July newsletter

August 1, 2014 in Local, Parliament

The latest edition of my monthly newsletter is now available to read online here.

Minutes of South West Rail APPG

July 30, 2014 in Local, Parliament

Below are the minutes for the inaugural meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Rail in the South West, which took place on 15th July.

All-Party Parliamentary Group for Rail in the South West

Minutes of Inaugural meeting, 15th July 2014, 6pm,
Grand Committee Room, Westminster Hall

Present: Ben Bradshaw MP, Lord Berkeley OBE, Lord Teverson, Baroness Crawley.
In attendance: Hugo Sumner and Caroline Elsom (Anne Marie Morris MP’s office), Jonathan Roberts (JRC).

Apologies: Oliver Colvile MP, Rt Hon the Baroness Corston, George Eustice MP, Andrew George MP, Stephen Gilbert MP, Baroness Jolly, Lord Myners, Rt Hon the Lord Owen CH, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Rt Hon the Baroness Royall, Alison Seabeck MP, Gary Streeter MP, Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP.

1. The purpose of the APPG was set out in the attached annex.

2. It was confirmed that the meeting was quorate and had been properly advertised.

3. Apologies had been received from 13 Members and Peers.

4. A list of 35 Members and Peers who had consented to be APPG members is attached.

5. It was agreed to establish the APPG, and to proceed to election of officers.

6. Ben Bradshaw was proposed as Chair, by Lord Berkeley. Agreed.
Vice-Chairs were proposed by Ben Bradshaw as: Oliver Colville, Andrew George, Anne-Marie Morris. Agreed. Their consent was confirmed on 16th July 2014.
Lord Berkeley was proposed as Secretary by Lord Teverson. Agreed.
Lord Teverson was proposed as Treasurer by Ben Bradshaw. Agreed.

7. Ben Bradshaw confirmed that he would be the registered contact with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. His office would put in hand the formal registration of the Group.

8. The APPG invited Jonathan Roberts (JRC) to support the Group in advisory and secretarial matters. Jonathan Roberts accepted with thanks.

9. Ben Bradshaw asked Jonathan Roberts to set out some of the potential early topics for the Group to consider. He proposed:
• Resilience issues, where the West of Exeter report by Network Rail had been published that day, and would be included in the Great Western Route Study to be circulated for consultation in September 2014.
- The economic consequences of the past winter had been considerable. The region required adequate resilience for now and future years. The sea wall was only one of the current topics.
- The APPG could review the analysis and recommendations, seek briefing, and discuss and raise matters. On behalf of Lord Berkeley, Jonathan Roberts had attended the briefing in the Lords at lunchtime. A short note of that would be circulated to members. Network Rail documents were available at:
http://www.networkrail.co.uk/publications/west-of-exeter-route-resilience-study (this is the full study)
http://www.networkrail.co.uk/publications/west-of-exeter-route-resilience-study-presentation.pdf (this is the slide presentation)
• Growth and its implications for new and improved services, facilities, and station and line capacity.
- A summary analysis of changes in rail passenger demand at stations showed faster-than-average growth in many parts of the South West, over the past 5, 10 and 15 years. The analysis would be circulated, with data by section of line and by station, and listing the constituencies served by each station including the wider catchments.
- The APPG could consider the specification for the new GW franchise, priorities and expenditure plans within the current and future investment periods, and what else might merit priority.
• New trains and electrification were potentially important elements within that context, for a more effective railway in the South West.
- At present, towards the South West, Great Western electrification was planned to cease at Bristol and Newbury. The South West Trains route via Salisbury was not electrified beyond Basingstoke. Both routes had older types of trains.
• The wider economic and social case for rail. Transport was a means to an end. Transformation of public transport demand in places such as London and other city regions, with good marketing and facilities such as Oyster, enabled broad changes in travel preferences and area economic activity.
- Rail was capable of being trusted for individual lifestyles, community priorities, inwards business investment and external promotion.
- The recent (7th July 2014) Growth Fund announcements across England included investment for wider economic purposes.
- The South West’s wider case for rail merited stronger evidence. For example, the valuations of project benefits in the West of Exeter resilience report were based primarily on journey time savings and other ‘narrow’ values, not potential wider project impacts.

