Labour secured an Urgent Question this week to hold the UK Government to account for the loss of free TV licences for over-75s announced this week. From June 2020 only those who claim Pension Credit will be eligible.
I raised my deep frustration that the Government was blaming the BBC for this decision. It is worth keeping in mind that it took an Act passed by Conservative MPs – Labour voted against it – to force the BBC to have responsibility for this welfare policy. At the time we said that it amounted to a smash and grab on the BBC budget and would cause financial hardship for pensioners. The Government ignored us and carried on regardless. Now we are in the position where a benefit created by Labour in 1999 will not see its twentieth anniversary because of Conservative cuts.
I wanted the Secretary of State to explain to me what he was going to do for the 3,810 households who will lose the free TV licence in Delyn and how the Government is going to plug the gap left in our local economy as £573,405 per year will be taken out of these pensioners pockets.
Let us be clear. The Conservative Party promised everyone at the last General Election that free TV licences for over-75s would remain in place for the duration of this Parliament. We are no more than two years in and they have broken that promise to you.
The Prime Minister lost another Minister this week when she sacked the Defence Secretary following an inquiry into a leak from the National Security Council.
This is the first time that a leak has ever happened from the National Security Council and is deeply worrying. This is a committee that shares evidence under the Official Secrets Act and deal with matters of national security. The leak, whoever committed it, undermines our national security and our standing in the eyes of our allies.
Now, we are not privy to the information that allowed the Prime Minister come to the conclusion that the Defence Secretary should be sacked. He himself has stated it wasn’t him and would welcome a police investigation.
I wanted the Deputy Prime Minister to tell us if at any point the level of evidence has been reached that means the police should be involved. He wanted to stress that the sections of the Official Secrets Act are quiet clear and the civil servant undertaking the investigation did not reach that conclusion.
However, this goes beyond the Official Secrets Act as there are also laws about misconduct in public office. This is far from over.
It was announced this week that the Director of Public Prosecutions introduced a new form that will request consent forms to be completed by victims of crime – including those who are alleging rape – to allow the police to access information including emails, messages and photographs. If people fail to give consent it is said that the prosecution may risk not going ahead.
Victim Support said the move could stop victims coming forward and I share their serious concerns that people who have faced an ordeal beyond imagination are having further pressure placed on them.
That is why I asked the Minister of State what is being done to ensure that victims are put first. We cannot get ourselves to the situation where people do not feel able to come forward an report a crime. This not only ensures that people live in emotional and physical pain without support, but the alleged perpetrators of these crimes may get away with it.
More can and should be done for victims.
After two years without an Assembly in Northern Ireland, due to the collapse in the power sharing initiative, I am concerned that we are lacking local scrutiny of decisions made whilst the devolved government is out of action.
I asked the Secretary of State what action she was taking to ensure that we have more local involvement in decision making and not merely a process which is like a decision being taken behind a pane of glass – you can see what’s going on, but have no way to impact upon its outcomes.