of the work their members do by strongly supporting renewal.
The world in which nuclear weapons and deterrence were developed was a dangerous uncertain place and it remains so. No one knows what new challenges we may face over the next fifty years which is why in my view it would be foolhardy to abandon this particular insurance policy.
I don’t agree with the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, on many things but I do agree with her when she says it is the primary responsibility of Government to...
At the time of writing, we remain in the EU but by the time you read it that may not be the case. It seemed to be the most pressing issue. Then my colleague Jo Cox MP was murdered and things changed.
Sometimes the tributes paid to people overstate what they did or who they were. That’s not the case with Jo Cox. She really had the qualities and potential attributed to her, but above all she was a young, loving mum of two small children.
Whether the extreme language of the campaign directly contributed to the awful violence which killed her will be mulled over in the weeks ahead. Whether the confrontational language of politics can change when democratic debate requires a degree of difference and division, we'll have to wait and see. And what of social media which has created a virtual community in which people think any opinion goes? The fact that by saying that, I expect a reaction, serves my point.
The referendum on June 23rd was always important but now it has taken on a further dimension. It is for some about the country they fear we are becoming, compared to the country we could be. Whatever the outcome, the murder of Jo Cox has cast a long shadow over our country and over MP’s whose accessibility is at the heart of our democracy. It may be a case of "Never glad confident morning again"
At the time of writing, we remain in the EU but by the time you read it that may not be the case. It seemed to be the most pressing...
The first responsibility of government is to safeguard the security of its citizens. The Investigatory Powers Bill currently before parliament is an important of achieving that. The Bill seeks to update the powers available to the police and security services to tackle terrorism, child sexual abuse and online serious crime. Gathering and sharing information between forces and our European allies is key to successful policing and security in a modern age. There have been huge changes in technology and modern technology is often available to those who would do us harm as well as those who keep us safe. On one side our human rights legislation dates from a time when the biggest threat was to individuals from an overpowering and intrusive state; on the other the biggest threat now is from crazed and criminal individuals seeking to harm the state and community. A balance needs to be struck with powers that work but also safeguard people going about their lawful business such as journalists and trade unionists. The Investigatory Powers Bill needed to create laws which give greater transparency and are more clearly defined and proportionate. Because the Government and Opposition worked hard together to find common ground and address concerns, the Bill now does that and I was pleased to support it. Those changes, along with vital tools like the European Arrest Warrant, mean that those who work to keep us safe can get on with their job.
The first responsibility of government is to safeguard the security of its citizens. The Investigatory Powers Bill currently before parliament is an important of achieving that. The Bill seeks to...
With the EU Referendum likely to dominate politics until June 23rd and beyond, it would be easy to forget there are other important matters. One of them, which could carry a sting in the tail for the Government, is the WASPI campaign.
WASPI, which stands for Women Against State Pension Inequality, is campaigning on behalf of women unfairly impacted by plans to equalise women’s State Pension Age with men’s. Since the 1940’s women have expected to receive their State Pension at 60 but Pension Acts in 1995 and 2011 changed that to 66. Women born on or after 6 April 1951 were the ones most affected and although many accept, sometimes reluctantly, the need for raising the retirement age, WASPI’s key complaint is the Government’s failure to provide timely or proper information about the changes. In short many women only found out as they approached 60 that they would have to wait 6 years longer without time to prepare alternative pension plans.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee called on the Government to make up for their mishandling and the Commons has voted in favour of the women affected. The Government response, a review, doesn’t address the main concerns. 2.6 million women are affected, some live in my constituency. A court challenge may be possible and a petition of Parliament is being prepared. Anyone who believes they may be affected should get in touch with their MP.
With the EU Referendum likely to dominate politics until June 23rd and beyond, it would be easy to forget there are other important matters. One of them, which could carry...
We’ve all heard it said. Politicians make promises during election campaigns then once elected fail to deliver. So well done to our Elected Mayor Norma Redfearn for proving the doubters wrong. During her election campaign Norma promised a referendum on the Mayoral system and a say on how the Council’s run. And she delivered on that promise. Residents turned out in their tens of thousands to give a clear vote of confidence in the Mayor and to confound critics of the system. I voted to retain the Mayoral system but I do wonder whether the rules preventing any meaningful campaigning need to be reviewed given the general lack of awareness about the vote.
I doubt if anyone will remain unaware of the EU Referendum by the time we get to 23rd June. Indeed apart from next week’s Queen’s Speech setting out the Government’s programme for the forthcoming year, I expect there will be few eyes on what happens in Westminster. If the Mayoral Referendum was important for the future of our area then the EU Referendum will be crucial for the future of our country.
One of the great things about elections is that everyone’s vote is equal. We have a free choice of who to vote for and we’re free to vote or not. So to everyone who took the time to vote last week let me say a very big thank you.
We’ve all heard it said. Politicians make promises during election campaigns then once elected fail to deliver. So well done to our Elected Mayor Norma Redfearn for proving the doubters...