Members welcomed the topics. The top priorities were seen as following up on resilience, and understanding the evidence for the wider case for rail. Jonathan Roberts was asked to prepare an initial note on the wider case, during the recess.

10. It was agreed to disseminate summaries of proceedings and recommendations, unless there were private or reserved topics. Similarly, APPG officers could invite a broader attendance at meetings, if desired.

11. The next meeting was proposed for the first two parliamentary weeks in October, when both Houses were back. The Secretary of State for Transport would be invited to discuss the resilience topic.

12. The meeting concluded at 6:30pm.

Members and Peers who have consented to be named as APPG Members for Rail in the South West

Members and Peers who have consented to be named as APPG Members for Rail in the South West.

Purpose of an APPG for railways in the South West

(Discussion note circulated June 2014)

It has been proposed that an All Party Parliamentary South West Rail Group be formed.

This is part of a chain reaction to the area’s severe transport difficulties last winter which have had profound economic consequences. Damage to the Dawlish sea wall and flooding across the Somerset Levels were disastrous locally and regionally, interrupting communications, and damaging reputation and forward investment via tourism and business plans. There was other disruption as well. Recovery is still underway.

The underlying objective is to help channel the wider sense of purpose now existing across the South West, to place the region and its constituent areas strongly on a better connected and funded transport infrastructure, that will underpin economic growth, ‘gross value added’ and social inclusivity.

Rail will be an important part of overall transport solutions, alongside digital communications and specialisms, knowledge and science expansion. The geography embraces the Great Western/M4 and SWT/A303 corridors, the ‘Far South West’ counties and unitaries, and within the West of England city region and the Severn Valley‘s south western counties.

So that we focus on what it ‘says on the box’, it is proposed that the APPG’s terms of reference should be:

“To examine issues concerning rail facilities and infrastructure in the South West, and rail’s role in enabling economic growth, a sustainable environment and social inclusivity, to raise awareness of those issues among parliamentarians and provide a focus for discussion and debate, and generate recommendations for the government, Parliament and other bodies to consider”.

My letter on DRIP

July 18, 2014 in Parliament

Below is the letter I have sent to constituents who have written to me regarding the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill.

—-

I share your concerns about the Government’s Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP). There was no excuse for the way the Government attempted to rush this piece of flawed legislation through Parliament in the dying days before the summer recess. I’m afraid this is typical of this Government’s incompetence.

The Government has known since April, when the European Court of Justice struck down the much wider EU data retention regulations, that new legislation would be needed to maintain the legal status quo in Britain. This allows communications companies to retain billing data (not content) for up to 12 months. Access to this data can be vital for the work of the police and security services investigating crimes and conspiracies including child abuse, terrorism and organised crime.

Without the ability to access these records it is estimated the police would lose important information used in 95% of serious and organised crime investigations, terror investigations and investigations into online child abuse. For example, last year the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Agency received 18,887 reports of child abuse – an increase of 14% on the year. Without access to this sort of information these abusers would be much more difficult to find and stop.

So Labour accepted the need to respond to the European Court ruling, but we were highly critical of the Government’s process and the Bill in its original form. I’m pleased to say we secured important changes.

Firstly, we forced the Government to accept an amendment that requires a full independent review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Whereas DRIP covers the obligation of communications companies to store information, RIPA covers the situations in which the police and intelligence agencies can access this data.

It also covers the police’s power to use more traditional forms of intelligence – such as opening post, following individuals or even entering and bugging homes. Labour’s view is that RIPA must be at the centre of a wider public debate about how we balance privacy and security in an internet age.

The original intention of RIPA was to provide equivalence between electronic and physical surveillance, so the same rules were in place for reading an email as reading a letter. But RIPA is now 15-years old and out of date. New technology is blurring the distinction between communications data and content and raising questions about data storage.

It is this review of RIPA that should ensure no government or party can ignore the concerns raised in recent months following Snowden. It is vital to our democracy – both to protecting our national security and to protecting our basic freedoms – that there is widespread public consent to the balance the Government and the agencies need to strike. President Obama held such a debate in the US last year after the Snowden leaks. The independent review of RIPA Labour has secured will deliver this debate for the UK too.

