Welcome to this shorter version of my weekly Westminster Update. The reason, in case you’re not aware, is that the Commons is in Recess. Of course, despite what the media say that doesn’t mean all MPs have a 2 week holiday – although, yes I admit I did take Monday and Wednesday afternoon off…
Before I begin, can I just add my best wishes to Her Majesty on her Diamond Jubilee. Whatever your view of the Monarchy, being in the public eye for all your life and with everything you do being the subject of the media’s all-seeing eye is enough of itself to deserve a medal – and a very large one at that!
Tuesday began with an early morning train ride back down to London. As you may recall, and if not you will have heard enough from me in the next few weeks to last a lifetime, I am leading for the Labour frontbench on the Defamation Bill. So Tuesday was a chance for me to meet with a leading libel lawyer to go through the Bill and hear from an expert about what each clause means, the benefits and pitfalls, and how I should consider our approach to the legislation. It was incredibly helpful whilst at the same time showing up some of the weaknesses in our democratic system where opposition parties have to rely on experts giving their time freely in order for us to hold the government to account!
With the lengthy Defamation training out of the way it was back home to Stoke and off to Blurton Primary to see the tribute events there for the 70th Anniversary of the appalling events in Lidice. As well as listening to the children from Blurton Primary we were also treated to performances from pupils from the Sir Stanley Matthews Academy and fabulously from a party of children from Lidice itself.
Wednesday evening was also a rare treat with a trip to Hanley Park to see the Olympic Torch pass in to the city on its way around the country. I have to say all those involved in the organisation did a fantastic job and it was great to see our city highlighted in such a positive way.
I began the morning on Thursday with a few hours working though the Defamation Bill before seeing representatives from the residents who are suffering at the hands of EMR’s scrap yard at Park Hall. We agreed a course of further action to try and get things moving from the City Council, Environment Agency, and EMR itself.
Next was a quick chat with local Councillor Bagh Ali before heading off to visit a local business to see how they are getting on during these difficult times. Then it was back to the office to meet a fundraising coordinator from the Dougie Mac to see how I can help with the huge task they have of finding three quarters of their funding needs each year.
I won’t mention the trip first thing Friday to the dentist… Mid-morning I was looking around the former Fenton Library building with a local third sector organisation to see if the building will be suitable for them to take on, meeting both their needs and breathing new life back in to this wonderful building.
Afterwards I was in the office meeting residents to discuss the long-running saga of the mobile ‘phone mast at Shooters’ Hill off Sandon Road. Then it was a meeting with the ABI (Association of British Insurers) and my technical help, Jon Beech, about using the Motor Insurance Database to tackle problems that can arise where a vehicle has an accident, especially where the vehicle in question is an HGV with a valuable load. This is an issue the All-Party Freight Transport Group has been working on for a very long time.
Finally, Friday was rounded off with delivering of invites to the first of my Community Meetings.
On Saturday evening I was delighted to attend the Special Olympics event at the club on Trentham Road where it was announced that Special Olympics North Staffs has been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. It is a much-deserved recognition of the hard work and selflessness of the committee and coaches that make it all happen. Well done in particular to Tony Fry and Councillor Matt Fry for the achievement.
As I type this I am also preparing to write the quiz questions for Stoke South CLPs Quiz Night next Friday. I’ll let you know how we get on…
As parliament is not sitting I thought I would share with you a couple of items of news from the European Parliament.
GO FOR GROWTH
Recent weeks have been extremely difficult for families and businesses across Britain and throughout Europe. But the recent election of Francois Hollande in France shows the fight against an austerity-only way out of the crisis is gaining ground.
Labour MEPs are continuing to work with other European leaders to call for a fair way out of the crisis. Labour MEPs backed measures to reform the EU budget including making cuts to institutional spending and prioritising investments for growth. Meanwhile Tory MEPs were caught voting against measures to combat tax fraud and evasion, they just don’t get it.
WIN ON ROAMING FEES
Labour MEPs voted through new EU wide laws which will further slash roaming fees in time for summer. As well as action on call charges these new rules are designed to bring down the costs of data roaming. Texts will fall to 7p, calls to fall to 20p per minute and data costs will be capped with 1MB costing 40p. These new rules help end the rip-off culture that has existed for too long and helps British consumers out in these tough times. The new rules will take effect on the 1st July this year.