As 2015 comes to an end I wanted to pick out some of this years highlights and share them with you.
At the beginning of 2015 I was continuing my role on the Shadow Frontbench as Labour’s immigration spokesman. After having a successful summer in 2014 pursuing the Government in the monumental failure of the passport system, we were able to continue with this pressure. We were able to hold the Government to account over the immigration figures that were released at the beginning of the year, ensuring that people knew that the Prime Minister had failed on his promises.
As the year progressed we entered the General Election. I would like to thank all of you who campaigned and voted for me. We were able to increase our majority, sadly the result wasn’t replicated nationwide.
Labour returned to Parliament in Opposition, and with the challenge of finding a new leader. I supported Yvette Cooper MP, but ultimately Jeremy Corbyn won a monumental victory, one not seen in British political history.
After a short spell back on the Frontbenches as Shadow Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I was asked by Mr. Speaker to become a member of the Panel of Chairs. This role sees me chair debates for the Speaker, including Westminster Hall debates and Delegated Legislation Committees.
Draft Investigatory Powers Bill
I have also been selected to be one of the Labour members of the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill. This Bill contains the proposals to allow the security services the ability to investigate people’s communications, but only after the double lock of both the Secretary of State and an independent judge has agreed that the action is necessary. This Bill seeks to consolidate over half a dozen pieces of legislation into one law. It is will update the law so that it is fit for the 21st century, as it stands the Government can authorise the investigation of post and telephone calls, but not electronic communications.
This Draft Bill takes up a considerable amount of my time in Parliament, and will continue to do so until our report is published in late February 2016. The Committee meets at least twice week for sessions that last around 4 hours each. I am also given briefing papers from the Clerk of Committee, which contains evidence submitted from individuals, companies and the Government. In all, I would say I am spending 3 days a week on this important task.
Select Committee Work
In addition to the Draft Bill Committee, this year I was elected a member of the House of Commons Justice Committee. We have had some terrific victories in securing a stronger justice system in the past three months. The most notable was the reversal of the Government’s Criminal Court Charge.
The criminal court charges are disproportionate to the crime that is committed. The charges also undermine our criminal justice system as both defendants and sentencers are being given perverse incentives.
People who are facing trial in Mold Crown Court could have to pay £900 to £1,200 depending on their plea. These charges are not recouping the costs that were promised by the Department for Justice, and are failing to take into account people’s circumstances. Having a disproportionate impact on people.
During the Committee’s evidence sessions I was told of a case of a 32 year old woman who admitted to stealing a four pack of Mars Bars worth 75p. She said she had stolen them because she “had not eaten in days” after her benefits were sanctioned. She was fined £73, ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge, £85 costs, a £20 victim surcharge, and 75p compensation. This in no way reflects the crime and that is one of the many reasons why they should be axed.
All Party Parliamentary Group
I have also been involved in two All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG) this year and I am in the process of setting up a new APPG on solvent abuse.
APPG’s are cross party groups which meet to find consensus on the issue that they specialise in.
The first APPG that I have been working with is the APPG on the Roofing Industry. I have been involved with this APPG for some time now, and this year I was elected Chairman of the group. We have been pushing for greater recognition of the roofing industry from the Government, and for the improvement of the late payments regulator. Too many of our small roofing firms are waiting longer than Governmental standard, some for as long as 120 working days until they get paid for their work. We have had successful meetings with industry experts and members of the Shadow Frontbench team.
The APPG is a new one on Endangered Species. This week was its inaugural meeting, and I was elected its Treasurer. The new group is seeking to influence the policy of the Government in protecting endangered species around the world. This week we heard from charities trying to support endangered species around the world.
We heard many compelling stories charting the failures and successes of international efforts to bring an end to illegal wildlife trade. The UK has been at the forefront of tackling the issues that cause species to go into decline, but I believe that the Government could and should do better.
We are also in the process of starting a new APPG on on Volatile Substance Abuse and other ‘Legal Highs’.
Volatile substance abuse causes, on average, 50 deaths per year, from all parts of our society, and all areas of our country. In the past decade it has killed more under-15s than all illegal drugs combined.
This year the Labour Party has had many successful campaigns. We were able to force the Government on a U-turn on both cuts to Working Tax Credits and cuts to the Police.
The Government were proposing to take away £1,300 on average from working families. It would have removed £58 million from the North Wales economy. Money that would have gone into local shops and businesses. In total 44,600 working families in North Wales would have been hit by these cuts. This would have amounted to 206,000 families across Wales.
Because of the sustained pressure by Labour, the Chancellor reversed these cuts in the Autumn Statement. We still remained concerned that people who will be moved to Universal Credits will face similar cuts. I will continue to work to ensure that families are secure in their income.
Not only were the Government planning on cutting in work welfare to millions of families it was also going to implement huge cuts to the police, putting at risk our safety. Before we forced an about turn from the Chancellor, we had to endure the incompetence of the Home Office who miscalculated the funding formula for police forces up and down the country. North Wales Police would have faced a £10.5 million shortfall because of the error.
After months of campaigning, Labour was able to gain another victory for the public. During the Autumn Statement George Osborne MP promised not to cut the police funding by the eye watering levels we have seen him implement before.
Labour has also been pushing for the Government to do more in helping more Syrian refugees. When we look at the Syrian refugee crisis we can see that the government has only pledged to care for 4,000 refugees a year until 2020. It took a sustained effort on the part my colleague and former Home Secretary Yvette Cooper MP to get the government to recognise the need to help Syrian refugees. However, we will not rest until the government helps more people. As you note winter is coming and last year 6 children died in refugee camps across the Middle East. This is not acceptable and I have been calling for the government to increase its pace in relocating refugees to Britain.
We still have more to do to ensure people fleeing war are given the security and protection they desperately need.
In the Constituency
Outside of Parliament it has been an equally busy. This year I have held39 surgeries, and be able to help hundreds of constituents with issues and people who have contacted my new office in Flint.
I have been supporting local businesses, working with local schools so they have the opportunity to visit Parliament, and I have been helping local charities. Its also be a real treat to visit so many things in the constituency and to be able to play a role in helping our community grow.
It’s been a busy year, but a fantastic one. I hope that everyone has an excellent Christmas and a thoroughly prosperous 2016.