Secondly, Labour secured an amendment to the Bill requiring the Interception of Communications Commissioner to report on the workings of the Act within 6 months and every six months subsequently.

Thirdly, we secured a “sunset clause” in the legislation meaning it will expire in 2016 and future law in this area will have to take into account the recommendations of the independent review into RIPA.

I hope this has helped address your concerns, but if you have outstanding ones do send me details of them and I will ensure that the Labour front bench is aware of them.

With very best wishes,

Ben Bradshaw MP

My question on Gaza

July 15, 2014 in Parliament

My question in yesterday’s statement on Gaza.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Given that Secretary Kerry and his own middle east Minister have clearly said that it was the Netanyahu regime’s relentless expansion of illegal settlements that bore prime responsibility for the collapse of the Kerry talks, when, instead of this routine language of condemnation about the settlements, can we instead have some real and meaningful action?

Mr Hague: We have said that a heavy part of the responsibility lies—not only this; there have been failures on both sides to take full advantage of the opportunities of the peace process—with the illegal settlements on occupied land. We make our condemnation of that, but we have also taken certain actions, including supporting the recent EU statement of guidelines on doing business with settlements. The right hon. Gentleman will be conscious that our prime effort here is to revive and succeed in the peace process. We therefore use language and adjust our pressure to try to do that, and that remains our best hope.

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My question on Europe

July 1, 2014 in Parliament

My question to the Prime Minister during yesterday’s statement on the European Council.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): May I gently suggest to the Prime Minister that, as Mrs Gaitskell once said, it is the wrong people cheering? How exactly have Britain’s national interests and the interests of reform in Europe been advanced by his recent posturing?

The Prime Minister: It advances Britain’s interests if people know that a British Prime Minister and a British Government will set out a principle and stick to it. The problem all too often under the Labour Government was that they did not stick to their principle. That is why they gave away part of our rebate, they caved in on the budget year after year, and they signed up to eurozone bail-outs. If they had stuck to their principles, they might have been more respected.

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My question on patient safety

June 25, 2014 in Local, Parliament

My question to the Secretary of State for Health during yesterday’s Urgent Question on patient safety.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): An Exeter psychiatric nurse of more than 20 years’ standing wrote to me in despair this week saying that “mental health services are in collapse”, and that patients are regularly placed in “life threatening” situations or sent as far away as Bradford because there are no beds locally. Vulnerable people are waiting a shocking three months for the co-ordination of their care. How dare the Secretary of State come to the House today and claim that our mental health services are not in crisis?

Mr Hunt: There are real pressures in our mental health services, but the right hon. Gentleman should recognise the progress that the Government have made. That includes doubling the money going into talking therapies, having global summits on dementia and putting a massive amount of money towards raising the profile of dementia in this country and across the globe, and legislating for parity of esteem between mental and physical health—something that never happened under the previous Government. There is a lot of work to do, but I think he should give credit where it is due.

Exterior of the Houses of Parliament

Latest edition of monthly newsletter

June 19, 2014 in Local, Parliament

The latest edition of my monthly newsletter is now available to read online here.

Progress article on Cameron and Juncker

June 18, 2014 in Parliament

Isolated and facing humiliation over Juncker, Cameron has badly hurt the national interest and the reformist cause in Europe – my piece for Progress Online, available to read here.

Letter on shale gas extraction

June 18, 2014 in Local, Parliament

Below is the letter I have sent to constituents who have recently contacted me regarding shale gas extraction:

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding shale gas extraction and the Government’s announcement in the Queen’s Speech.

Labour believes shale gas extraction should only go ahead if there is robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement, and in a way which is consistent with decarbonising our electricity supply by 2030.

Gas is a fuel which remains vital to the operation of our homes, services and businesses in the UK. 80% of our homes rely on gas for heating, while around 30% of our electricity comes from gas fired power stations. While low carbon power generation will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels over time, we will still need flexible power to help manage peaks in demand. Projections from the National Grid expect gas continuing to play an important role in our energy system for many years to come.

While demand for gas continues to be high, our ability to source this fuel from within our own borders has been steadily declining. In 2004, the UK became a net importer of gas for the first time since North Sea extraction began. For those reasons, the possibility to source gas from the UK should not be ruled out without careful consideration, especially given the recent behaviour of President Putin and the reliance of much of the rest of Europe on Russian gas.

The Government’s Infrastructure Bill proposes changes to the regulations on extracting shale gas. Conventional oil and gas exploration and production mostly involves vertical or near-vertical drilling from one spot at the surface. A well for shale gas, however, will usually run vertically down and then extend horizontally for some distance – this could be as much as 2 miles, or even more. This would mean that companies would have to seek permission from a large number of landowners. As it stands, the existing legislation allows coal mining, water, sewage and gas transportation pipelines to have underground access without needing the permission of the landowner, but not shale gas or deep geothermal. In reality it would provide an effective block on extracting shale gas and deep geothermal in the UK.

At the end of May the government published a consultation on changes to trespass regulations and confirmed their intention to legislate in the forthcoming Infrastructure Bill. These changes will mean that while shale gas companies will still need the permission of landowners for surface access and still require local planning consent, underpinned by environmental impact assessments, they will not need permission for underground access at depths of 300m or more. Labour does not oppose these reforms. However, the issue of underground access rights is separate from the environmental and safety framework. Only by fully addressing legitimate environmental and safety concerns about extracting shale gas with robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement will people have confidence that the exploration and possible extraction of shale gas is a safe and reliable source that can contribute to the UK’s energy mix.

I will therefore continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened. In 2012 Labour set out six tough environmental conditions which should be in place prior to any shale gas extraction taking place in the UK. While the government accepted four of the six conditions in December 2012, we still believe that the regulatory framework is not sufficiently robust. It is clear that the level of methane in groundwater should be assessed prior to any drilling. Methane can occur naturally in groundwater, so it is important that robust baseline information exists to monitor activity against. Further, all monitoring activity should take place over a twelve month period, to allow sufficient time to gather all of the evidence required to make an informed decision on whether to proceed with exploration. Labour will continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened in these areas and for assurances that the responsibility for clean-up costs and liability for any untoward consequences rests fairly and squarely with the industry, not with taxpayers or homeowners. Many other concerns remain, particularly regarding the effectiveness of the monitoring process and the capacity of the relevant bodies to undertake that monitoring and enforce the regulations, which must be addressed.

Finally, it goes without saying that UK energy policy needs a massive shift towards low and zero carbon generation. So I have been dismayed by the decline in the growth of the renewables sector under this Government. Labour is committed to revitalising the renewables sector and to a binding carbon reduction target by 2030.

I hope that this is helpful.

With very best wishes,

Ben Bradshaw MP

My question on illegal settlements in the West Bank

June 18, 2014 in Parliament

At yesterday’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions, I asked the Secretary of State about his policy on the illegal settlements in the West Bank.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): What his policy is on trade with illegal settlements in the West Bank.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I deplore the recent decisions taken by the Israeli authorities to expand the number of illegal settlements. The UK’s position on this is long standing: settlements are illegal—we neither support nor encourage trade, we make clear the risks to business, and we ensure all consumers can make their own choice through the labelling of goods.

Mr Bradshaw: In February, the Foreign Secretary said that the recent talks were the last chance for a two-state solution. Given the Netanyahu Government’s relentless expansion of the illegal settlements, which scuppered those talks, and the warning from Senator Kerry that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state, is now not the time for a recalibration of our policy towards Israel, beginning with the illegal settlements?

Mr Hague: As the right hon. Gentleman knows and as I have just said, we are very clear about where we stand on settlements. But is the time right now for such a recalibration? I think the honest answer to that is no, because our efforts are geared towards a resumption of negotiations if it is at all possible. Secretary Kerry has said that there is a pause in the negotiations; we would like to see them revived. I think everything we do has to be consistent with supporting that, but we have made our views about recent settlements announcements abundantly clear.

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